Smoke weighs heavy on sports in Steamboat area, canceling some events |

Smoke weighs heavy on sports in Steamboat area, canceling some events

Smoke obscures the view beyond a singletrack trail on Emerald Mountain on Wednesday. Smoke from a local fire forced the cancelation of several sports events this week, including city softball league games Wednesday night and a high school mountain bike race Sunday.
Joel Reichenberger

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s not just that there was an event scheduled this weekend, but just what kind of event it is and just who the participants are scheduled to be. 

Katie Rau, director for the Colorado High School Cycling League, said she’s been eager to get a high school mountain bike race in Steamboat Springs for the last five years. Those ambitions were finally to be realized on Sunday, with 549 young mountain bikers scheduled to descend on Emerald Mountain for a day of racing. 

The required deep breathing, their young lungs and the valley, filled with smoke from the Deep Creek Fire 18 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, don’t add up, however, and that led to the decision Wednesday to postpone the race by one week.

“The fact is the air quality is poor,” Rau said. “It was a tough decision, but we have to consider the youth, and I would prefer to make the decision now rather than have everyone deploy to town and have it canceled then.”

The race has been rescheduled for Sunday, Sept. 16.

The mountain bike race is one of several smoke-related changes to this week’s sports schedule in Steamboat Springs. Wednesday night’s D-League adult softball playoff games were postponed one week, as well.

Organizers for other events on what is a crowded weekend of various forms of racing are keeping an eye on the sky, but aren’t anticipating cancellation.

Ultramarathon to stay in stride

Fred Abramowitz, one of the directors for the Run, Rabbit Run trail ultramarathon said he’s had plenty of athletes reach out about the conditions in Steamboat, but he’s telling them to go ahead and come to town.

The race will be on.

The 100-mile race is scheduled to start Friday morning and a 50-mile version will begin Saturday morning.

“We always have to consider what the conditions will be like the morning of the run, but I don’t think we are in any way seriously considering canceling,” he said. “It didn’t even cross my mind.”

Smoke from more than a dozen forest fires has caused air quality issues throughout the Western United States. In many places, the air quality is currently rated “hazardous,” worse that the air Wednesday in Routt County.

Abramowtiz said there are athletes from 45 different states expected to start this weekend’s races, and he expects some to find the air in Steamboat, even if it’s still smoky, to be an improvement.

“I think people in Los Angeles on a smoggy day would think this is pristine,” he said. “I’ve run in and seen other races run in conditions far worse than this.”

Sabrina Stanley, one Steamboat Springs-based competitor hoping for a high finish in the 100-mile race, is among those concerned. She and a friend actually drove out toward the fire west of town on Tuesday to check it out with their own eyes.

When she returned home, she trained on a treadmill instead of trying her luck outside.  

Wednesday, she did run outside, but just two miles, up Mount Werner. She was hoping to get an idea what to expect in the race.

“It affected me more than I thought it would,” she said afterward. “I think the drop rate early will be extremely high. I think 15 or 20 miles in, people will realize, ‘My throat is sore. I’m wheezing way more than I should be.'”

Abramowitz also said conditions should improve as athletes climb and gain elevation early in the race. Where as town is smoky, visibility higher is much better.

Runners start at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, then go over the top of Mount Werner. Much of the race takes place at high elevation, though there is an extended section on Emerald Mountain and another dip down the Spring Creek Trail before the final return to the base of the ski area.

Run, Rabbit Run did reach out to runners through its Facebook page to keep them aware of the conditions. It cautioned some runners from attempting the race but gave the green light to most.

“People with asthma or other pulmonary issues should consider not running, but otherwise healthy well-trained individuals might experience an irritated throat or even coughing or wheezing, but there should be no long term adverse impacts,” the statement said.

It also said times are expected to be slower and that there would be additional medical staff and supplemental oxygen on hand at high-elevation aid stations for racers. The use of supplemental oxygen would mean the end of a race, but it will be an option.

“If people are really concerned, they shouldn’t run,” Abramowitz said. “It is a factor, but not a huge one.”

For Stanley, a decisive factor is the one thing that has truly made the Run, Rabbit Run race stand out in the ultra scene — its industry-leading prize purse, $12,500 this year for both the men’s and women’s winners.

“One-hundred percent, if it wasn’t for such a big purse on the line, I would have already dropped,” she said. “If I were just doing it for a fun trail run, I’d wait until next year.”

Enduro race to ride on 

The weekend’s other major competition, the Enduro X mountain bike race, a stop on the Rocky Mountain Enduro Series, also didn’t indicate it planned on any changes to its schedule, currently set for racing Saturday and Sunday.

For those calling the shots for the youth mountain bikers, however, making the decision to cancel, and making it nearly four days before any rubber was to hit the dirt, was a difficult but necessary decision.

It was a decision aided by the fact that the city of Steamboat Springs was able to move the event back a week on the same Emerald trails without affecting any other events.

“If you make the decision and it gets better by Saturday, the air will still be that much better by the following Sunday,” said Blair Seymour, coach of the Steamboat team. “With it being an endurance event, with kids breathing heavy and really pushing themselves, this probably isn’t an appropriate time to have them do that with the conditions of the sky and the air.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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