A new challenge: Steamboat to start official Ski Ascent Series
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Skinning, ski mountaineering, uphill skiing — they’re all essentially the same thing — skiing up, then down the mountain. And more people are catching on to its greatness.
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department is creating the Ski Ascent Series after being asked to help grow a grassroots ski mountaineering series created by locals. Think of it as a Town Challenge but on skis and in the winter.
The series, which is open to uphill skiers ages 15 and older, will offer five races at Steamboat Resort and Howelsen Hill from Dec. 18 to March 26. A points system isn’t solidified, but there will be one, just like the mountain bike Town Challenge series.
The December and January races will be individual races, while the race at Howelsen Hill in February will be a circuit race. When the challenge returns to Steamboat Resort in March, there will be another individual race ahead of the season finale: a vertical challenge that is intended to end at Sunset Happy Hour.
“We’re keeping it small, but obviously want to have that socializing aspect, too, to get people excited about coming out,” said Emily Hines, special events coordinator for Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation. “It’s the time of year where you just want to hibernate. You go home after work, and it’s cold and dark.”
Hines hopes post-race drawings and unofficial gatherings at Timber and Torch will encourage people to drive to the mountain, rather than their warm bed right after work. She’s also hoping to arrange post-race food at the Howelsen race.
“This is gonna, very much be a trial year,” Hines said. “It could end up being the same 20 people come out, and that’s all it is. Then, we’ll have to reevaluate next season.”
In an effort to attract skiers of all levels and ages, Hines will offer three divisions. The junior division is open to skiers ages 15 to 18. The sport category will feature a shorter route for less experienced skiers or for those who may not have the most lightweight gear. The race division will be for the competitive uphill skiers, like the ones who brought this all about in the first place.
Since 2014, a growing group of dedicated skinners created a small independent series of races up and down Mount Werner. Among that group were Charlie MacArthur, Alex Pond, Bryan McGovern and Kyle Lawton.
Over the years, they brainstormed how they could possibly grow their group. With Pond being an active participant in the mountain bike Town Challenge, he brought that to the group’s attention.
“That was kind of the model that we pegged to mimic,” MacArthur said. “With Alex on board, he was like, ‘Hey, I can talk to Emily and see if that’s something they’d be interested in.’ He did, and they were, and Emily’s been phenomenal.”
Each participant of the series must follow Steamboat Resort’s uphill guidelines.
Patrons must sign the uphill access policy, either online or at the Welcome Center in Gondola Square. Upon completion of the form, skiers will receive a bright green armband that must be visible while they’re on the mountain.
During operating hours, people must adhere to the suggested routes. Uphill traffic isn’t allowed on lighted night skiing trails and must obey all signs, just like the downhill skiers. Those skinning also must avoid all snowmaking equipment, so the resort suggests waiting until after the early season.
On Dec. 1, the Town Challenge website will be winterized, so more information on the Ski Ascent Series will be available then.
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