Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Singletrack Safari: Steamboat

Billy Kidd

After consecutive weekends riding and running some of Colorado's finest high-altitude mountain bike hot spots in Breckenridge and Salida, my definition of "great" singletrack has been totally redefined. Over the weekend I had the good fortune to hit another new (to me) "singletrack destination" that managed to meet "the standard" of my newly jaded perspective.

The subject of this week's edition of Singletrack Safari is Steamboat Springs. I arrived on Saturday afternoon with a rough idea of where I wanted to ride and run based on maps I had Googled at the last second. Fortunately I wound up riding some of the funnest sections of singletrack and one of the more rewarding climbs I have found so far in Colorado. Starting from town at around 7000', the ZigZag/Sunshine trail ascended to the summit of Storm Peak at 10,372 feet. Trails like ZigZag, Sunshine, Cathie's Pete's Wicked Trail cut in and out of thick aspen groves and across steep black diamond ski runs while offering occasional views of the town far below.

Notably, Steamboat Resort's trails on the ski slopes are almost *too* buffed and smooth. With wider than usual switchbacks, bermed turns and almost bikini-waxed singletrack, I wondered if it was the result of traffic or simply to accommodate the Monster-drinking downhiller/freeride crowd who prefer high-fiving on the gondola ride to the top rather than climbing 3500' feet. I will concede that unlike me, the majority of users would not necessarily deem the absence of technical riding a "negative".

Although I only encountered 3 other riders on this particular day, the condition of the trails tells a different story that this is a very popular trail system with the locals and visitors. I am certain there are myriad local trails I missed that offer a greater technical challenge, and next time I ride Steamboat I will surely check them out. With only one afternoon to fit in a ride, I still think I lucked out with my trail choice and look forward to riding it again. Overall, I have to give Steamboat an "A" and "must-ride" status for anyone interested. I award Bonus points for the Apres-Ride scene only a block from the trail head: multiple bars serving up Colorado IPA and live rock and roll, mysteriously almost as busy as ski season.

To check out the live MountainCam, click HERE.

Sir, have you had any alcoholic beverages tonight?

On Saturday night we camped above town at 8,000 feet (I need the extra red blood cells!), a short distance from the resort. Before we made it to our camping spot, while debating my route choice TO said spot, I must have swerved a few times because i was pulled over by the Steamboat police. Apparently they thought I was a DUI candidate. Great. The field sobriety test was a novel experience for me, as I simply don't believe in drinking and driving. After a hard ride only a few hours before, sore knees and a bit of dehydration at 11pm, I wondered if I DID actually appear drunk.

I tried to make the most out of the experience and secretly enjoy the balance exercises by pretending I was slacklining. Throughout this impromptu Decathlon of sobriety tests (which, for the record, I believe I can log as "training" on Attackpoint.org) the officer continually rebuffed my offers to take a Breathalyzer test. Finally after running out of 'events', the officer--who was quite nice the entire time--relented and gave me my very first Breathalyzer. I studied her countenance closely as she read the results, knowing she would be disappointed. "OK, you're fine..." She went on to give me directions to the campsite as well as some inside scoop on the best place to park for the next morning's (are you ready for this?) hot air balloon competition.

We eagerly rose before the sun the next morning to catch the Steamboat Springs Balloon Rodeo. Witnessing dozens of balloons carefully inflate, launch, and then carefully descend a and maneuver a brief touch-and-go on a target in an adjacent pond kept our attention. An over-caffeinated, wise-cracking emcee who must have been a last-second replacement gave the event an awkwardly surreal texture as the sun rose into the sky along with the colorful balloons.

My first painful disillusionment of the day (of many balloon-related disappointment daggers) was the realization that no lasso-ing of balloons was to occur. Nope. Not today. Even worse, I found out the hard way there would not be any furiously bucking bulls impaling the sweet and innocent balloons or baskets. In fact, the "Rodeo" misnomer must have been some sort of cruel joke of an ironic reverse euphemism, like naming a Yorkshire terrier "Bonecrusher". Duped by the bait-and-switch again. I won't get fooled again!

Balloon Rodeo: FAIL.

We left shocked and disappointed--embarassed almost--that even after the cancellation of balloon-lassoing and balloon bullfights, the glib balloon pilot curmudgeons chose to twist the dagger by:

A) Apparently disallowing any basket-anchored Bungee Jumping or Ballooon-to-Balloon jumping of any kind.
B) Obviously preventing passengers from Cannonball-diving into the water from their balloon as it hovered over the pond;
C) Astonishingly, forgetting to Drop water ballloons or other objects such as pumpkin pies or fake plastic frogs onto the crowd;
D) Pathetically chickening out on the much-anticipated Buzzing of the tower a la Maverick in Top Gun.

All of the above seemed like painfully obvious stunts that I had reasonably assumed I paid for with my 10 dollar admission.

What the hell, Scrooge?

Isn't the WHOLE POINT of flying a hot air balloon to drop splatter-able objects on unsuspecting pedestrians
below? Hello?

My dreams: Crushed.

Deflated, after the anti-climatic balloon let-down we stopped at Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs for a hilly trail run and a dip in both the hot springs and cold river. Hear me now and believe me later, girlymen: those springs are H.O.T., and the river is COLD. The funky interlude was timed perfectly to precede the next leg in our weekend journey.

Benefitting from our pre-dawn early start, we skipped town early enough and rallied the 100 miles over to Breckenridge to continue the weekend's "Singletrack Safari" on the last half of the Breckenridge 100 course. Little did I know what hypothermic misery was in store...

To be continued...

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