If the street events represent the heart of Steamboat Springs' storied Winter Carnival weekend, then the chariot racing provides the beat -- hoof beats, that is.
Picture a pair of blazing-fast racing horses sprinting 440 yards down a snow-covered track lined on both sides by screaming fans.
After nearly 30 years of racing chariots in Steamboat, Kathy Duncan has learned a few things about race day.
If you're a spectator, wear plenty of warm clothing. If you're a gambler, make sure you have some pocket change for the Calcutta. And if you are a driver, get out of the starting gates quickly.
"That's where most races are won or lost," Duncan said.
Duncan said the start is one of the most exciting parts of the race, and it can make all the difference when the winner is determined by less than a second.
By the time the horses reach full speed, the snow will be flying through the mountain air, the drivers will be focused on the finish line, and a team of horses and a chariot can appear as a colorful blur.
For most, the Winter Carnival is a chance to come out and celebrate Steamboat's long and rich skiing tradition, but for members of the Yampa Valley Cutter and Chariot Racing Association, it's a chance to showcase a sport that thrives in the Yampa Valley's ranching community.
"I just love coming out and racing in front of the crowds and the atmosphere of Winter Carnival," Duncan said. "It's a lot more fun to race when you have all those people watching."
For Kathy, her husband, Ed, and daughter, Robin, Winter Carnival is one of the best times of the year.
This year, the track behind Brent Romick Rodeo Arena will host chariot races on Saturday and Sunday during Winter Carnival. The races are scheduled to begin between noon and 1 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12.
Duncan said many of the drivers also take part in the street events, so it takes a little while for them to get to the rodeo grounds and prepare for the races. She said spectators should show up between noon and 1 p.m. if they want to get a good vantage point to watch the events unfold. Those who might want to take part in the Calcutta can register with the auctioneer and get a number so they can take part in the bidding process.
Duncan said there would be a concession stand where spectators can get lunch or a hot drink while waiting for the races to start.
But if simply watching the races doesn't get your blood flowing, spectators can actually become a part of the racing in the Calcutta.
Before each race, an auctioneer "sells" to bettors each of the two teams participating in a race. After one team is auctioned off to the highest bidder, the auctioneer finds another bidder to buy the competing team. The money paid for those two teams goes into a pot to be claimed by the bidder of the winning team.
The auctioneer may repeat the process, selling the two teams to as many pairs of bidders as are willing to buy in. The same teams can be bought and sold several different times, but each purchase begins a separate pot that goes to the winner of that specific bet. The winners will be awarded the pot minus a small percentage, which goes to support the racing organization.
For the racers, prize money is awarded, and good finishes help teams qualify for the World Championships to be held later this winter.
--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org