Winter Carnival: Bicyclists slide down steep, snowy slalom course |

Winter Carnival: Bicyclists slide down steep, snowy slalom course

Donny Leavitt, left, and Trevyn Newpher compete in 2011 for the championship during the Winter Carnival bike slalom at Howelsen Hill.

— All bicyclists ages 12 and older are welcome to test their nerve in a dual slalom on the steep, snowy slopes of Howelsen Hill on the night of Friday, Feb. 7, during Winter Carnival. But anyone who is serious about winning the race might leave their brand-new balloon tire snow bike at home and armor up with studded tires on a more traditional frame.

"The race is designed to be friendly, and it started out friendly, but the top four to six racers are definitely going for the win," longtime contestant Brian Deem said.

He recalls the days when everyone showed up to race on their standard mountain bikes without any modifications to the tires. But for quite a while now, serious racers have been experimenting with the best way to add studs to a worn mountain bike tire, often with sheet metal screws.

Race organizer Chris Johns said there is no reason for casual racers to be intimidated by the serious riders in the field. This is an event for everyone, and by all means, wear a costume if you're dying to let your freak flag fly. But you also should consider a full-face helmet, Johns said.

Yes, there will be wipeouts at the Winter Carnival dual slalom bicycle race again this year among the expected field of 30 to 50 cyclists.

"Every year, the conditions differ," including the nature of the bump created by the grooming crew in midcourse, Johns said. "Be prepared to crash and tumble down the course. It's not the most easy, technically."

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Johns agreed with Deem that the new snow bikes aren't having an impact yet on the Winter Carnival dual slalom.

"They don't perform as well on that course, it being a steep ski course," he said. "We had a few people (on new snow bikes) last year, and they floated on top and weren't able to carve a turn."

Deem tackles creative cycle repairs at his shop, Bikewerx. Johns is the owner of Wheels Bike Shop.

Johns said most slalom racers are using 2.5-inch to 3-inch tires compared to the fat tire snow bikes that range from 4 to 5 inches.

Deem took part in the high-stakes bicycle slalom at Vail last winter and has returned with a secret weapon that won't be unveiled until just before the race.

"I learned a lot last year by going to Vail (where the prize for first place was $1,000). I built a new set of tires for this year that are unbelievable," Deem said. "They are going to be fresh."

Competitors in Steamboat will be competing for a unique trophy sculpted and welded out of steel bicycle parts by Johns.

Johns suggests that novices use a smaller bike than perhaps they are accustomed to and set the seat very low. They also might have a faster overall time, he said, if they begin slowly and round the first slalom gate before fixing a line and building speed. All too often, new riders crash between the first and second gates, he explained.

But Deem said the competitive cyclists will charge out of the gate from the beginning.

"It is a race," Deem said. "There's a gun and a finish line."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Dual slalom bicycle race

(Ages 12 and older, Howelsen Hill, downtown off Fifth Street) Sponsored by Bike Town USA and Wheels Bike Shop. Register the night of the event, Friday, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Fireplace Room at Howelsen Hill Lodge. For more information, call Chris Johns, of Wheels Bike Shop, at 970-846-7433.