1st race of Ski Ascent Series sees record turnout at Howelsen Hill
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the first group of skiers took off at the first race of the 2020-21 Ski Ascent Series, some were dashing across the snow at Howelsen Hill Ski Area, while others had a more leisurely pace.
A few minutes behind them, were the youngest competitors, who zipped along with just as much vigor but not as much experience.
Regardless of age, or speed, a record 62 competitors showed up for the first race of the series, nearly selling out the event.
“We were super shocked,” said Alex Pond, one of the series organizers. “To almost hit our cap for the first night, we consider that a huge success. It was our biggest turnout we had so far.”
The series is in its second official year, after a grassroots group composed of Pond with Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation last winter. The Town Challenge series saw no more than 50 in the most popular races last year. Clearly, the sport is growing.
Over his 20-plus years of uphill skiing, Allen Belshaw has seen the slow and then sudden growth of the sport.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “There’s no downside. We’re all spread out enough in the backcountry. It’s not going to be crowded.”
Belshaw enjoys the Ski Ascent Series because he can socialize with his friends who love the sport, which he normally can’t recognize in the dark before dawn at the resort. Belshaw and fellow longtime uphill skier Chris Sias were chatting ahead of Wednesday’s race.
“I think it’s a great workout,” Sias said. “You get to be up before everyone else on the hill. Doing the races is a nice way to make everything more efficient.”
Last year, the circuit race at Howelsen was wildly popular, and this year proved the same. The registrants had to work to spread out at the start line since there were so many, but once they were on the course, there was little issue with social distancing.
Skiers sped by the base lodge and under the ski jumps. They then hauled uphill through the trees, bootpacked through a chute, then powered up the ridge to the top of the face. After a transition, participants flew down hill, transitioned again near the chairlift, then climbed to the top once more underneath the lift.
The addition of a few inches of snow in the days leading up to the race made the evening a little more fun.
The course was designed by Pond, Race Director Charlie MacArthur and Parks and Rec staff. Pond said creating the course was a fun challenge.
“It helps you become a better uphill skier when you’re going out in the backcountry,” Pond said. “It’s something to push everybody’s limits a little bit — good uphill skinning routes, a couple backpacks and a fun downhill.”
The next race, Vertigo Craze, will be held Jan. 13, 2021, at Steamboat Resort. Each race can have 68 participants, and registration must be completed online before 11:59 p.m. the day before the race. There is no day-of or in-person registration.
Just like the summer Town Challenge, participants accumulate points based on their finishes. If they partake in at least three races, their point totals will be combined and totaled. The top three in each division and gender will win prizes at the series conclusion.
“We proposed this to the city, because we saw there was some growth coming in the sport,” Pond said. “The community was really grasping and wanting to do more uphilling. We’re hoping after COVID we can have bigger attendance.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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