Rabbit Ears skiing, biking race newest event from Steamboat race director | SteamboatToday.com

Rabbit Ears skiing, biking race newest event from Steamboat race director

Why include the option to ride a unicycle in a ski and snowbike race? Dan Smilkstein said because it's fun. Finding unique ideas like that are among the things that have motivated him to invent yet another big Routt County endurance event. The Steamboat Coureur — with one day dedicated to skiing and the other to snow biking or unicycling — is set for early April.
Joel Reichenberger

Editor’s note: The event has been moved to March 31 and April 1 because of deteriorating snow conditions.

Dan Smilkstein, from left, Tammy Jacques and Essam Welch demonstrate the combined methods of transportation that will be employed at next month's Steamboat Coureur on Rabbit Ears Pass.Joel Reichenberger

The details are the hard part, Dan Smilkstein said. That's what keeps him up at night as race days near, as events come together.

Still, on Wednesday he couldn't help but ponder one of the big things: the weather. As he stood and chatted with a pair of Steamboat Springs athletes — cross-country skiing and cycling phenom Tammy Jacques and cycling maniac Essam Welch — he gazed over the landscape of Rabbit Ears Pass. Snow still blanketed the landscape, but another warm March day seemed to be liquefying it by the second.

Neither big problems nor small seem to derail Smilkstein, however.

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He said he took up unicycling four years ago, inspired at first by a neighbor's efforts, because he's always looking for something he can get better at. That same logic applies to the events he puts on. He's always looking for something else, something unique, something new to bring to the community.

This spring, Smilkstein's quest for a challenge will bring about another great challenge for local athletes: the Steamboat Coureur, an event with 10-, 25- and 50-kilometer cross-country ski races one day and 17- and 50-kilometer snow bike or unicycle races the following, is set for April 7 and 8.

"I love getting the ideas and developing them," he said. "I'll go out and do something and think, 'Boy, this would be really cool if we got other people.' I'm just looking for something really fun."

Planning for a cause

Smilkstein is no stranger to staging races in and around Steamboat Springs.

He helped found the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council and through that organization brought about a cross-country race series each winter.

Smitten by the vast network of trails in North Routt County, he helped start the North Routt Coureur des Bois in 2005. That event, with 45- and 90-kilometer cross-country races, quickly grew from a gathering of local enthusiasts. It is now renowned as one of the continent's most grueling tests, and it's the apple of many a marathon skiers' eyes.

The race, which this year was renamed Glide the Divide, served as a fundraiser for the area's trail system. Although he has stepped back from that event, winners from here on out will receive the Smilkstein founder's trophy.

Everywhere he's gone, he's found a community willing and eager to embrace his events and the causes they support.

The city of Steamboat Springs' Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department is lending a hand for the Steamboat Coureur race in April, as is the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Both stand to benefit from the inaugural event's success.

Smilkstein was the president of Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park, a group that was a major player in last year's land acquisition on the downtown Steamboat mountain that doubles as a city park. The Steamboat Coureur will serve as a benefit for Emerald and the Winter Sports Club's scholarship fund.

Ideas taking shape

So what is it about throwing these massive oxygen-depriving parties that keeps Smilkstein's brain churning?

It's not the stressful late nights leading up to the starting gun, he said. He thrives on the process of implementing his ideas and the creativity the events demand.

Take one of the smallest touches of the Coureur des Bois, for instance: the trophy. Smilkstein scoured eBay before the event and selected antique trophies. Winners got grand old cups, last handed out maybe 75 or even 100 years ago.

For the Steamboat Coureur, Smilkstein chose an area on Rabbit Ears Pass directly next to the Steamboat Snowmobile Tours headquarters on a trail groomed by the company's owner, Jason Cobb.

Aware of the recent surge in popularity in snow biking — an activity that reached new heights locally thanks to a relatively warm and dry winter in Steamboat Springs — he thought to include that along with the skiing.

And looking for something unique, something fun and something different, he added the unicycle, as well.

"I've been told this is the first snow unicycle race," he said. "Really, if we even get three people, a whole podium, I'll be thrilled with that."

Three, one or none, though, it's about the fun ideas.

It should be a hit. The course is entirely hemmed in national forest and is mostly devoid of grueling hills, though there are several tough stretches.

"I sent out two recreational riders who rented snow bikes from us, and I explained the trail and what we call The Wall, the biggest climb you'll encounter," recounted Essam Welch, who works for Orange Peel Bicycle Service in Steamboat.

An avid snow biker, he plans to participate himself and is eager to see the race and the sport catch on.

"They went out and came back just thrilled," he said. "It's a doable course. We will have some really good, flowing singletrack-like riding we will encounter."

Another big day

So far, the people seem to agree: This one will be fun.

Smilkstein said he's anticipating several hundred people for the event and has bikers and skiers registering from across the county. The U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team has indicated it will show up with its band of local Olympic heroes and new World Cup champion Bryan Fletcher.

Last week brought an email from Russian Olympic silver medalist Alexander Panzhinskiy asking for help entering the country a few days early for a previously planned trip so they can trek to Colorado to race one of Smilkstein's races.

For Smilkstein, the compliments don't ring much sweeter.

"It's definitely a love/hate thing," he said about putting on such events. "There can be a lot of anxiety, but I love the ideas and developing them. I can get so tired before the event, then when I'm there, I remember how great it is."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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