Up, up and away, Storm Peak Climb awaits | SteamboatToday.com

Up, up and away, Storm Peak Climb awaits

Tony Dickson pedals near the top of Mount Werner during last year's Storm Peak Hill Climb. The Town Challenge returns to the grueling climb Wednesday.

— They stutter and stammer, dropping more "ums" than a box of antacids, but the message from the top riders in Steamboat Springs' Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series is clear.

The Storm Peak Hill Climb, Wednesday's race that sends the pro/open, expert and singlespeed classes from the bottom of Steamboat Ski Area to the top of Storm Peak, is not a favorite.

"It's probably not the highlight of the season," said Alex Pond, one of this season's top riders in the pro/open division. "It's more or less, 'How much can you put down for an hour?'"

Later, he used the word "sadistic" to describe the 9.2-mile slog that requires 3,472 feet of vertical gain.

Pond won the race a year ago, finishing in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 25 grueling seconds, and he said the feeling upon reaching the top — 10,372 feet up — is amazing.

The 9.19 miles before that? Those are less than amazing.

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He's not alone.

"I wouldn't say I love just going up hill for miles and miles and miles," said pro/open rider and 2013 winner Peter Kalmes, digging deep for positivity. "It's kind of cool. It's cool because it's different."

Indeed, the climb is a break from the typical Emerald Mountain/Mount Werner cross country courses that keep Town Challenge riders busy for much of the year. Still, hill climbs have long been a staple of the series and were once the most popular.

"Way, way back when, the hill climb was our busiest race," said Gretchen Sehler, who directed the series for nearly two decades in the 1990s and 2000s.

"It was non-technical, just a straight hill climb, and we had people who came out, and it was their only race of the year," she said.

There are still plenty of riders who love the hill climbs.

"It's definitely fun," pro/open rider Barkley Robinson said. "It's a race, and it's a challenge at the same time. It's fun to go head to head with your buddies and see who's got the legs to make it to the top."

But, Sehler said developments all around have phased out some of the riders most enthusiastic about the uphill haul.

Riders are now more well-balanced, and the trails around Steamboat have been transformed, expanded and improved with moderate grades, limiting the "straight up, straight down" feature that chiseled hill climbing fanatics from what had been normal humans.

The race includes easier variations for less experienced riders. Sport classifications finish at the top of Thunderhead Peak, while novice and some youth classes top out at the saddle just below Christie Peak.

For the top rides, however, a long climb up Valley View, then to the Sunshine, Cathy's Cut Off and Pete's Wicked trails awaits.

Just what, exactly, is the hardest part of the climb depends on who you ask.

Kalmes said he hates any hot section, which can mean the start of the race or a segment on Valley View near the top of Christie Peak.

The middle is agonizing in its own way, and the top turns steep as the air gets thin.

"You can see the top of the hill, but it doesn't ever seem to get any closer," Kalmes said. "You just keep going, and it keeps getting steeper."

Linnea Dixson, one of just four women to reach the peak in last year's race, found more to like in those final miles. They're rarely raced, she said, and not often even ridden, because they're difficult to access.

Grumbling aside, the race has plenty of fans, though they're much more likely to admit it after the race than before.

If a rider can maintain pace up the slope, take some enjoyment from the astonishing views along the way and find joy in a sense of accomplishment, he or she can make it and beat one of the tougher challenges in Steamboat Springs racing.

"It all depends on your attitude," Dixson said. "When it hurts, I have to remind myself, 'No one is making you do this. No one is forcing you to be here. You're out here because you love it. Adjust your attitude!'"

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

Storm Peak Hill Climb Town Challenge

When: Children’s races start at 5:25 p.m. The Pro/open class is the first adult division at 5:55

Where: The race begins at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, near the Christie Peak Express chairlift

Cost: On-site registration will be available and cost $35

Course: The race will have several different finish lines. The pro/open, expert and singlespeed classes will race 9.2 miles and finish atop Storm Peak. Sport riders will ride 6 miles and finish atop Thunderhead Peak while Novice riders will go 2.2 miles and stop near the top of Christie Peak.