Winter Carnival and SMS

Mountain Connection, February 6th, 2023

By: Jed Donnel

This Friday, February 8th, the 110th Winter Carnival will commence in Steamboat. The event is unique and wonderfully indicative of the magic of the town. Where else on earth would you expect to see organized skijouring events including shovel races, children pulled behind galloping horses through slalom courses and off jumps down the middle of a main street adorned with locally-made snow sculptures, the Soda-Pop Slalom, and of course the Lighted Man, lights parades of SSWSC athletes, ski patrol hurling themselves through a ring of fire and off the HS75 jump, and a magnificent fireworks display? When I first moved to Steamboat in 2017, I couldn’t really absorb the reality of the spectacle until I saw it for myself, and, to be frank, not until I realized that I had already signed the waiver and was busy filming my own kid – then ten years old – being pulled behind a horse at terrifying exciting speeds around cones over several blocks of Lincoln. It was amazing, and it remains amazing; a local treasure.

To gain perspective on the Carnival, there’s no better resource than our own Trenia Sanford, SMS tech guru, horse procurer, and diamond-hitch expert. Trenia is a longtime local with roots in the Yampa that go back to the early days, and who is herself a great connoisseur of Steamboat history who understands our local traditions from both experienced and personal perspectives. She delivered presentations to SMS students at both campuses last week and discussed the origins of the event with the knowledge and accompanying photographs of a museum curator. She displayed the very skis her grandfather used – which looked, from my perspective in the audience, to be about 220 cm – to get around town and to the Carnival in days or yore. And she brought to life the experience of Steamboat residents one hundred years ago, the isolation of living in a cabin on a parcel of land that may be miles away from the closest neighbor, of rationing food for the harshest times between January and the end of March, of deep snows, and using skis as the most convenient way to get to places of any sizeable distance. The Steamboat Ladies Recreational Club, therefore, created the first Winter Carnival in 1914 as a purposeful lure into town during the darkest months of the year, a time to come together and celebrate the weird and wild aspects of Steamboat and the people whose pioneering spirit have always kept the place fun. One such early resident was Carl Howelsen himself, who brought ski jumping to North America and quickly became a fixture at the early Carnivals. The event is now organized by the Chamber and sponsored by the Winter Sports Club. And SMS (under various names) has likewise had a long history of participating: Sandy Graves used to design and build floats, Trenia’s mother, our own Erin Davis, and several alums were one-time Carnival Queens, and we’ve often won the contest for best entry (Trenia said “we usually win” although I’ve not been able to verify), which, by necessity, includes a diamond hitch judged for its exactness and symmetry as means of towing participants on skis.

This year, we’re going big with three diamond hitches, so we need twenty skiers or riders attached to the pull amid what will surely be our larger crowd of walkers, all to the theme of “Mama Mia.” So, Trenia’s presentations also succeeded in drumming up student support. She states, “We ask that all parade participants and parents (including walkers) be in costume or blinged-out in some way. Parents, if you and families walk with us, we would love it if you’d walk behind the last hitch rather than along the side so that the judges can see our diamond hitches. In addition to ABBA costumes, we will also have upper school students dressed as penguins.” Chances are, we’ll conjure a variety of animals, too, and past SMS participants have included donkeys, horses, dogs, and llamas. It is a grand affair, indeed. And, as a testament to her motivational abilities and competitive spirit – the true essence of Winter Carnival – Trenia managed to provoke her student audiences into impromptu dancing as they sang ABBA and imagined the festivities on the near horizon.

We hope to see the entire SMS community downtown on Sunday, February 12th at 11:00. Anyone walking in the parade should meet on Lincoln St. between 5th and 6th at 10:00. Parents not walking are welcome to pick up kids at the finish line on 12th street.  

The Connection