Steamboat Springs Routt County residents have a rare opportunity this Memorial Day weekend to put the Yampa River's high flows into perspective. The Paddler Magazine Invitational brings 35 of the world's best professional kayakers to Steamboat Springs on Monday, turning what may be the Yampa's peak flow into a competitive playground for international bragging rights and hefty cash prizes.
The event commemorates Steamboat-based Paddler's 15th anniversary and will feature a 1-mile timed race on Fish Creek coupled with a judged freestyle event at the "C-hole." Men's and women's division winners will be determined by combined point totals.
Paddler editor-in-chief Eugene Buchanan said the conditions are right for Steamboat to host its first pro event that combines creek and freestyle disciplines.
"There's a few reasons," Buchanan said. "One, it's always high water this time of year, and I think we hit it right on the nose. Two, there's a lot of athletes in town for the Teva Mountain Games starting next Tuesday, and three, it's a way to celebrate the milestone of our 15th anniversary, showing the world's top kayakers what Steamboat has to offer. Fish Creek is a serious piece of whitewater. It's a backyard gem for our expert kayakers here."
The competitors will begin their timed starts in the Charlie Beavers Classic race down Fish Creek at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the bridge beneath Fish Creek Falls. Spectators can hike to watch the start but should remember that U.S. Forest Service day-use fees apply to anyone parking in the Fish Creek Falls parking area.
The 2 p.m. freestyle event will be more spectator-friendly, taking place on the whitewater feature adjacent to the Bud Werner Memorial Library parking lot at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat.
Longtime local boater and industry pioneer Chan Zwanzig will be one of three judges awarding points for "style, continuity, amplitude of moves, degree of completion, and I'll really be looking to push the concept of linking tricks together," he said.
Zwanzig said he thinks the event is a perfect opportunity to push some of the world's most skilled athletes to entertain the crowd by combining technical aerial tricks on the platform of an
"It's a big, powerful, beefy, phenomenally challenging feature. You have to be a good paddler just to be in it right now," Zwanzig said about the C-hole.
Spectators at Monday's festivities will have a hometown athlete to cheer. Kevin Dombey will be Steamboat's only kayaker to compete in the invitational.
The event winners will be named during a 7 p.m. ceremony at Sunpie's Bistro, 735 Yampa Ave. The party is open to the public and will feature music from David Harlan, Kat in tha Hat/DJ Founder and The Plagiarists.
"We're going to celebrate 15 years -- it's definitely a long time in the magazine business," Buchanan said.
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