Jack Vanderbeek hops over a rock with his mountain bike Tuesday on the Spring Creek trail in Steamboat Springs. Vanderbeek joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's newest mountain biking program, the Gravity Team. He said the trails can be tough but that he likes the challenges a lot more than the cross-country program he rode with in the past.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Jack Vanderbeek hops over a rock with his mountain bike Tuesday on the Spring Creek trail in Steamboat Springs. Vanderbeek joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's newest mountain biking program, the Gravity Team. He said the trails can be tough but that he likes the challenges a lot more than the cross-country program he rode with in the past.

Winter Sports Club offers daredevils a summer outlet

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Shaq Torrella rides Tuesday on Spring Creek trail in Steamboat Springs.

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Gravity Team coach Cory Prager flies around a corner Tuesday while working with the team on the upper stretches of the Spring Creek trail. Prager, a bike technician at Ski Haus, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Gravity Team, a downhill-focused mountain biking segment of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

— They just couldn't resist.

Spring Creek Trail above Steamboat Springs is tame by the standards of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Gravity Team, but as the half-dozen team riders assaulted the mild pitch and smooth dirt and gravel course Tuesday, they made the most of it.

Every rock became a hurdle to be jumped, every small rise a ramp to be ridden and every gentle turn a line to be aggressively and relentlessly cut.

"You get scared your first few times," 13-year-old Jim Vanderbeek explained. "But then you get used to it."

He donned a full coverage helmet and all the appropriate safety equipment Tuesday, and he flew down the trail.

It's a different kind of mentality, a different way to ride a bike and one that has found a home under the umbrella of the Winter Sports Club's summer mountain biking program for the first time this summer.

Prager-powered

The Gravity Team didn't become Steamboat's fastest gang on two wheels without a little help.

Cory Prager, the team's coach, provided a whole lot of that assistance.

Prager, a 24-year-old bike tech at Ski Haus, moved to Steamboat Springs six years ago from Florida.

"Our team is focused on the racing disciplines of gravity," he said. "We're doing mountain cross and downhill racing. Basically, you can go as fast as you can from point A to point B, down the hill."

Prager said his interest in downhill mountain biking was piqued by a trip to Whistler in British Columbia. He's been an avid downhill rider since. He started with the Winter Sports Club as a freestyle coach, then worked with the biking program last year, helping with the cross-country mountain bike team.

He said the biking program was great for helping athletes develop, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was an audience of children being left unaddressed.

"Cory was super in the downhill event. He and I got to talking about how we could incorporate some of that into the program," Winter Sports Club biking director Ben Clark said. "Cory spearheaded it. I just helped him out in whatever way I could to try and make it a successful venture."

So far, that's been a worthy effort. The program was a natural choice for many young Steamboat riders and already has 22 athletes in its various competitive stages.

"I coached most of the kids during the winter in freestyle skiing," Prager said. "It's a great transition between the two sports. These kids are such great athletes; they were able to pick up the downhill bike skills quickly."

Safety first

In addition to the downhill and mountain cross events, the Gravity Team's riders also are training up for a dual slalom race.

The crew hopes to travel for at least one competition this summer on the Mountain States Cup tour. Still, Prager said racing is only a part of the goals he has established within the team.

First, the club is focused on teaching its athletes to ride such an aggressive style as safely as possible.

While Prager rode with the team down Spring Creek on Tuesday, another coach went to the bottom of the trail to keep an eye out for any hikers or uphill bikers unaware of the avalanche that would soon be coming down.

"The program is really good for the town, too," Clark said. "Cory preaches how to share the trail and ride safely. That's a big concern - here and everywhere - that people who ride downhill will trash the trail and not ride with respect. We're trying to dispel that notion."

The club also hopes to add yet another voice to the mountain biking choir in Steamboat Springs.

Athletes loaded up Saturday to travel to Sol Vista to train on downhill-exclusive trails. Prager said he hopes the awareness his program raises eventually will lead to more trails and, in particular, a few downhill-specific trails.

No fear

Until the program grows and a few directional trails are built into the Steamboat-area trail system, the crew will continue to train on the existing terrain.

So far, that's been plenty to keep Vanderbeek and his 11-year-old brother, Jack, entertained.

"It's a lot more technical," said Jim, who spent three previous years biking with the Winter Sports Club's cross-country program.

Before the Gravity Team, he said he tackled some of the steep trails on Mount Werner with a friend. Since, he said he's learned the right way to fly down a slope.

"I've gotten a lot better," he said. "I've learned to keep looking up and to absorb more with my elbows and knees."

Many of the more difficult trails wind through tight boulder fields and twisty, narrow tracks lined with trees.

That hasn't intimidated Jack.

"It's definitely (scary) sometimes," Jack said. "It's hard when you slip and think, 'Oh, I'm going to fall!' But when you recover, it just feels like, 'Whew.'

"It's great. I have more fun in downhill."

- To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

mtroach 4 years, 10 months ago

I think that this is a great program, but question training on such a busy trail. Why aren't they building DH training trails on Howelson? They are Winter Sports Club, use that name to get a system of DH specific trails built on their training grounds. HH is a perfect place to do it. Lift access, steep slopes, easy rescue if injury happens and a I hope willing partner in the city parks dept. The runs would be short but could be tailored to riders abilities. I think HH has great potential for DH/4X training, the SSWSC/RCR should be pushing this door open for the youth of our community and to direct DH training away from busy open public two way trails.

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Chad James 4 years, 10 months ago

Major kudos to Cory and his gang! They're bright, courteous riders and once they get a dedicated space to train it's going to be awesome! Great job, Cory!

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