Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Record Journal of Douglas, February 7, 1919

In honor of the 106th annual Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival, running from February 6th-10th, 2019, here’s an announcement of the Carnival from 100 years ago, albeit one with a misspelling (taurnament?) and misinformation — I think the “top notch professionals” were trying to *raise* the world record jump, not lower it.

In 1912, ski pioneer and champion, Carl Howelsen, aka The Flying Norseman, significantly contributed to the success of the first winter carnival in Colorado at Hot Sulphur Springs, where the Carnival was held for two years. Howelsen, the former Barnum & Bailey star, amazed the crowd there by jumping 119 feet in 1913, which was a new Colorado record.

Captain Carl Howelsen’s Barnum & Bailey poster

But Howelsen’s heart was ultimately won over by the beauty and charm of Steamboat Springs, 70 miles to the northwest of Hot Sulphur Springs along the Moffat Road. He relocated from Denver to Steamboat, where he organized the Carnival for the next few years and established it as an essential mid-winter celebration that was held even through the dark years of WWI. Today there is a statue of Howelsen at Howelsen Place in Steamboat.

Image result for carl howelsen
Carl Howelsen

Howelsen also started the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which is still thriving today. He built the first ski jump in Steamboat on Woodchuck Hill, which is where Colorado Mountain College now stands. He then built the ski jumps that stand today at what is now called Howelsen Hill, and they continue to be used at the Winter Carnival.

Ski jumper at Howelsen Hill, with Woodchuck Hill in the background

Early Winter Carnival events included ski jumping exhibitions and competitions, nordic ski races, the crowning of Carnival Queen, a proto-biathlon ski/shooting event, and a Norwegian drag-hunt where hunters follow a ghost deer’s man made tracks until they find him and kill him. I presume nobody was actually sacrificed in this hunt?

Today, the Carnival events include the traditions of ski jumping competitions, the crowning of Carnival Queen, and nordic ski races, with the addition of standout newer traditions. These include a host of street events, where they shut down Lincoln Ave and pack it with snow. Street events include ski joring where kids on skis get pulled by horses down the road, three legged races, and shovel races. Other signature events are a marching band on skis and a night extravaganza where a person ensconsed in lights skis down Howelsen Hill shooting off fireworks from their body.

100 years ago today the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival was establishing itself as the premier event of its kind thanks to the work of Carl Howelsen, ski pioneer and ambassador, and the Carnival continues to thrive in Steamboat today.

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