Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs offers fun, community and plenty of snow

January 16th, 2020
A horse pulls a skier holding a rope down a snow-covered street.
Skijoring is just one of the events that takes place during Winter Carnival. Photo by George Fargo, courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber.

Winter Carnival is quintessential Steamboat – the perfect blend of Western heritage mixed with a love for all things snow.

It’s the only event that combines giant snow sculptures, kids skiing with road flares and adults skiing through fiery hoops and a high school band on skis.

Welcome to the 107th Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Steeped in tradition

A tradition that began as a way to brighten long, snowy winters and shorter days, the first Winter Carnival introduced ski jumping and competitive skiing to the people of Steamboat Springs.  Now, more than 100 years later, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) hosts Winter Carnival action and events at Howelsen Hill, named for Norwegian ski jumping pioneer Carl Howelsen.

One button, five days of fun

This is an image of the 2020 Winter Carnival button.
The 2020 Winter Carnival button. Image courtesy of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

From opening ceremonies on Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, to the Diamond Hitch Parade and pro alpine ski jumping finals on Sunday, Feb. 9, there’s something for everyone.

All you need is your 2020 Winter Carnival button. Local schoolchildren submit designs based on each Winter Carnival theme. This year, “Light Up the Sky” is a nod to the spectacular fireworks show on Saturday night.

The $10 buttons can be purchased at merchants throughout Steamboat Springs, with proceeds supporting SSWSC athletes and the production of Winter Carnival. Not only does your button get you into all the events, it also grants you free skiing access to Howelsen Hill Feb. 5-9 – just show your button at the Howelsen Hill ticket office to receive your ski pass.

For a complete schedule of events, where to buy buttons, specific event registration details and more, visit Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s Winter Carnival page.

Snow, skis and spectacles every day

If you talk to a “seasoned” Winter Carnival spectator, they’ll quickly share which is their favorite event. Here are some of the highlights.

Snow sculptures on Lincoln Avenue

High school and community teams will incorporate “Light Up the Sky” into a snowy creation using a 4’ x 4’ x 8’ block of snow. Teams compete for “Best in Show” and “People’s Choice” recognition.

This is a photo of snow sculptures of penguins.
Penguins represent the 2019 Winter Carnival theme, “Blast of Winter: Snow Play!”. Photo courtesy of Rory Clow, SSWSC.

S’mores Family Fun Party

This family-friendly party brings the community together for dinner, a bonfire with s’mores and more. After dinner, a DJ gets the dance party started, while fire entertainers captivate those outside. Dinner tickets are sold at the door and are first come, first served from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

A woman twirls a fiery baton in this photo.
The Steamboat Pyroneers, in collaboration with the Steamboat African dance and drum ensemble, provide entertainment. Photo courtesy of Rory Clow, SSWSC.

Soda Pop Slalom

Pairs of skiers and snowboarders ages 11 and under race down Stampede at the base of Steamboat Resort. Pre-registration is required. Watch closely – the next Olympian might ski past you.

Two young skiers go down a race course in this photo.
Photo courtesy of Lindsey Reznicek.

Nordic jumping exhibitions

Howelsen Hill has seven jumps ranging from small “bump jumps” up to the Olympic-sized HS100 and HS-127 meter jumps. Nearly 90 Olympians have trained at Howelsen Hill over the years.

A skier flies off a Nordic ski jump in this photo.
A skier flies off a jump at Howelsen Hill. Photo courtesy of Rory Clow, SSWSC.

Street events

Most towns remove snow from their main street. But on Saturday and Sunday of Winter Carnival, Steamboat Springs purposefully puts snow on Lincoln Avenue. Keeping with the western heritage of the town, horses are incorporated into many of the events including skijoring, ring and spear, and the crowd favorite –adult shovel races. Registration is required (with many events filling in minutes), and helmets and goggles are required for all participants.

This is a photo of a shovel race, in which a participant rides on a shovel pulled by a horse on a snow-covered street.
Street events culminate with adult shovel races. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Reznicek.

Night Extravaganza

One of, if not the biggest event during Winter Carnival is the extravaganza that takes place Saturday night at Howelsen Hill. Thousands attend, all bundled up with smiles plastered across their faces as they watch skiers and snowboards with SSWSC navigate the mountain while lit up with LED lights and glow sticks, while others hold road flares.

Skiers holding flares ski down a mountain at night in this photo.
Some would call skiing with flares in the Night Extravaganza a rite of passage with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Photo by Wendy Lynch, courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber.
Skiers adorned with LED lights ski at night in this photo.
Synchronized skiers, adorned with LED lights, make their way down Howelsen Hill. Photo courtesy Rory Clow, SSWSC.

 

The Night Extravaganza’s Lighted Man is another tradition that continues today. In 1936, Claudius Banks first skied down Howlesen Hill with lighted poles. His son, Jon, took over duties in the early 1970s, adding a lighted suit and firework-shooting backpack to the display. Today, the suit is covered with an LED lighting system with 256 colors – and he still shoots fireworks off his back, all under the close supervision of a nearby EMT skiing with a fire extinguisher.

A man skis at night with lights and fireworks strapped to him in this photo.
The Lighted Man – then and now. Left photo by UCHealth at Tread of Pioneers Museum. Right photo courtesy of Rory Clow, SSWSC.

The night concludes with a spectacular fireworks show. Just when you think it’s done, the next round of color and sparks light up the night sky.

Fireworks light up the night sky in this photo.
Photo by Scott Larson, courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber.

Diamond Hitch Parade

In a final nod to western tradition, Winter Carnival concludes on Sunday morning with the Diamond Hitch Parade. At least four skiers hold on to points of a rope tied in the shape of one or more diamonds. Animals, people or vehicles (even antique snowcats) pull skiers down the streets.

Each parade starts with Winter Carnival royalty, the parade’s grand marshals and the ever-popular Steamboat Springs High School marching band – on skis. They’ve been doing so since 1935.

This is a photo of the Steamboat Springs High School marching band on skis.
Steamboat Springs High School marching band on skis. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Pilot & Today.

 

Want to learn even more about Steamboat Springs and its storied tradition of skiing? Visit the Tread of Pioneers Museum in downtown Steamboat Springs and experience exhibits, tours, events and activities for kids that celebrate the town’s distinct Western heritage.

 

 

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About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has spent the last eight years working in marketing and communications in health care, an industry she never considered but one to which she's contributed through her work in media relations, executive messaging and internal communications. She considers it an honor to interact with patients and write about their experiences; it’s what keeps her coming back to work each day.

A native of Nebraska, Lindsey received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on public relations, from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University – she bleeds purple.

She could see a Broadway musical every week, is a huge animal lover, enjoys a good shopping trip, and likes spending time in the kitchen. Lindsey and her husband have two daughters and enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing all winter long.