STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Howelsen Hill, like much of the Rocky Mountains, is slowly sliding towards the valley below. Every year, this slide shifts the jump complex and lift towers on the historic ski hill ever so slightly.
The Alpine Slide didn’t open last summer, as repairs to the chairlift were completed after the most recent shift. That repair will keep the Barrows Chairlift turning, as long as the soil stays put, according to Howelsen Hill and Rodeo Manager Brad Setter. There was almost no movement at tower 6 this spring, he said.
“We’ve got really clay soils at Howelsen and Emerald ( Mountain) in general, and the soil engineers believe what’s happing is the water is filtering down from higher on the mountain, and it’s saturating the soils at the bottom in and around Howelsen,” Setter explained of what is causing the shift. “Once these clay soils get saturated, they swell, they move with gravity, and they just start to move downhill. It’s a natural process, but it happens some places more than others.
The city and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club plan to replace the Barrows lift in summer 2020 or summer 2021. Right now, contractors are working to study the proposed alignment for the new lift.
The new alignment will look similar to the old, though skiers will load at the bottom of the hill in a spot closer to Howelsen Lodge.
“You’ll be able to ski right from the Face to the load (zone) without having to go around a big fence at the bottom station,” he said. “It’s going to be a smaller loading terminal at the bottom, so operationally, it should flow a little bit better than it did in the past.”
Setter said there’s a reason the chair was originally placed where it was — there’s not room for it next to the Poma Lift, as that’s where ski racers finish. The lift can’t run through the jump complex.
So far, engineer firm Yeh and Associates, the group studying how the hill shifts, have found that the deepest movement is along the face of the hill. This data will eventually allow engineers designing the new lift to determine how deep foundations of the lift towers will be anchored to prevent movement.
Setter said the city and Winter Sports Club will soon decide between two lift manufacturers who have submitted designs and quotes for the cost of installing a new lift.
The Poma Lift is receiving upgrades that will allow lifties to speed the lift up for experienced ski racers and slow it down for kids fresh off the bunny hill on Ski Free Sundays.
The lift will receive a new drive system, motor and gearbox, which is expected to both extend the life of the lift and allow the lift to run at different speeds. Up until now, it’s only had one speed.
Currently, the lift’s bullwheel — the big wheel that swings each Poma seat up, around and back down the hill — is being refurbished at a shop in Denver.
“We’re getting that done this summer,” Setter said. “That’ll be ready for the coming winter season.”
In addition to a potentially easier Poma ride this winter, visitors to Howelsen can expect some layout changes at the hill as well.
The Small Magic Carpet will be placed farther back in the outrun of the beginner terrain on Howelsen, and it will be groomed, so that one side will be slightly steeper than the other. This aims to allow even the youngest skiers and riders to learn how to slide down progressively steeper runs.
The terrain park jump line will be relocated to the terrain park from its location next to the Boardwalk Magic Carpet.
“We’re hoping to improve beginner terrain in both areas as a result and have a little less congestion at the bottom of that Boardwalk surface lift,” Setter said.