Steamboat Springs, Colorado is home to one of the premier ski resorts in the country. Self-proclaimed Ski Town, USA is renowned for its world class skiing and famed for what is claimed to be the lightest, driest, fluffiest snow on Earth: aka “Champagne Powder.” The mammoth Steamboat Ski Resort stretches over six peaks, has 3,000 skiable acres and 165 trails. It is known for diverse terrain, offering up a little bit of everything from perfect beginner runs, to long cruisers, to steep and deep black diamonds along with awesome tree skiing. So even though I drove four hours in a blizzard from Denver to get to Steamboat Springs, that is not where I skied.
Instead, I skied that same amazing snow for a 1/5 of the price.
Let me explain.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado is also home to Colorado’s oldest continuously-operated ski area. The tiny Howelsen Hill Ski Area has been open since 1915. The towering hill has 17 trails off a vertical-plunging drop of 440 feet. It is serviced by one quad chairlift, two carpets, and one Poma lift. The ski area is owned and operated by the City of Steamboat Springs and is much more reasonably priced than its nearby neighbor.
It was kind of a gray day after a storm the day I showed up. I had the place to myself for an hour or so after arriving at their 10 a.m. opening time. It was fun to explore a private mountain. However, I will admit it took five tries to make it to the top of the Poma lift on my snowboard. I am glad I was alone.
The town of Steamboat Springs is very proud of its Olympic heritage, claiming to be home to more Olympic skiers than any other town in North America. Surprisingly, little Howelsen Hill has been responsible for most these. Over 100 Olympians making over 150 Winter Olympic appearances all started or trained at Howelsen Hill.
The real reason for all these Olympians is the centerpiece of the tiny ski hill, the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America. The ski jumps are built into the hillside and not freestanding towers like you see in Lake Placid or other ski jumping venues. Thus, most of Steamboat Spring’s Olympians are ski jumpers or Nordic-combined athletes. The U.S. Ski Team has a permanent office and training presence in the area for Ski Jumping. Since these jumps opened in 1915, they have been around a while and hold a unique place in the history of American skiing, sending more skiers to international competitions than any other ski area in North America.
Howelsen Hill Ski Area is a great town hill. Not only does it offers day and night skiing, it also has miles of snowshoe and Nordic skiing trails. It has a unique snow-tubing course with a 45-degree turn in the middle! It also helps that the hill is a short walk from the downtown area and located along the scenic Yampa River Park.
The city of Steamboat Springs views the ski hill as most communities view a soccer field or tennis court: an asset for the community to be leveraged for the community good. Offering affordable skiing as well as a world-class resort, this is one of the reasons Steamboat Springs, Colorado is truly a great ski town.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.