A new, growing sport brings fresh angle to mountain racing

Members of the adventure racing team, Freedom Behind Bars, look over the map and discuss a strategy for their first leg of the Quarry Mountain Quest adventure race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The unique sport of adventure racing made its return to Steamboat for the first time  in three years. The sport itself is only a little over 20 years old and not many people are familiar with its existence. 

The Quarry Mountain Quest adventure race hosted by Athena Adventures, part of the Rocky Mountain Adventure Series, ran on Saturday, Sept. 10. 

Adventure racing is a timed race that can include trekking, mountain biking and/or paddleboarding. Along the way, teams must navigate the course and find several checkpoints using provided maps and no GPS. 

When it comes to adventure racing, orienteering skills are in many ways the biggest advantage. Being an incredible athlete means nothing if one does not work well with maps. 

Jess Evans, coordinator of the Quarry Mountain Quest, believes the orienteering aspect is the most problematic for many beginners to the sport. 

“They have to keep track of their distance and keep an eye on where they are on the trail,” Evans said. “Some checkpoints look like they will be right next to the trail but could be 50 feet off of it.”

At the beginning of a race, competitors are given a passport with squares that correspond with a checkpoint. The checkpoints have hole punches with various shapes attached to them for players to prove they reached all of the checkpoints. 

This example checkpoint was shown to competitors at the beginning of the Quarry Mountain Quest adventure race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. The checkpoints had a specific hole punch attached to them for racers to tag their passports.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Each square on the passport will have a specific order of punched shapes when the racers come to the finish and tally their points. 

Race volunteer Doug Tumminello finds excitement in adventure races and thinks it is hard to compare them to traditional races. 

“When you go back to a normal race, you think to yourself, ‘Oh my goodness, this is easy.’ You don’t have to figure out where you’re going, they tell you,” Tumminello said. 

This was the first ever Quarry Mountain Quest race on the Cow Creek side, with one being done before on the Emerald Mountain side in 2019. 

Evans prepared a prologue start for this race where the 18 teams were sent out on a quarter-mile run to collect a wooden token and return it to begin the conventional portion of the race. 

Due to certain trail restrictions from the Bureau of Land Management, Evans was handed the difficult task of constructing a race on one trail at Cow Creek.

To overcome this obstacle, Evans decided to split the race into three legs, two trekking legs and one biking leg. Each section measured out to take approximately two hours, giving the competitors a six-hour race. 

The solo member of team Pee Stop returns to the start to begin his second leg of the Quarry Mountain Quest adventure race on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A concept that newer racers can struggle with is managing time and sometimes sacrificing checkpoints to make it back on deadline. 

“If they don’t get here within six hours, then we start taking points away,” Evans said. “It’s actually beneficial to cut the course short and not get all of the checkpoints rather than trying to stay out and get everything.”

Races are described based on time instead of distance because not all teams will reach every checkpoint to cover the same number of miles. 

The shortest adventure races can be as short as four hours with the longest events reaching 10 days. 

The Rocky Mountain Adventure Series hosts around 10 races each year with the majority taking place in Colorado and a few in neighboring states. 

“I was thinking a couple weeks ago why I love adventure racing so much,” Evans said. “I think part of it is every time you find a checkpoint, you’re like, ‘Yay, another checkpoint!’ It’s like you get a prize every 30 minutes.”

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