Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

There are no words to describe the utter madness I witnessed at Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival this past weekend…

…but I’m sure going to try!

Steamboat Springs was celebrating their 102nd Winter Carnival and obviously, I needed to take my loaner Toyota Highlander on an adventure. We packed up our ski gear and some snacks and hit the road!

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

All Photos by Will Rochfort

The Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival is an iconic event in this Western mountain town and after witnessing it, I can see why. Historically speaking, the carnival came to be in 1914 as a means to break up the frigid and long winters that happen up in Routt County. As a result, it’s almost like liability waivers are thrown out the window in favor of sheer entertainment! And, I’m not the only one that considers this Winter Carnival a must-see; in 2012, National Geographic listed it as one of the ten best winter carnivals in the world!

Will and I forewent the Carnival events on Friday and Saturday morning and opted for skiing instead. Sadly, Steamboat isn’t getting much of their iconic Champagne Powder, but we still had some fun. Side note: I quickly learned that skiing the day after a long run is a poor life choice! I can’t even begin to count the number of times Will found me laying on the side of a ski run, staring at the sky while I tried to give my legs a quick reprieve!

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Saturday night was the main event and we headed over to Howelsen Hill for the Night Extravaganza. We had no idea what to expect, but a friend told us that there would be lots of fire and explosions. Seriously? Count me in!

The Night Extravaganza began with a bang–quite literally–when the Lighted Man made an appearance on the ski hill. He appeared at the top of the mountain, completely covered in lights that brightly shone through the darkness. That in itself was entertaining, but I almost lost it when I realized he was wearing a backpack full of fireworks that were going off as he skied down the hillside!ย The Lighted Man was literally a human firework machine!

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

After that spectacle, we weren’t sure anything could top it but the pyrotechnics continued to impress. Various ski teams from the Winter Sports Club skied down the mountain with torches, illuminating the hillside with neon patterns.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

But then, things got crazy! Howelsen is known for its ski jumps and skiers use them to train for the Olympics. Not only were people launching off these jumps into the inky darkness, but they decided to add a little more danger with some fire: these kids were jumping through a flaming hoop as they launched off the ramp!

Finally, to top that, a ski patrol guy came down the ramp, pulling an emergency rescue sled that was essentially filled with kerosene and lit on fire. This man pulled his fiery sledย through a hoop of fire, and then launched off the jump before safely landing.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Y’all, I couldn’t even handle these massive jumps without breaking my face, and these guys were navigating them while lit on fire. It was madness!

Will and I laughed all the way home, confidently claiming that Sunday’s street events could never top the spectacle we had just witnessed at Howelsen. And while the street events were decidedly different–and there was no fire!!–they were equally entertaining.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

In order to accommodate all of Sunday’s events, the City of Steamboat carts in dump trucks full of snow from the mountains. Before the events begin, they drop all of the snow on Lincoln Ave, the main drag through town. They cover the pavement so Lincoln is essentially one long, flat ski run.

The first event we watched was the Donkey Jump. Kids ages 8-14 strapped on their skis and grabbed a rope that was tied to a horseback rider. When the announcer said go, the horseback rider would take off sprinting down the street, pulling the kid behind him. They would line up so that the kiddo hit the ramp that was carefully placed in the middle of the road, launching into the air. The winning skier was the person who managed to cover the most distance with his jump. {For the record, the winning kid launched almost 40 feet!}

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Finally, we closed out our trip by watching the infamous Shovel Race. For adults only, I had heard about this event and labeled it as pure carnage. Again, horses were involved only this time, adults supplied their own shovels so that horses could pull them down the street. Fastest time won and it was hysterical to see the different techniques used by the adults.

Some chose to straddle the shovel and lift their feet in the air:

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

While others simply chose to hang on for dear life.

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Regardless, it was absolutely hysterical and I kept inwardly cringing as I watched them fly by. Did some of these guys not want to have babies?! The winner was a 40-something woman who covered the distance in 8.2 seconds!

The entire Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival concluded with a parade–complete with a marching band on skis!–but Will and I missed it since we needed to head back to the city. Usually, tourist events like this don’t live up to their hype but Steamboat’s Winter Carnival was different. Not only does it appeal to out-of-towners like us, but locals enjoy it as well. Plus, for me, it encouraged that wild west feeling that Steamboat is known for. After all, there aren’t too many towns that will light people on fire for the sake of entertainment!


Have you ever been to a winter carnival?


  • Reply Steamboat Chamber at

    Thanks for the great feature. We’re so glad you had the chance to visit and experience this western inspired winter celebration! BTW – the shovel race riding styles are “cowboy” and “kamikaze” ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply heather at

      I love that they’re named styles– and kamikaze is just too perfect ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Amy at

    This looks awesome! Steamboat has a soft place in my heart. I love it! But more often than not, I seem to end up there in the summer than the winter, which is nuts, right?!

    • Reply heather at

      The saying up there is, “Come for the winter, stay for the summer!” Honestly, I think it’s better in the summer– so beautiful and quiet!

  • Reply Lucas at

    This is one of the things I miss most about SB! Always fun and worth attending as many events as possible! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply heather at

      I somehow never went when I lived up there!

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life at

    I’ve heard good things about the Ullr Fest at Breck; one of these days I’ll make it to that, I hope

    • Reply heather at

      They just had that last week! I think they do ice sculptures for theirs but no fire ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Grainne at

    Wow it looks like so much fun!

    • Reply heather at

      It was such a good time! Have you ever been?

  • Reply Hayley@healthyregardshayley at

    This looks so fun!

  • Reply Scott Norby at

    Whoa!! The photos are insane! Will got skill!!

    • Reply heather at

      I tend to agree ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait to see what he puts together for Pine Ridge!

  • Reply Natalie Ford at

    This is insanity! I love Steamboat, but I’ve never been for the Winter Carnival. Definitely want to make that happen in the next few years!

    • Reply heather at

      Do it. The character combined with the entertainment makes it a fantastic trip.

  • Reply Mattie @ Comfy & Confident at

    Wow! That looks amazing. Those pictures are incredible.

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Mattie! Will is a fantastic photog ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Kayla at

    Did you never go to this when you lived in Steamboat???

    I would love to see that fire show on the mountain!! So cool. And okay, the kid with the hair hat and broom was so cute!!! So basically this is like a winter mountain town redneck show? Every now and then when the roads got icy at home (when we were kids), we would take a ski rope and water knee board and drag it down the street behind a 4 wheeler (since we didn’t have horses) as fast as possible. So much fun.

  • Reply Katta - Bucketlife at

    Just found your blog by lucky internet chance – I love it! Def coming back ๐Ÿ™‚
    And this carnival?! So crazy, it’s now on my bucket list! Amazing, haha!

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