Where it all began: Grand County carnival will celebrate roots of recreational skiing
Grand County Historical Association
December 2011 marks the centennial of the birth of the ski industry in Colorado.
The first ski area west of the Mississippi River was established right here in Grand County with the 1911 Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival. Skiing had a long history throughout Colorado for utilitarian purposes well before this event. Furthermore, there had even been friendly competitions on Norwegian snowshoes (the name given to skis in the 19th century).
What made the Hot Sulphur Springs event so remarkable in Colorado’s history was the intent to carve out a tourist industry in the harsh Rocky Mountain winter. The success of the carnivals from the beginning and throughout the subsequent years was a testament to those who organized, participated in, and cherished the events. Several of those individuals gained permanent recognition by being inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
Carl Howelson, the Flying Norwegian, demonstrated ski jumping before an awestruck Hot Sulphur crowd that included a 10-year-old boy by the name of Horace Button. Both men would eventually be enshrined in the Colorado Ski Hall Fame.
Carl Howelson (whose correct spelling was Karl Hovelson) was to be credited as the man whose talents established a foundation for Colorado’s love of skiing. The former Barnum and Bailey Circus performer demonstrated his aerial ski maneuvers for thousands in Hot Sulphur Springs that would take up the sport and spread it to other parts of the state, such as Dillon, Genesee, Pikes Peak, and Steamboat Springs.
Likewise, the young Horace Button grew up attending the Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival and began mimicking performances by the skiers, most notably Howelson’s performance on that December day in 1911. Button competed for many years in Hot Sulphur’s competitions and traveled to other town’s competitions.
As the years went by, Button found a role as an inspiration to the younger generations of skiers. Many evenings when school was let out in winter, Horace would be found packing the ski hills around town, so that young skiers could share in his passion for sliding on snow. Years later, many of those young kids would go on to petition for Horace’s induction into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame on the basis of his inspiration to younger skiers.
Hot Sulphur Olympians
In the years after the winter carnivals were established as annual events, two more future Colorado Ski Hall of Famers emerged in the Hot Sulphur Ski Club.
Jim Harsh was an avid ski jumper on the Hot Sulphur Springs ski hill and was an expert cross-country skier in the area through the 1920s and early ’30s. Harsh was selected as an alternate on the US cross-country ski team in the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. His selection to represent the United States in 1932 made Jim Harsh the first Coloradan chosen for the Winter Olympics.
About the same time that Jim Harsh’s ski career peaked, another future Olympian and Hall of Fame skier was coming out of the shadows in Hot Sulphur Springs. Barney McLean put on his first skis at age 4 in 1921. By the early 1930s, McLean was a rising star in the ski jumping circuit, supported by renowned ski maker Thor Groswold (another Colorado Ski Hall of Fame member).
In 1937, Barney discovered the new sport of alpine racing. The “Humble Man From Hot Sulphur” was named to both the 1936 and 1940 US Olympic Ski Teams, but was unable to attend, due to an injury in 1936 and the cancellation of the games in 1940, because of World War II. Following service in the United States Army Air Corps during the war, Barney McLean returned to his passion of skiing, culminating in being named captain of the 1948 Olympic Ski Team for both jumping and alpine racing.
Carl Howelson, Horace Button, Jim Harsh, and Barney McLean are examples of the spirit that thrived during the years that the Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival ran from 1911 to 1940. Many others acted as the driving force of those carnivals which created the foundation of Colorado’s dominance in the world of skiing.
There is no doubt that more of those who contributed to the carnivals are worthy of induction into Colorado’s Ski Hall of Fame.
The spirit of the Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival returns in 2011-2012 with a 6-week celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the carnivals that popularized skiing in Colorado, which are considered the beginning of the ski industry in the west.
The Grand Winter Sports Carnival will be celebrated throughout Grand County from Dec. 30 to Feb. 11, 2012. As a pre-carnival kick off, the Grand County Historical Association will conduct its annual meeting and dinner at the Inn at SilverCreek on Saturday, Nov. 5. For more information on the annual dinner, call Kristi at Cozens Ranch, 970-726-5488. For more information about the Grand Winter Sports Carnival, “Where It All Began,” visit GrandWinterCarnival.com.
Lief Hovelson, son of Carl Howelson and author of The Flying Norwegian, passed away Sept. 19, 2011, at the age of 88.d
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