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Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Photo courtesy Shannon Lukens

Steamboat Springs’ Winter Carnival

Celebrate the town's ranching history, and a whole lot more.

Steamboat Springs is known as a ski town, but it also has a rich ranching history and culture. The annual Winter Carnival weekend blends both into a historic celebration that began as a way to chase away cabin fever in the depths of winter. This year marks the 106th year that horses will barrel down Lincoln Avenue to celebrate the past, with world-record fireworks and the iconic Lighted Man skiing down Howelsen Hill.

Happy Trails on Lincoln Avenue

Steamboat’s street crews pile up the snow all season long in preparation for Winter Carnival weekend. Then overnight, they fill Lincoln Avenue, running through downtown Steamboat, with snow, from sidewalk to sidewalk. Trailers arrive with long-time local ranchers and their best horses saddled up and ready to ride. Many of the cowgirls and cowboys that participate in the Winter Carnival street events are part of the generational ranching legacy of Routt County.

Local kids, as young as six years old, sign up for different horse events, which include street slalom, ski joring, ring and spear, ring and box, and the famous donkey jump. When it’s their turn, kids tell their “driver,” which is a cowboy or cowgirl on horseback, how fast they want to go. Then the rider, the horse, and the kid (wearing full ski gear and a helmet) barrel down the main drag of Steamboat, delighting the thousands of locals and visitors lined up on either side of the street.

Big Boom at the Night Extravaganza

Every kid in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is part of Saturday’s Night Extravaganza at the base of Howelsen Hill, near downtown Steamboat Springs. They ski down the face of Howelsen with flares and glow lights and whatever they can use to grab the crowd’s attention. Freestyle skiers with no fear of flipping do tricks to wow the crowd. Then, the iconic Lighted Man makes his appearance. Jon Banks, who inherited the Lighted Man tradition from his father, skis down the hill in a costume wrapped in Christmas lights and a helmet studded with flashlights, shooting Roman candles from his backpack.

After the skiers, snowboarders, freestylers, their coaches, and the Lighted Man make it down to the base, it’s time for the fireworks show—the passion of one local man, Tim Borden, who donates all the supplies. For the 2019 Winter Carnival, he plans to build the largest fireworks show in the world. Two representatives from Guinness Book of World Records in London will be on Emerald Mountain, watching the show to verify that it’s the biggest boom in the world.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Photo courtesy Shannon Lukens

Diamond Hitch Parade

Sunday’s street events culminate with the Diamond Hitch Parade on Lincoln Avenue. Vehicles, animals, or people pull formations of skiers down the snow-filled street, as they hold on to ropes tied in the shape of diamonds. The famous Steamboat Springs High School Marching Band, the first to ever march on skis, plays tunes as they parade through the middle of downtown. Steamboat’s local camel, Larry, makes an appearance, strutting his stuff through town.

The Carnival wraps up on Sunday with a glimpse of the professionals going for world records in the Pro Alpine Ski Jumping Finals.

Check it Out:
February 6-10, Steamboat Springs
Need to Know:
Street events are 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday, February 9-10; Night Extravaganza is Saturday, February 9, 7 p.m. at Howelsen Hill; Diamond Hitch Parade starts around 11:30 a.m., after the street events, on Sunday, February 10.
$10 for a Winter Carnival Button, which is good for admission to all events. Proceeds benefit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Insider Secret:
At the parade and street events, try to stand near F.M. Light & Sons, which opened in 1905. “Lightning,” their big metal horse, is out front, and this is where the announcers are located. Bundle up and wear good boots. Mornings can be chilly for the street events, especially when walking around in the snow.
Get to the Night Extravaganza early to avoid parking hassles. Howelsen Ice Arena is right on the other side of the rodeo grounds from Howelsen Hill. The Steamboat Wranglers Junior Hockey Team plays the Casper Coyotes at 4 p.m. on February 9, so get there early, watch some hockey, and then walk over to the fireworks show after.

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