There may be other, more-famous mountain biking destinations in the West, but thanks to a combination of community involvement, corporate support and locally manufactured bikes and volunteer-built trails, Steamboat Springs is one of Colorado’s best spots to ride.
It was somewhere around the 15-mile mark on a 26-mile-long Continental Divide Trail mountain bike ride into Steamboat Springs that I realized I was alone. I should have noticed this sooner. I had been pedaling solo for some time, in fact, but with my head down and the reverberation from my thundering heart filling my ears, I failed to see or hear anything else.
I had arrived at this point after deciding to ride with a group of mountain bikers put together by the Steamboat-based bicycle manufacturer, Moots. My folly was in assuming that my once-a-week ride in the foothills was commensurate to their training. It wasn’t. As I learned, living in Steamboat comes with the luxury of daily lunch-hour singletrack rides, and that doesn’t count all the miles accumulated by those who commute to and from work each day as well.
From the city streets, both local and visiting cyclists can reach a number of trails, differing in length, difficulty and style though, so you don’t have to be a pro to take advantage of the relatively new emphasis on mountain biking here.
For a warm-up prior to our Continental Divide Trail ride, we hit Emerald Mountain in town. It was certainly easy enough to find, at the base of Emerald is Howelsen Hill, site of Steamboat’s ski jump complex. Peddling up Emerald Mountain wasn’t exactly as easy though. The switchbacks leading up the mountain opened my lungs immediately, and at first I kept pace with the other riders. Those riders were made up of the Moots pro team, some local cyclists and a few fellow writers who specialized in mountain biking, so my ego remained intact even as the distance between them and me began to grow.
That was until a group of preteens from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club began passing me on the trail. While the club’s primary focus in the winter is on snow sports development and competition, in summer they ditch their skis and boards, hop on their pint-size mountain bikes and find a gear I didn’t even know existed.
In less than 10 years the summer biking program has managed to attract nearly 100 kids into the after-school program. No wonder these kids were so good.
They were also all so polite that it was impossible for me to get frustrated by the fact that they were eclipsing me up the trail. Besides, I thought at the time, I might need one of them to give me trail directions later on. Fortunately, one of our guides for the day, Riley Polumbus with the Routt County Riders, never let me get out of sight.
The Routt County Riders (RCR) is a Steamboat-based non-profit and volunteer cycling group that maintains and develops mountain bike trails in and around town. On Emerald Mountain, for example, RCR has been building the new Rotary Trail after receiving a grant from the local Rotary Club. And there will be more to come on Emerald. After a massive tree removal project cleans up the remaining bark-beetle killed timber, new trails and routes up and down Emerald will surely follow.
The group is also working with the Steamboat Ski Area to develop new free ride trails on the ski resort’s slopes. Together with the Forest Service and the ski resort, RCR has brought in the trail development firm Gravity Logic, which built many of the world-famous trails at Whistler Bike Park in British Columbia, to update the ski area’s current trails.
The new mix of downhill-only, multi-directional and uphill-only trails will be just one more step in the concentrated effort to get Ski Town USA as it’s known in the winter, to be recognized by the moniker, Bike Town USA throughout the summer. Having a bike manufacturer like Moots on board, along with other Steamboat-based businesses such as Smartwool and Honey Stinger doesn’t hurt either.
Of course, during my ride on the Continental Divide Trail the next day, I still couldn’t see Bike Town USA, or any town for that matter. Once again, to my fortune, one of my hosts, Mavis Fitzgerald with Smart-wool, guided me through any possible junctions and waited on top of each major climb.
When we arrived at the top of the ski area, 24 miles of trail behind us and just a downhill single track leading us back to our chalet base camp, sure enough my legs were whipped, my lungs were tired and even my hands were sore from holding onto the grips for so long. But my heart was full and my smile stretched from ear to ear. I had done it. I had climbed false summits and covered more miles in one ride than ever before.
A few weeks later, RCR hosted its first Ride 4 Yellow fundraiser over that same trail with Lance Armstrong peddling among 200 other riders; some who completed it faster and a few who took longer than me. But from the top of the ski area it was clear that what mattered to me wasn’t how much faster the rest of my group may have been that day. What mattered was the ride, all the pain and discomfort and elation and simple enjoyment of powering my own way up and over obstacles I thought impossible to cover or never knew to expect. That and the well-earned downhill I was about to experience.
Where to Go
Routt County Riders
Started in the 1990s as a non-profit group of mountain bikers in Steamboat Springs looking to build and maintain the local trails, RCR has grown to now host everything from race series and fundraising rides to being involved in the redevelopment of the Steamboat Ski Resort’s system of bike trails and the creation of area mountain bike trail maps.
Ride 4 Yellow
Last year, the one-day ride along the Continental Divide included Lance Armstrong alongside a full field of 200 riders (all having collected a minimum of $500), and raised more than $260,000 for the fight against cancer. This year’s event will be held on August 7th and registration is open.
Moving Mountains Chalet
A collection of slopeside rental residences with great trail access, plus the catered ski chalet team can fill your family or group with enough information, tips and food to pull off any level of bike ride in Steamboat.