Howelsen -- Steamboat's 'gem'

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Steamboat Springs mountain bikers consider Howelsen Hill their own little secret.

Its close proximity to downtown makes Howelsen perfect for after-work rides or quick lunch-hour trips. Its trails are relatively unknown to those from outside of Steamboat, which is fine by Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series director Gretchen Sehler.

"Howelsen is a gem in our back yard," Sehler said. "It's a locals' riding area that isn't published and we don't want it published. We want to keep it as quiet as we can. We are so lucky to have it."

The Town Challenge Series continues Thursday with the Howelsen Hill Cross-Country race. Sehler said Thursday's cross-country course incorporates a section of trail on Emerald Mountain that locals have dubbed the "Root Canal" because of its rough and rooty terrain.

Mountain bikers planning to compete in the race should take note that it's on Thursday evening instead of the usual Wednesday because of the Marty Lloyd and Los Lobos free concert at Howelsen tonight.

The race officially will start at the bottom of Howelsen near the rodeo grounds and ascend on a combination of trails and roads to the top of Emerald Mountain before descending on roads and trails and finishing near the Nordic ski jumps.

The Howelsen Hill Cross-Country begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for the children's divisions and at 6 p.m. for adults, marking the final time this season that a Town Challenge race will be staged on Howelsen.

"We've had a great season to date," Sehler said. "With the rains we've had recently, the trails are in really nice shape. The dust has settled."

In addition, with only two races left and the nights coming earlier and getting slightly colder, Thursday's race is the final one with the later start times.

The final two races of the eight-race Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series are the Buffalo Pass Hill Climb on Aug. 20 and the Mount Werner Criterium on Sept. 5.

People interested in registering for Thursday's race or the final two may do so at the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Offices in Howelsen Park near the Howelsen Ice Arena at a cost of $11 for adults and $6 for youth.

On-site registration is also available before Thursday's race. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for youth.

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