Winter Carnival history

— People in Routt County will find any excuse to play in the snow.

The first Winter Carnival provided local ranchers an excuse to leave their ranches for a week of fun and games in packed powder conditions.

Carl Howelsen founded the Winter Carnival in 1914 to give locals a reprieve in February from the monotony of winter. Early participants tested their skills at ski jumping, cross country skiing and shooting.

Ranchers never left their work too far behind, longtime rancher Patsy Wilhelm said.

"You went home, did the milk and then went back to town," she said.

The steep slopes of Woodchuck Hill, where Colorado Mountain College now stands, hosted the Winter Carnival in its infancy. The event later moved across the Yampa River to Howelsen Hill.

Professional ski jumpers assembled at Howelsen Hill for a shot at prize money and the chance to break the world ski jumping record.

The seasonal festival gradually evolved to include parade and street events. With expanded events came shattered ski jumping records and fresh faces who would vie for new world records.

Veteran Routt County rancher Vernon Summer remembers the first man who broke the 300-foot record.

Gordon Wren soared to ski jumping fame in 1950.

But Wren's record-setting jump would hardly compete with today's athletes whose jumps are measured in meters rather than feet.

Summer served as grand marshal for the 75th Winter Carnival in 1988. The annual celebration still promises the same fun and excitement it offered when he was a child, he said.

"They were pulling skiers up and down the street, just like they are doing today," Summer said.

"It's the same as it was 70 years ago."

Wilhelm began pulling youngsters through a number of obstacles when she was 9 years old.

She, like local rancher Scott Flower, comes back year after year to see the same children participate. Children who participated in the carnival many years ago often turn to watch their children cruise down Lincoln Avenue on skis.

Flower has volunteered for the street events and parade since 1991. Volunteers are responsible for the much of the carnival's success.

Organizers adhere to tradition when they lay out the street events, he said.

Today tourists pack the sidewalks along Lincoln Avenue to witness a little piece of Routt County history unfold on the Saturday and Sunday of Winter Carnival.

Wilhelm said the crowds were smaller when she first climbed a horse more than 50 years ago to pull children down the street. But the same atmosphere of fun and excitement exists, she said.

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