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Colorado Road Trip: Ski The Birthday Mountains

Colorado Road Trip: Ski The Birthday Mountains Ski areas L-R: Howelsen Hill, Monarch Mountain, Winter Park, Wolf Creek

By Kristen Lummis,

Birthdays are always fun, especially the big ones.This winter, Colorado ski resorts are celebrating four massive birthdays: 75 years at Winter Park, Monarch Mountain and Wolf Creek and 100 years at Howelsen Hill.A road trip to these four resorts involves some long drives through spectacular Colorado scenery, along a route that could take you near almost all of Colorados ski destinations.But since most of us dont have a week (or two) to take this show on the road, consider timing your visits with the parties.

Looking Back

To hear ski historians tell it, skiing in Colorado was originally a form of transportation.But skis also made life more fun and, soon, Colorados mountain towns were celebrating winter, and skiing, with carnivals.

Here Comes Mr. Howelsen

In 1911, Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian immigrant and ski jumping champion, enthralled the crowds with his ski jumping at the first Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival.

Three years later, Steamboat Springs was in on the act, timing their first winter festival so that Howelsen could attend. The event was so successful that the town built a permanent 60-foot ski jumping tower for the 1915 carnival. And thus, Howelsen Hill was born.

Today, Howelsen Hill is the home of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The oldest ski club west of the Mississippi, the SSWSC has had legendary success, producing 88 Winter Olympians.

Howelsen Hill has 50 skiable acres, four lifts, 17 alpine and 9 nordic trails. Its a great place to spend an afternoon or evening, skiing under the lights, schussing side-by-side with club members gate training, powering through moguls and flying off the ski jump.

When to Go: The 2015 Steamboat Winter Carnival is February 4 8. There is a Nordic jumping exhibition at Howelsen Hill on Friday, February 6th, along with a family snow tubing party.

The next night enjoy the Lighted Man extravaganza and fireworks. You can find a full schedule here.

The Salida Winter Sports Club Starts Monarch

The impetus for organized skiing at Monarch Mountain came from the Salida Winter Sports Club. In 1939, the club received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to cut a trail and they created Gunbarrel, an expert run with a 30% slope. Season passes cost one dollar and they sold sixty-four.

Today, this classic Colorado resort, with huge views along the Continental Divide has 53 trails, ranging from beginner teaching terrain to back county cat skiing. And its still a bargain. This winter season pass holders from any Colorado resort can ski Monarch, Monday through Friday, for just $35.

When to Go: Monarchs birthday celebration is on New Years Eve. Ski all day and then meet in the recently renovated lodge for family fun, a special dinner menu and fireworks.

A Gala and Good Deals At Winter Park

Winter Parks birthday is January 28, 1940, the day the City and County of Denver fired up a rope tow, serving three trails. City folk arrived via train through the Moffat Tunnel and one of Colorados favorite resorts was born.

Today, Winter Park has 3,081 skiable acres spread across seven unique territories, twenty-five lifts, eight terrain parks and 143 designated trails.

When to Go: Winter Parks Birthday Gala, to benefit the National Sports Center for the Disabled, is on January 24, 2015 at the on-mountain Lodge at Sunspot. Theres also a birthday-themed parade and fireworks the night before.

Or, celebrate all season long dining in the new Lunch Rock Restaurantat the top of Mary Jane Territory, scoring some great 75th anniversary lodging and dining specials and skiing the resorts historic runs, named after early ski pioneers and significant, long-time employees.

A Double Birthday At Wolf Creek

In 1938, a rope tow, powered by a Chevy truck, was installed near the top of the newly constructed Wolf Creek Pass. Sometime that winter, the engine blew, putting a quick end to lift assisted skiing in southwestern Colorado.

The following year, a new tow, a dirt road and awarming hut were built and Wolf Creek ski area was born. From this humble beginning, Wolf Creek has grown to 1,600 acres, eight lifts and extensive hike-to and cross-country skiing terrain.

Famous for copious amounts of snow, annually averaging 430 inches, Wolf Creek operated at the top of the pass until 1955, when it picked up and moved across the highway.

Which means Wolf Creek is celebrating both 75 years of skiing, and 60 years in its current location.

Happy double birthday!

When to Go: While the first birthday celebration at Wolf Creek occurred on November 30, with a vintage costume competition, the resort is hosting a 75th Day of the 75th Year bash on February 7, complete with a ski boot dancing contest on the lodge deck.