Steamboat Springs Dan Smilkstein said he was looking for something a bit different when he began planning this year’s Steamboat Coureur, and Sunday, on the second of the Rabbit Ears Pass event’s two days, that dedication to new was evident.
Where snowmobiles have dominated all winter and skiers soared Saturday, bicycles were the preferred mode of transportation Sunday, a contingent of mostly local athletes gathering to compete in Steamboat Springs’ first snow bike event, featuring 50- and 17-kilometer races, and several shorter unicycle events.
“It was a beautiful course and a great day,” Smilkstein said. “The trail stayed in good shape and you had great scenery the whole time.”
Snow biking has been in existence in Steamboat for years, the town’s ravenous cyclists sliding along packed-down Emerald Mountain trails even through the heart of the winter. Local custom bike manufacturer Moots opened up to the market last year by offering its first production snow bike, designed to accommodate extra-fat tires to facilitate float on top of the snow.
For many of Sunday’s riders, though, the experience was a first, and many found it wasn’t as simple as “floating” might make it all sound.
The course was fine in the morning, after the overnight freeze left the it firm and, for a regular mountain bike, fast.
But with the sun came increased worries. Areas not in the shade began to melt into slush, and areas that had been a breeze on the first of the top laps for the 50K race were monsters on the second.
Barkley Robinson won the men’s race, finishing in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 55 seconds. The conditions started to deteriorate on him, but they were never anything like what later finishers faced. By the time women’s champion Tammy Jacques came pedaling through the final sections of the course, the slush made every kilometer grueling. She gritted her teeth, the professional cyclist pouring everything she had into simply going forward.
“The second lap was very arduous,” she said. “I had too much pressure in my tires. I tried to let some out. Every little climb I had to get off and walk.
“But it was great. I had fun.”
The Steamboat Coureur combined a day of Nordic ski racing Saturday with Sunday’s bike races, and organizers initially had hoped to attract hundreds of competitors. A quickly melting snow course forced them to bump the event ahead a week at the last minute, however, and that took an enormous toll on participating athletes, and even volunteers.
On Sunday, about 20 people took part, many of whom also had skied Saturday.
“We just wondered how so many other cyclists could have missed it. It’s too bad more of the town’s bikers didn’t come up and do it,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, we do it again next year and it keeps getting bigger and better.”
Erik Lobeck was the second 50K finisher, in at 2:08:28 and Ben Clark was third, finishing at 2:18:36.
Jacques, one of two women’s long-course competitors, finished in 2:42:15.
Eight of the day’s competitors took part in unicycle races of three distances. For them, it wasn’t about winning as much as trying out one of their favorite hobbies on an entirely new surface.
“It was a new experience, let’s say that,” Tim Rowse said. “I don’t know that it was any different. It was just a different surface.”
Annika Belshaw was first and Mae Thorp was second in a 1K unicycle race. Decker Dean was first and Noel Keeffe was second in a 2.5K race while Mark Anderson was first, Ann Barbier was second and Tim Rowse was third in a 5K race.
Smilkstein, meanwhile, tackled the 17K course on a unicycle, along with five regular bike riders.
Reed Zars, of Laramie, Wyo., won the distance, and Smilkstein came in at last place, rolling down toward the finish line as he waved his arms to keep balanced, a wide smile on his face.
“Given the circumstances for putting this on a week ahead, it went great,” Smilkstein said. “Everyone here said they had a great time, and I guess that’s the measure of success.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com