High school mountain bikers set to flood Steamboat Springs
September 14, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs plays host to plenty of sports events, and plenty of those events are mountain bike races. Organizers for the Colorado High School Cycling League warn, however, the town doesn't often see anything like what's about to descend upon it this weekend.
The Colorado League has been putting on high school mountain bike races around the state since 2010, expanding by leaps and bounds along the way. It'll make its first stop in Steamboat Springs on Sunday.
The race was originally scheduled for last week but was bumped to a fall-back date because of the smoke that filled the Yampa Valley from the Deep Creek Fire.
"What's descending upon Steamboat is what I call a party on bikes with high school students," said Kate Rau, the Boulder-based founder of the Colorado League. "It will be a blast."
It will certainly be big. There were originally 549 high school riders registered for the event. They won't all make the trip in light of the rescheduling, but organizers are still expecting a huge crowd.
They'll race in four heats and in eight divisions, starting at 8:50 a.m. Sunday and wrapping up with awards at 4 p.m. It will all take place on Emerald Mountain with the finish line set in the flats below the ski jumps.
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A handful of things will distinguish the high school race from Steamboat's many other mountain bike races.
For one, the high school races are designed to be run in laps. A 5.4-mile course will take riders from the base of the mountain, around the Bluffs loop on the east side of Emerald, then back and down through Orton Meadows, a trail partially rerouted with this event in mind, to the finish.
"It's on the higher end, which is why it's a later race in the season," Rau said, assessing the difficulty of Steamboat's course. "We like our courses to be progressive. The first race is a little easier, then they can get a little more challenging."
Varsity boys riders will tackle four laps. The varsity girls and junior varsity boys divisions will ride three laps, and the rest, including freshman and sophomore boys and girls, will ride two laps.
Using a lap format allows for the opportunity of a little more support for young riders than a cyclist might find in, for instance, a 16-mile Town Challenge mountain bike race that sends riders up, up and up, then down, down and down on Emerald Mountain.
"The cool thing about these races is you get kids of all abilities, kids who are avid mountain bike racers and kids who really enjoy riding bikes and just like being on a team," said Blair Seymour, coach of Steamboat's mountain bike team. "You have such varying levels of riders you need to have a course you can make longer or shorter."
The league is in its eighth season. Rau said there was consistently one mountain bike race set aside for high schoolers through the late 1990s and early 2000s, but that drifted away. So, she started up the current organization, and its first event was in 2010, attracting 155 athletes from around the state.
The league is not associated with most regular high school sports or the Colorado High School Activities Association, and Steamboat's team is not associated with Steamboat Springs High School.
The events have grown very quickly in the years since 2010. All the state's riders don't compete head to head any more. The state is split into a northern and a southern division, each racing every other Sunday throughout the fall season — except when smoke fills the Yampa Valley, that is.
That amounts to more than 1,000 high school athletes putting rubber to dirt every two weeks in the fall.
"It's a ton of fun, and I'm really positive about youth development," Rau said. "It just happens to be in the form of a saddle of a mountain bike. I like anything that gets kids outside, participating in family-friendly outdoors activities."
The growth of Steamboat's team has mirrored that growth of the state league. Seymour helped found the squad in 2013. There were 11 riders that first season. She has 32 on the roster this year.
"The word's getting out," Seymour said. "It's just fun, a fun group to be involved in.
"It will be cool this weekend to watch the whole event because there's constantly action going on."