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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.