Injuries don’t slow local rider at Blast the Mass | AspenTimes.com

Injuries don’t slow local rider at Blast the Mass

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Abigail EagyeSnowmass Village's Craig Carlson gets airborne while competing in Sunday's Blast the Mass pro downhill at the Snowmass ski area.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Craig Carlson was all but ready to write off the rest of the season.

The 28-year-old Snowmass Village biker sure is glad he didn’t.

Despite being on his bike three times in the past five weeks because of a rash of injuries, Carlson decided to give the Blast the Mass pro downhill a shot Sunday afternoon. He wound up finishing 15th, matching his best finish this summer.

It was quite a feat considering he competed with two fractured wrists.

“I wanted to give it a shot on my home mountain. I know this track so well,” said Carlson, an electrician and Aspen High’s alpine coach. “It’s such a short season – only four starts. I wanted to be out there.”

That didn’t seem possible. Two weeks ago, while training for a Friday-night race in Snowmass on the Valhalla trail, Carlson sped off a jump, got bucked and landed hard on his head, breaking his helmet and his neck guard.

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“I probably came from a height of about 10 feet straight down to the ground,” Carlson said. “You usually land on your front wheel, but when I came down I missed it.”

He was able to stand up right away, but when he noticed his handlebar was tweaked and attempted to straighten it out, pain coursed through both hands.

He later learned he had fractured both wrists.

“The doctor said I could return to activity if I could tolerate the pain,” said Carlson, who won a Colorado state championship in mountaincross in 2010 and turned pro last summer. “He probably still doesn’t know. I’m sure he doesn’t expect me to be back riding yet.”

Carlson didn’t, either. He figured his season was over – the wrist injuries came just three weeks after sustaining a concussion, after all.

But he didn’t experience much pain at work the past two weeks. On Saturday, he decided to hop on his bike and ride through the Snowmass parking lot. He wanted to see if he could grip the handlebar. He wanted to see if a return to racing was even possible.

Soon after, he got on the chairlift.

“I was just going to see how it went, if I could hold on to the bar for four minutes instead of just getting down one section at a time,” Carlson said. “I told myself I have to take two runs – if I couldn’t do two, there was no way I could do seeding and the race.

“It was hard to hold the handlebar, but it went pretty good. … I knew that if I could at least finish and ride some clean lines, I could beat a couple guys. This is one of the gnarlier, faster tracks – on the upper section, the fastest amateur was clocked at 46 mph. I knew some guys would make a lot of mistakes.”

Wrists wrapped in adjustable, heat-molded braces, Carlson was in the field Sunday.

Little more than four minutes later, he secured himself a spot in the top 15.

“On the top section, I was letting go of the brakes and hitting most of my lines. I was riding at 80 percent and trying to reel myself in and make sure I didn’t overdo it,” Carlson said. “It was a fast track and was really loose and dusty. So much can go wrong. … I hit that final jump and landed with my pedals going and sprinted toward the finish.”

He was 16 seconds off the pace set by winner and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club J3 alpine coach Brian Buell, who clinched a narrow victory with a time of 3 minutes, 51.34 seconds. Still, Carlson’s effort matched his top finish of the season.

And it has him in 10th place in the cumulative downhill standings heading into this weekend’s final Mountain States Cup race in Telluride.

“I’ll be there. I’m getting stronger, and I ordered some wrist guards that are bicycle-specific,” Carlson said. “Last year, I had a really good qualifying run there and was having the race of my life until I crashed right before the finish. I’m definitely looking at putting down a solid run. … It’s a track that suits my riding, and I know it’ll be a lot of fun.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com