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Jul

2

2015

Steamboat and the Good Time Swine

By Marc Peruzzi | Photographs by Liam Doran

I recently heard a stodgy Sierra Club type (zip off pantaloons; canvas sun hat; engraved hiking stick) categorize all those who would not subscribe to the idea that hiking is the only appropriate activity in nature as senseless “funhogs.”

With all due respect Mr. IBMer, your colon is blocked by Gorp and your heart is a bag of sulfur. As for your propaganda, it resonates as thinly as a tin drum. Mountain bikers ruin trails, whooping kayakers destroy the serenity of rivers, fly fishers torture fish, and on and on you droll, forgetting that mountain bikers built the trails, kayakers removed the dams, and fly fishers restocked the native fishes. And who of those reckless, porcine, joyful grinners does not also hike? None of them. It’s time for your infested sensibilities to fall to the forest floor and spawn new life.

One of the basic premises that this magazine was founded on is that those who enjoy nature eventually learn to love and protect it. We also believe that mountains and mountain towns are just as much fun to visit in summer as they are in winter. Nowhere is that more true than with Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a town I’ve visited with my family on average twice annually for the past 13 years. In winter, we ski (alpine and Nordic). In summer we go full funhog without a hint of guilt’s metallic aftertaste.

You might have heard of the quality of Steamboat’s mountain biking (See “Mountain Bikes for Mountain Riders”). It’s anything but overrated. With 500-plus miles of singletrack in the valley I could fill a guidebook with directions and descriptions, but I’ll just hit three highlights as follows: Backcountry, Resort, and In-Town.

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The king of the Backcountry routes is the Divide Trail, which traverses the subalpine Continental Divide 25 miles from Dumont Lake to the Steamboat ski resort, which you then descend. I’ve ridden a few more famous point-to-point trail rides including Salida, Colorado’s Monarch Crest Trail, and Taos, New Mexico’s South Boundary, and the Divide bests them both. The mixed evergreen and aspen forests here hold dirt as dark as Guinness.    

If you’re a trail rider and you’ve been unimpressed by the riding at other ski resorts, don’t bring that cynical carry-on luggage to the ’Boat. Before the In-Town options boomed (more on that later), I did almost all my Steamboat riding on the ski hill. Riding from the bottom takes a climber’s conditioning, but the payoff is grippy ascending—you can avoid work roads entirely—followed by you-pick-’em descents (50 miles worth) on XC trails, machine-built flow track, or rowdy DH lines. The resort invested heavily into its lift-served riding in the last five years with a focus on fast-moving intermediate routes. But look for new XC track opening on the upper mountain this summer too.

As for the In-Town riding, in the years leading up to Steamboat branding itself Bike Town USA, the riding on Howlsen Hill and Emerald Mountain was greatly expanded upon by the town and the Routt County Riders club. It’s now possible to summit Emerald on singletrack (from two aspects) and then drop off the backside connecting a loop on the Beall and Ridge trails with only a brief section of dirt road riding on Cow Creek. What was once a limited network best suited to high quality lunch laps is now a 29-mile system purpose built for XC/Trail style riding. And why does Steamboat stand out? The rest of the country might assume that all of Colorado offers riding of this quality, but that’s not the case. The Front Range mountains are heinously scree riddled, and veins of similarly sharp rock, loose-on-hard surfaces, and other weirdness crop up in most ranges. In Steamboat though, the outer lugs on your tires actually penetrate the loam and you can carve the bike through turns with confidence.

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Well, you can probably tell where my passions reside. But even a big day on the mountain bike is only five hours. That’s where the funhoggin’ comes in. Tubing the Yampa River in late summer followed by a cruiser bike ride to pub food might be one of my favorite familial days of all time. The road riding is equally worthy: In town for annual meetings many years ago, I’d slip away on my road bike for a quick climb up Rabbit Ears Pass. The pavement is so smooth and the shoulders so wide that Steamboat has hosted numerous start/finishes of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. My teenage son is now a crazed fisherman, and I look forward to riding Emerald with him this summer before standing in the chilly Yampa as he teaches me to toss a fly. During spring runoff it’s possible to boat Class IV whitewater through town and later fish the tailwaters of the Stagecoach Reservoir. We’ve soaked in Steamboat’s hot springs; hooted at bronc riders on rodeo night; and day hiked to remote swimming holes spilling the kind of water Adolph Coors yearned to make really bad beer out of. A backpacking trip deep into the nearby but remote Zirkel Wilderness is on the growing list.

That’s right, my family also hikes—with walking sticks and floppy sun hats on occasion, though our pantaloons remain zipped. Like everybody I know who lives or recreates in (and protects) the beautiful Yampa River Valley, ours is a clan of Good Time Swine.

From the Early Summer 2015 issue. 

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