All the dirt on this year’s Nationals |

All the dirt on this year’s Nationals

Nate Peterson
T.J. Fisker of Breckenridge navigates the downhill course at last year's National Off-Road Biking Association Nationals. Practice for this year's races begins Thursday. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times file)

The courses are marked, the dirt has been groomed, and the lights are ready to go. All that is missing for this year’s National Off-Road Biking Association Nationals at Snowmass are the riders.Make that several thousand riders from all over the world – some of whom will begin arriving today to register for the four-day event. Practice for cross-country, downhill and dual slalom begins Thursday morning, followed by mountaincross practice sessions in the afternoon.The NORBA Nationals also include competitions in super D (super downhill), short track and observed time trials. Certified by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the event is expected to draw -as in previous years – the best riders from across the country and a large international contingent.

The event was held in July last year, but was switched to August this year – after the annual Blast the Mass mountain-bike races – because it worked better with Snowmass’ summer schedule.The later date isn’t the only thing that’s different.New to this year’s event is lights for the dual slalom Pro and Semi-Pro finals, which will be held on a brand-new course on Friday night. Pro racers will also duke it out under the lights Saturday night in mountaincross.

“Having it under the lights is pretty cool,” said Pamela Jean of Cycling Syndicate, which is contracted by the Aspen Skiing Co. to put on the event. “We didn’t really have the opportunity at Blast the Mass. The lights should make the events more spectator friendly and more exciting.”The downhill course has also been extended more than 500 feet to the bottom of the Burlingame chairlift. In previous years, the course ended at the water treatment plant. Because of all the additions, Snowmass plans to open the Burlingame and Coney Glade chairlifts for free to accommodate both competitors and spectators.All of the courses for this weekend’s event are in excellent shape, Jean said.

“They’ve done a lot of work over there to get everything ready,” she said. “Everything is marked and ready to go.”This year’s event is also host to the state’s largest cycling expo, which will be located in parking lots 10 and 11 adjacent to the Snowmass Village Mall.The expo includes daily demos, clinics, free kids races and nightly music. The first post-competition celebration is set for Friday at the Cirque, starting at 5 p.m. The Mountain Dragon hosts a party Saturday at 7 p.m. Drink and food specials, as well as free raffle prizes, will be available.