Challenge completed: First-ever Steamboat Ski Ascent Series a success
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Going into the inaugural Town Challenge: Ski Ascent Series, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Marketing and Special Events Coordinator Emily Hines had few expectations. As the town partnered with a local, grassroots series, the basic goals were to develop a website, draw attention to the sport and bring in a diverse age group of competitors.
The series did that and more. Bringing in 82 individual participants over four races, the Ski Ascent Series featured newbies as well as seasoned ski mountaineers.
“The whole series exceeded our expectations,” said series director Charlie MacArthur. “The first race we had almost 50 people and held those numbers. It was a success by almost every measure we set at the beginning of the year.”
MacArthur was one of the original creators of the series, which was smaller and not as formally organized. Since 2014, a dozen or so serious skinners communicated through Facebook and designed races up and down Steamboat Resort. Wanting to make the series a little larger, MacArthur, along with Brian McGovern, Kyle Lawton and Alex Pond reached out to the town.
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From the partnership was born a series formatted similar to the mountain bike Town Challenge that Hines runs over the summer. Multiple divisions allowed less experienced and younger athletes to feel comfortable trying the sport.
“I think people were really excited to have different divisions,” said Hines. “It wasn’t intimidating to go out and try it. From a logistical standpoint, it felt like everything went really well. It was great having the support of the ski area and Howelsen hill.”
Three of the races were at Steamboat Resort, including the most-popular race, the Vertigo Craze, which brought in 47 people Jan. 15.
Trying to keep things interesting, the series included a circuit-style race at Howelsen Hill. With it being so different from the other races, no one involved really knew how it would turn out, but everyone seemed to love it.
“It wasn’t as much vertical as those folks are used to doing,” Hines said. “Everyone really enjoyed being under the lights and the festive atmosphere.”
Competitors passed by the base lodge multiple times, allowing people to actually gather and watch the race. Having a crowd and lights illuminating the course made the Howelsen Hustle Circuit on Feb. 26 a special part of the series. Hines said next year, they might look into doing another race at Howelsen.
Another benefit of racing at Howelsen, was having less ground to cover for setup. The races at the resort required hours of setup, which Lawton discovered was the biggest challenge of making the series larger. Often it was difficult to get more than a couple of people together, leaving a small group of skiers to set all three courses for each race.
“When it was just me and one other guy, we would set one course for every ability. There were never three different courses,” said Lawton. “A lot of times we would set at 5 in the morning.”
MacArthur’s favorite race was the final one, held March 11. The course took skiers up through the trees along Valley View and Heavenly Daze before they descended back to the base.
“It was just a couple days prior to the mountain shutting down,” said MacArthur. “It winds up adjacent to Valley View. With the time change, you’re up there in the sunset and it’s warm. It’s a really beautiful course.”
Volunteer Troy Lawrence had a unique perspective of the races as a course marshall. He would sweep or be the caboose on the junior course, stand at a split in the course and guide skiers and cheer them on.
As a regular volunteer for the mountain bike Town Challenge, Lawrence said he enjoyed the early season races that were entirely in the dark.
“It’s really unique seeing that many headlights come through the trees,” he said.
When the headlights neared him, he said he was usually greeted and thanked by the participants for helping put on the series.
Unfortunately, participants and volunteers couldn’t celebrate the success of the first-ever series. To conclude the series, there was one final race scheduled for March 26, the Sunset Happy Hour Hustle, but it was canceled after the resort closed due to the novel coronavirus. After climbing up to Thunderhead Lodge, everyone was planning on gathering for drinks and post-season awards.
The awards are based on a point system, which was designed to include the final race, so it’s unclear if the top participants will be awarded. The race organizers have yet to be able to gather to discuss that possibility, though, as well as any potential changes when the series returns next winter.
“I think once all of this blows over, we’ll hold a fun party to get everyone back together,” said Hines.
Thankfully, there were plenty of gatherings throughout the series. After each race, there were raffle prizes, as well as discounted food and drinks.
“The vibe of everybody was super positive. Every night after we finish a race, people were hanging out, the enthusiasm was great,” said Pond. “The feedback from everybody is they all felt the challenge was great. It wasn’t too hard. It wasn’t too easy. It was something they didn’t think they would or could do but once they did it once, it was totally doable and just right.”
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