Steamboat bikers soak up warmth on road, mountain trails
April 7, 2012
Steamboat Springs — It's only fair, they reason.
Last year was simply torturous for the mountain bikers, the hikers and all their similar summer-sport brethren. Cool, wet weather made April and May simply miserable. That's not exactly rare in Steamboat Springs, but when things still were soggy and cold through June, some struggled.
Now, a year later, everything seems different. While last year's weather seemed to delay summer by almost a month, this year's weather is at least that far ahead, maybe more.
"This is just a bonus," said Essam Welch, of Orange Peel Bicycle Service. "Yeah, sure, we didn't get the best ski season, but two extra months of summer is what we're looking at."
There are plenty of things to be concerned about: A dismal final month at Steamboat Ski Area and the prospect of a wildfire- and grasshopper-filled summer don't amount to good news for anyone.
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Plenty have found ways to enjoy the unseasonably warm spring, though, launching in summer sports. This could be the summer with two extra months, and it's only fair.
Tommy Fox admitted they'd be skiing. What else is there to do on a sunny Steamboat Springs Saturday afternoon in early April?
With two-thirds of Steamboat Ski Area closed in the face of melting snow, he and four friends went elsewhere looking for fun, and they found it on the year-old BMX track at the base of Howelsen Hill.
The track, rebuilt in late 2010, began hosting races last year and will welcome a wealth of events again this summer. No one expected it to be ready to ride in April, but it was dry last week, and on Saturday, riders bumped and jumped across the hard dirt.
"It's definitely gotten the biking bug out," Fox said.
It's the same story across town. On Saturday, hikers and bikers continued to probe the areas traditionally first to dry. Usually, that's a process best left until mid-May, but as has been the case for weeks, they found themselves awestruck at what they found.
Mountain bikers worked their way up the Mad Creek and Hot Springs trails.
"It's bone dry to the wilderness boundary on Mad Creek," Orange Peel's Brock Webster said. "There's not even a puddle."
Wait it out
Most trails still are closed.
Some mountain bikers have ventured up Emerald Mountain, but it's too early for that, Routt County Riders trail coordinator Gretchen Sehler said.
Aware that some were trying, she and husband Marc Sehler set out Thursday to see just what the terrain looked like. They said they found plenty of dry trail but also large sections that still were tucked in snow banks.
"I walked up there and came across a 75-foot snow drift, a 50-foot snow drift and then a 100-foot snow drift," she said Thursday evening. "I was a mile and a half up the trail, and people had been riding it. There were already, like, 3 inches of bike tracks where people had sunk down, so the trail and Emerald are closed."
Emerald long has been an all-season biking platform, maybe never more so than this year, when the mild winter encouraged mountain bikers to assault the snow-covered trails. That activity left the trails snowpacked, and it's some of those stomped-down areas that are turning out to be the last to dry out.
Gretchen Sehler said avoiding Emerald trails is no joke.
"The thing is, a bike track is a linear thing," Sehler said. "Water seeks the lowest area, so it will run and then erode. A footprint is a bit different, but all users need to stay off of it for now. If a bike tire goes through, water has an avenue to run, and it will carry more soil down. Footprints, when everything dries, become like rumble strips, and horse hooves even sink in too far.
"The only thing that's open now is Blackmer Drive. There are a lot of dusty trials, but there are sections that aren't ready yet."
Barring the return of winter — which, of course, could be one forecast away — or an onset of rainstorms, the wait shouldn't be long. Sehler guessed some of the Emerald trails could be ready in a week or two.
How strange is the spring of 2012? Sehler said she's never seen anything like it in 30 years. Consider: She's asking people to wait until the middle of April to ride Emerald.
Other areas are closed because of mud, snow and other reasons. All but the bottom of Spring Creek can't open until April 15 because it serves as an elk habitat. The Beall Trail on the backside of Emerald faces a similar situation. It will be closed until July 1 because the area is set aside for elk calving.
Hit the road
Although most mountain bike trails may need a little more time to dry out, plenty of area roads do not.
March and April can mean long rides on paved roads for the truly dedicated. This year, many of the gravel county roads are dried up and ready to be ridden.
"The road riding is just excellent right now," Welch said.
Part of that is the temperature, which has dried out much of what often is a muddy mess this time of year.
He pointed to the roads along Colorado Highway 131 and Routt County Road 14, including 14B, C, D and E as ideal parts of fun loops.
Even if sticking to blacktop, this year should be better than others. The lack of snow also meant a lack of scoria and rock on the road, and that should make for smooth riding.
Basically, anyone who's packed away skis or snowboards shouldn't have any trouble finding a way to entertain him or herself. The pool has been packed at Old Town Hot Springs. Area ranches already are offering horseback tours. Kayakers are taking advantage of the runoff while they can.
Steamboat seems intent on soaking it up.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com