Steamboat Springs This Sunday, local mountain bike racer Jamie Morgan will climb out of bed before the sun rises, pack his stuff and a few buddies into his full-sized white Ford van and begin the hour-and-a-half trek to Winter Park for the opening race of the resort's annual mountain bike series.
For Morgan, the journey is part of a lifestyle that keeps him on the road most weekends during the summer chasing his passion for racing on fat tires.
"I've already been to 10 races this summer," the professional mountain bike racer said. "Right now there are only three weekends that I'm not going to race but that could change."
Morgan said the Winter Park series, which runs every other Sunday from June 9 through Aug. 25 (the only exception is July 21) is a chance for riders from Steamboat Springs to take their mountain biking to the next level.
"I encourage people from Steamboat to go to the Winter Park races," Morgan said. "There is no reason they can't race in our local Town Challenge series and also race in other events across the state."
Because of its close location to Denver, Boulder and the Front Range, the Winter Park races have grown into some of the biggest in the state. They typically draw top professional riders and offer outstanding competition for riders at all levels.
There are other series in Vail, Summit County, Durango and Steamboat, but few of the events draw the kind of numbers they get in Winter Park. Steamboat's series runs every other Sunday throughout the summer.
This weekend's opener, which features a 5.3-mile hill climb, is expected to field more than 600 riders. Race director Tom Carey said the hill climb would most likely be the smallest race of the six-event series.
Jamie and his wife, Megan, have been known to pack up to seven riders into their van to make the trip to the races, which are popular among local riders. He said the competition is stiffer in Winter Park, but it's something that every mountain bike racer in Steamboat Springs should attempt.
"I think there are some bigger individual events, but as far as a series goes, I think we are the biggest," Carey said.
Carey said the series in Winter Park has run for the past 12 years but has just surpassed the 600 mark the past couple of years. He thinks the events' popularity is part of a trend for riders to seek out lower-key, higher-access events.
"I think a lot of riders are moving away from those high-profile NORBA events where they end up paying a lot of money and not getting any of the attention," Carey said.
Despite the local series' popularity, the Winter Park organizers have tried to maintain the race series' hometown feel. Carey says he does this by concentrating on offering the racers great courses and a fun event.
Medals are handed out to the winners of each race instead of cash and the best prizes are the ones that are raffled off at the after-race party.
The cost to enter the six-event series is $130 for all six races. Riders can preregister for individual events for $27 per event for adults. Riders 18 years of age or younger can register for $22.