John F. Russell: Bike tires leave their mark on Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Steamboat Springs — Can anybody beat Peter?
Peter Hakan is from Winter Park, and for the past several years, he has made the drive to Steamboat Springs to take part in the Wheels Dual Slalom Bicycle Race at Howelsen Hill.
If you’ve never watched the downhill slalom races, you are missing a Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival highlight.
On Friday night, the races featured top riders from around the state cruising through a slalom course, under the lights, on what amounts to a downhill sheet of ice. The winner earned a cash prize, but it wouldn’t be enough to cover the medical bills if the racer flipped over the handlebars of the bike.
But Hakan makes racing down the face of Howelsen Hill on a mountain bike in February look easy. He weaved in and out of the gates with the skill of an Alpine ski racer. This year, he cruised through each heat before facing local favorite JR Thompson in the finals.
Thompson put his best tire forward in a tight race, but he couldn’t beat Hakan to the finish line. The native of the Czech Republic has won the race for the past three years.
It was hard to watch this year’s bike slalom races unfold without gaining a huge amount of respect for the racers who were brave enough to head up the hill with their bikes.
I’ve spent hours on the slopes of the downtown ski area in the winter to cover a number of different winter sporting events. I can tell you that it’s difficult to walk on the steep-pitched slopes of Howelsen — even in a good pair of winter boots. One misstep and you will find yourself sliding to the bottom of the hill with whatever you have in your arms following.
Personally, I can’t imagine what it would be like to ride a bike down the unforgiving terrain in the summer, let alone in the winter, when the pitch is covered with hard-packed snow and ice. This year, however, more than 30 riders registered for the races and came out to Howelsen to give it a try.
It was entertaining for the large crowd that gathered at the base of the hill and for the handful of photographers who stood on the hill just to the side of the race course.
I was close enough to the action to realize that the snow was hard, and fast, but not so close that I would get run over by an out-of-control cyclist doing their best to stay on course.
But as I stood there, I realized a couple of things. First, that I had left my gloves in the back seat of my car. And then secondly, I decided that the Wheels Dual Slalom Bicycle Race is the type of event that Carl Howelsen would have approved of when he started the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival more than 100 years ago.
My guess is that if Carl were here today he would head to the top of the hill and see if he could beat Peter.
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