History of Steamboat
The Yampa Valley Curse
For centuries before settlers arrived in the West, Yampatika Utes and Arapaho Indians used the Yampa Valley as their summer hunting and fishing grounds. Area lore reflects back to this time, and as legend says, a Ute Chief “cursed” the Yampa Valley, saying that people who come to the area won't be able to leave. Today, locals relate to this “curse” when they come here for skiing, stay for the summer, and then find themselves still living here, years later. It’s a captivating valley, offering locals and visitors alike, a beautiful place to visit and live.
Trappers began to move into the area during the first decades of the 1800’s. Ranchers and farmers followed, raising cattle and sheep, and adding the production of strawberries in the early 1900's. The area was known to produce potatoes, lettuce, and spinach well into the 1940's. Today this rich agricultural heritage continues through the production of wheat and the continued raising of cattle and sheep.
James Crawford was Steamboat Springs' first permanent settler. Along with his wife, Margaret, he brought his family to the valley in 1875. The Crawfords named the settlement Steamboat Springs after an unusual spring in the area. When French trappers or prospectors were traveling through the area, they heard a noise to which they exclaimed, "Steamboat, by Gar!" The noise turned out not to be a steamboat, but a spring that sounded like a steamboat laboring upstream.
Steamboat's namesake spring is silent today. While workers in the early 1900’s were building a railroad track parallel to the Yampa River, they disturbed the spring's foundation with dynamite, causing the spring to cease chugging and spewing water.
The history of Steamboat would not be complete without a bit more wild in the West. And indeed several legendary cowboys and outlaws passed through Steamboat, including Butch Cassidy, Kit Carson, and Jeff Bridger. Steamboat’s rich ranching and cowboy heritage is celebrated in the popular summer rodeo series. Steamboat's ranching history is also evident in its main street, Lincoln Avenue, which was made wider than usual so ranchers could drive cattle down it. Every summer, Steamboat still holds a cattle drive down Lincoln Avenue as part of its Fourth of July celebration.
Ski Town USA
In 1913, Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian, moved to Steamboat and introduced ski jumping to the community. Howelsen built the first jump on namesake Howelsen Hill, now part of the Howelsen Ski Area. Howelsen Ski Area is the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado. Howelsen was known as “The Flying Norseman,” a moniker he earned for his ski-jumping with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Howelson also founded the annual Winter Carnival, a celebration still held each winter. The festival includes an exhibition by members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, and cross-country skiing are all highlighted with crowd favorites which include skiers passing through rings of fire and the descent down the mountain of the world famous “Lighted Man”. The Carnival culminates with a spectacular fire works display.
No other town in the United States has produced more winter Olympians than Steamboat Springs. As of the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, BC, Steamboat has produced a record 69 Olympic athletes.
The Steamboat Ski Area
The Steamboat Ski Resort was largely established by two local men, Jim Temple and John Fetcher. Temple led the effort to develop the area. Fetcher, a local rancher, was the main designer and builder. The resort officially opened in 1963 and was known as Storm Mountain. To promote his new ski area, Fetcher got permission to use the phrase, "Champagne Powder," coined by Kremmling rancher, Joe McElroy who operated a rope-tow hill on Baker Mountain, located on the east side of Rabbit Ear’s Pass.
On April 12, 1964 an avalanche took the life of local Olympic ski racer Wallace "Buddy" Werner while he was filming a movie in Switzerland. In his memory, Storm Mountain was renamed Mt. Werner, in 1965. Steamboat would be taken seriously as an up-and-coming ski area, following the installation of a gondola during the summer of 1970. Three towers supported the bi-cable system, which carried 90, six-passenger cabins. With the ski area now firmly established, the town of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area would see the start of a building boom that continues to this day.
The inauguration of direct ski flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport has helped to make Steamboat a true destination world-class ski resort. At the end of the 2006-2007 ski season, Intrawest purchased the ski resort from American Ski Corporation, and the history continues.
James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge
Like many ski-towns that dot Colorado and the West, Steamboat’s history is filled with stories of unique individuals, traditions, and circumstances. Here is one Steamboat story. In 1993, the City of Steamboat had completed a new bridge that crossed the Yampa River on the west side of town. In deciding on the name for the new bridge, the City Council enlisted the help of the Steamboat residents and conducted a poll.
The winning name, "James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge," was a hit with the locals. But the great part of the story is that at the dedication, James Brown himself arrived on the bridge, belting out the classic, "I Feel Good" to the crowd's delight.
Stories like this fill the town. And in moving here, we all find that we become a part of these stories. Perhaps it’s time for you to make a Steamboat story of your own.