Restructured triathlon schedule in Steamboat area remains strong, organizers say
August 16, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — By the summer of 2014, Routt County was starting to run out of bodies of water, at least for triathlon promoters seeking a unique venue.
The region played host to just one triathlon from 2005 to 2010, the Steamboat Triathlon, which ran for its 13th year at Lake Catamount on Sunday and brought in a big crowd of 420 athletes.
In 2014, however, triathlons were in the midst of a major surge and five different events dotted the Steamboat Springs summer, filling local lakes big and small, and even one swimming pool.
Now three years later, those numbers have been trimmed back from five to essentially two, a sign of the times, said Lance Panigutti, whose Without Limits Productions puts on the Catamount event.
He said it's not proof the triathlon bubble has burst but rather that the sport has entered a different stage across the region and most certainly in Steamboat Springs.
Sunday's triathlon drew a record number of registrations for its time under the Without Limits umbrella, since 2011, with 420 athletes.
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That's about 175 more than it attracted in 2016, yet the company's triathlon footprint in Routt County actually took a major step back in 2017. It ended the Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon, which ran from 2011 to 2016.
"A lot of the feedback we got was that people were picking one race or the other," Panigutti said of the decision to drop the Steamboat Lake event. "This year, we decided to focus on one good, high-quality event."
One field of 420, he said, is better than two fields of 250.
"The more people you have in an event, the more it feels like a race," he said. "If you have half as many participants, it might not really feel like racing."
This year’s race may have felt more like "racing" than the Steamboat Triathlon has in quite awhile. It hasn't topped 400 athletes in Panigutti's time running it, though it did in its early years.
Joy Rasmussen, the Steamboat triathlon fanatic and Ironman finisher who started the Catamount triathlon and still races in it, said at one point the event hit a cap of 600 athletes before 2010.
"It was a different time in triathlon," she said.
Then, as now, participation really came down to drawing Front Range athletes. One big difference is there are now many more Front Range events to keep those swimmers, bikers and runners from having to venture into the mountains to find races.
"The number of races on the Front Range has tripled," Panigutti said. "A lot of that is me."
Without Limits played host to 10 different triathlons this summer, most of which take place on the Front Range.
Having such a network helps for several reasons. For one, it makes production costs drop.
"If you're like I was, putting on one race a year, that's not profitable," Rasmussen said. "You're losing money or you're writing a check to someone at the end of the race. These guys can do it profitably."
It also helps generate a built-in field of competitors for each event. Without Limits urges athletes who compete in Boulder, for instance, to make the trip to Steamboat.
Maybe it's not working the same way it was three or four years ago, but it's still working. This year's Steamboat Triathlon — albeit with a lower cap than the race had seven years ago — sold out three weeks before anyone actually dove into Lake Catamount.
"The sport grows and restructures," Panigutti said. "There's a supply to meet a demand, then there's an over supply, so there's a natural contraction. It's the best race that sticks around."
At this point, two triathlons remain fixtures on the Steamboat calendar.
In addition to the Steamboat Triathlon in Lake Catamount, five-time Ironman champ Heather Gollnick and her husband, Todd Gollnick, have regularly put on the Tri the Boat triathlon in June at Stagecoach Reservoir. It now stretches into two days, with an Olympic distance race on a Saturday in June and a half-Ironman distance race on Sunday.
In a new triathlon world with ample Front Range competition, plus competing "adventure" events such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, that may be sustainable.
"Everything has leveled off," Rasmussen said. "Triathlon still has global appeal."