Hall of Fame Class of 1969
Carl Howelsen was born in Christiania, Norway on March 23, 1877, immigrating to the United States in June, 1905. A winner of major championships in his native Norway, he played a large role in the development of Steamboat Springs for competitive and recreational skiing.
At 28 years of age Carl Howelsen immigrated to the United States loaded with honors because of his virtuosity as a skier. Beginning in 1895, he scored among the top jumping and cross-country competitors participating in Holmenkollen tourneys. Always seeking the coveted nordic-combined championship, Howelsen won the grueling 50-kilometer race twice in a row, his final triumph in 1903 which carried him to combined championships of what is considered the greatest Nordic tourney of the world. His trophies included the Crown Prince Silver Cup, the King’s Silver Cup and the Holmenkollen Gold Medal.
Howelsen’s Americanization began as a ski performer with the Ringling Brothers’ Circus. During this period he also helped organize the Norge Ski Club in Chicago. However, circus life and improvised wood and canvas slides had no appeal for a man who longed for deep snow country but could not locate suitable terrain in Midwestern America. Around 1910, Howelsen reached Colorado and set out (on skis) to explore the Rocky Mountains. One trek took him to Hot Sulfur Springs where he stopped long enough to help stage what may have been the first ski tourney in Colorado. This was two miles north of Steamboat Springs and near the slopes that he believed should prove excellent for skiing.
Tales concerning “that wild Swede” began circulating soon after snow arrived. It was reported that Howelsen had built a platform on a hillside, packed down the snow above and below it and with slats attached to his feet was hurtling through the air 60 to 70 feet. Thus ski jumping came to Steamboat, which later that winter, organized its first snow sports carnival under the expert supervision of the newly-arrived Norwegian. This beginning was followed in1915 with another jump on the much larger and steeper hill south of town that now bears the name Howelsen Hill.
Thanks to snow sports influences set in motion by Carl Howelsen, Steamboat Springs, Colorado was dubbed “Ski Town, U.S.A”. What began more than half a century ago as little more than a steep snow-covered slope saw ski sport spread from a jumping trajectory to encompass adjacent downhill trails into a competitive-recreational complex of great significance to American ski sport. Steamboaters conclude that it would never have been possible but for Howelsen who climaxed his Colorado sojourn in 1921 by winning the Class “A” Jumping Championship of the National Ski Association of America.
A very special rapport soon developed between Howelsen and the youngsters of Steamboat. The community was quick to realize that in the Norwegian, a stocky built and good-humored man, it had acquired something very special. This resulted in the formation of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the oldest organization of its kind in Colorado.
Carl Howelsen never again tracked Colorado snow after winning the national championship in 1921 which may have been his greatest regret. A desire to visit his parents took him back to Oslo. Although his intent was to return to Steamboat, he married and settled in his native country. Nevertheless, the Nowegian-American continued ski jumping until 1948. He also kept in touch with ski sport in this country: first through friends in Steamboat, then by greeting Colorado Olympians who invaded Norway for the Winter Games of 1952. The man who inspired countless Coloradoans died in 1955 at age 78 but, wherever skiers congregate in North America, the fame of Carl Howelsen is a living memory.
Carl Howelsen was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1969.
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