Steamboat By The Decades: The ’90s
Written by Eugene Buchanan
A lot of things took flight in the ‘90s — pop culture, sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld, and even boy bands and the Spice Girls. Steamboat Ski Resort did as well, kicking off the decade with a slew of improvements further cementing it as one of the top ski resorts in the country.
Ahead of the slopestyle curve, Steamboat ushered in the decade by adding its first halfpipe to Bashor Bowl in 1990, helping spawn a new freestyle phase on the mountain. It also addressed the steep-and-deep crowd by opening up Chutes Two and Three as well as Christmas Tree Bowl off the top of Mt. Werner, adding glade and couloir terrain that rounded out the resort’s offerings at the expert end of the spectrum. Shortly later, it also brought the “Toutes” (East Face) within the ski area boundary.
After honoring longtime Director of Skiing Billy Kidd with a statue at the base area in 1992, the resort also made one of its biggest lift improvements ever by installing both the Storm Peak Express and Sundown Express high-speed quads to the top of the mountain, opening Steamboat’s world-class terrain to even more skiers and riders. As part of the project, it also removed the old WJW lift, making its former lift line a favorite among powder hounds. “That was one of my favorite projects by far,” says Doug Allen, who started his 30-year career at Steamboat in 1986 and retired as VP of Mountain Operations in 2017. “It changed the way the whole mountain skied.”
If the new lifts put Steamboat on the map, so did that year’s Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, when longtime local Nelson Carmichael won the bronze medal in moguls, becoming Steamboat’s first-ever skier to win an Olympic medal. Shortly later, Nelson’s Run coming down the old Four Points lift line was named in his honor. “That was a big era for mogul skiing and a total honor and surprise that they named it after me,” says Carmichael, who still leads free bump clinics down the run every other Sunday. “Back then it was a super popular run and was where all the bump skiers would hang out anyways.” He adds that the run used to host such bump contests as the Tequila Cup.
The transformation of the Four Points area was just beginning. Just a year later in 1993, the Four Points Hut restaurant opened just above Nelson’s Run, giving the resort yet another on-mountain dining option (musician Jewel even played a concert on its deck outside). In other celebrity news, former President Gerald Ford even paid town a visit, dropping into Hazie Werner’s home unannounced for lunch.
The resort installedmountain cams for the first time in 1995, in the nick of time to document the ski area’s single-day summit snowfall record of 29 inches set on Jan. 25, 1996. And there was even more room to track it up, with the resort also opening Morningside Park with a triple chair that same year, adding 179 acres of prime powder skiing and riding. “Kamori was a great ownership group,” says then marketing vice-president Rod Hanna. “We weren’t being micro-managed and they let us get a lot accomplished.”
All that, of course, made Steamboat even more appealing, to everyone from skiers and riders to investors. In 1997, American Skiing Co. purchased the resort from Kamori International. Appointing Chris Diamond as the resort’s new president, the first improvements the new owners made was developing 260 acres in Pioneer Ridge for hike-to access and replacing the Thunderhead and Arrowhead lifts with the new Thunderhead Express high-speed quad. Another high-speed quad came a few years later in 1998, with the Pony Express chair installed in Pioneer Ridge. And to further hedge its bet against dry years, the resort added snowmaking to the top of Storm Peak. “Pioneer Ridge was a great expansion for us,” says Hanna. “It added a significant amount of user-friendly terrain.”
As Carmichael’s Olympic bronze ushered in the decade with a boost to Steamboat’s freestyle chops, the resort ended it on the same note with the opening and dedication of the Park Smalley Freestyle Complex on the lower mountain, which has since hosted everything from World Cup mogul to aerial competitions. This, combined with the ski area, city and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club teaming up to host four Nordic Combined World Cup events at Howelsen Hill, added to Steamboat’s Ski Town USA reputation worldwide.
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