Steamboat Trail Runs
There are so many things to do in Steamboat during the summer that some people have to rent storage units just to hold all the necessary gear. It might sound silly, but it’s pretty easy to fill up your garage when you have several bikes, some river tubes, a stand up paddle board or two, climbing gear, fishing gear and maybe even a raft. All these different activities are part of what makes living in Steamboat so great, but sometimes I want a simpler experience. So when I’m looking to get out and enjoy the Yampa valley, I like to do one of the simplest activities around, trail running. All I need to explore the mountains are my running shoes, some water and my trusty pup by my side.
There are tons of great trails to run on in Steamboat, but for this blog I ‘ll focus on the trails that start at the resort. This weeks trail of choice is one of my favorite trails on the mountain, Pioneer Ridge. Until a few years ago, there weren’t any summertime trails in the pioneer ridge area. Fortunately for us, the resort built an excellent mixed use trail over there that provides a much more scenic way to run/bike up to the top of Thunderhead. With the gondola replacement in full swing, this trail isn’t seeing much downhill bike use this summer, so it’s even better for running on.
Like most of the trails in the mountains, this one is best done in the morning before it gets too hot. I like to start the trail at the base of the Thunderhead lift and head up Zig Zag to the beginning of the Pioneer Trail. You could also start Zig Zag at the base or take the Christie lift up and run down the road to Thunderhead if you want a little longer run. The first part of Zig Zag starts out as pretty mellow double track that follows the same route as BC Ski-way in the winter. While the run might seem really flat when you are gliding down it in the winter, it feels completely different in the summer. The steep section about half way up is sunny and will wear you out quickly if you don’t pace yourself, so don’t hesitate to walk some of it if you need to.
Once you reach the Creekside trailhead, the tedious part of the run is behind you and you have nothing but beautiful single track and awesome views ahead. Take a left on Creekside and go about 50 ft until you see the Pioneer trail on your right. The trail starts off with some really mellow switchbacks through the aspens with a few steeper sections thrown in from time to time. Despite how mellow it feels you gain elevation pretty quickly and start to get some great views of the upper mountain and out to the valley.
Soon after the initial switchbacks you will find yourself on a fairly long straight away with the best views yet. So if you want a place to stop and stretch, this is a nice place to catch your breath and take in the scenery. You’ve still got some steeper sections ahead of you, but soon after the straight portion there is a short downhill into the woods where you can take it easy. The downhill portion feels great on the way up, but if you are running it as an out and back, you will be cursing it on your way back down.
After you emerge from the woods you get treated to one of the best parts of the trail. With great views to the upper parts of Pioneer Ridge and panoramic views to the valley, it’s hard to beat the scenery up there. With most of your elevation gain behind you, you can either pick up the pace or just take it easy and enjoy the view. As you start to traverse the ski runs, there are a few bridges that take you over some small streams and above the underbrush. No matter the time of day or how tired I am, this area never ceases to remind me just why I chose to live here.
After a few more ups and downs the trail starts to traverse across the basin towards rainbow saddle. The running here is really pleasant because there aren’t any brutal uphills left and the elevation really lets you know how far you’ve come. Depending on the day, I will either pick up the pace to try and beat my best time or just relax and enjoy the trail as it picks its way across the runs under 4 points.
When you top out at Rainbow Saddle, give yourself a pat on the back because you’ve just run up a couple of thousand feet of vert over around 4.5 miles. Grab a sip of water, take in the views and think about which route you want to take to get down. If you want the fastest way possible, just hop on why not road and jog all the way back to Thunderhead or the base area. If you want a more scenic route, take the Elkhead loop up to the gondola and run down the Thunderhead hiking trail. This hiking trail can be pretty steep on the downhill, so be careful not to trip on any rocks or roots. Whichever way you choose, the views will be great and you can finish your day back at the base with a nice cold beer at Timber and Torch.