Town Challenge kicks off season

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The designers of the Town Challenge racing series say they can understand the desire some people feel to scream down a racecourse like U.S. Ski Team member Bode Miller.

They also understand that desire reaches past childhood.

That's why the three-event Town Challenge ski racing series had provided adults in Steamboat Springs a place to discover their racing dreams for the past 24 years. On Thursday, the event will begin a new season with a kick-off party from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Tap House Sports Bar and Grill.

"We have a few former nat--ional-level skiers who come out to compete every winter, but I would say the majority of the people who race in the Town Challenge never had the chance to race competitively when they were younger," series director Heather DeVos said. "They always wanted to do it, but didn't have the time or the money. Now, they do."

The kick-off party is an opportunity for interested adults, 18 and older, to learn about the local race series that was established in 1982.

Racing series organizers will provide information about the race series, as well as adult training opportunities available through the Winter Sports Club during the kick-off party. Participants also will be able to register for the series and the first race of the season, which is scheduled for Dec. 22 at Howelsen Hill. The names of people registering for the series or the race will be entered into drawing for prizes, including custom ski boot insoles from Christy Sports, the Town Challenge Official Prize sponsor.

Adults taking part in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Master's training program also are encouraged to attend the kick-off party. Race experience is not required to take part in the Town Challenge; however, DeVos said anyone taking part in the races should be comfortable skiing groomed, black-diamond terrain. Many of the races will take place on the steep-pitched face of Howelsen Hill.

Last year, race events drew between 40 and 70 racers, who came out for the chance to test themselves between the gates and win great prizes at the post-race awards parties. DeVos said the series is a great place to meet new people or to hang out with old friends.

"We are going to be giving out a bunch of prizes at the kick-off party," DeVos said. "It's a great chance to learn about the series and to hang out with friends."

This year's Town Challenge will open with the Ashley Stamp Memorial, a race dedicated to a young skier who died in Vail last December while training for a race. DeVos said the proceeds from the opening giant slalom race will be given to the Ashley Stamp Memorial Fund and will be used by the family to preserve Stamp's memory in our community.

The series also will host four races in January, five races in February and two races in March, including the slalom and giant slalom finales. The cost to participate is $15 a race or $121 for the season. Teams, which are made up of five skiers, can enter the series for $500 for the season.

"This is a chance to find out about the sport of downhill racing and how fun, exciting and rewarding running gates can be," DeVos said. "Courses are set according to (International Skiing Federation) standards, similar to the Olympic courses."

The races are open to snowboarders, as well as telemark and Alpine ski racers. Alpine divisions include elite, expert and novice. There are also divisions for racers 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and older than 70.

The series uses a World Cup scoring system that is used to determine the overall winners in the men's and women's classes, the top-three class winners and team winners. Race results are distributed at the post-race parties and include overall standings, class standings and team standings for each event.

The series offers top prizes, including a $500 gift certificate at Steamboat Ski & Sport, at the end of the season for the top men and women ski racers. Medals also are given to the top-three racers in each class.

DeVos said the series is dependent on sponsors who provide more than $25,000 in prizes for the drawings and grand prize winners, as well as the many volunteers needed to make the series a success.

But the race series also is driven by many locals' desire to scream down a racecourse just like Miller.

-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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