Riders ready to Blast the Mass | AspenTimes.com

Riders ready to Blast the Mass

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times file

Steve Rausch, head of Snowmass’ trail-building crew, has been prepping for this weekend since the first signs of a spring thaw.He, along with a committed crew, shoveled snow from under dense timbers, and cleared fallen trees and debris. For the past four days, rangers have been working nonstop in the hopes that the sixth annual Blast the Mass mountain bike challenge – the official venue of the Colorado State Championships for a second straight year – goes off without a hitch. An estimated 900 or more athletes in disciplines ranging from cross country and downhill to mountaincross and Super D can look forward to many of the same challenges that have made Snowmass famous – and daunting – in years past. Snowmass is also a stop on the American Bike Challenge Series, and will provide coveted qualifying opportunities for the Junior Olympics and national championships.

“The courses look real good this year,” Rausch said Tuesday. “We’ve tried to change some of the little things, but they’re mostly the same. It’s kind of like ski racing. The races are on the same runs, but the gates are a little different.”Racers who take their first runs during downhill practice, which begins Friday morning, will notice some subtle differences. In addition to new gate settings, features like logjams and wooden drops have been added. The entire lower section of the course was smoothed out to remove ruts, as well. The official downhill takes place at 9 a.m. Sunday.Favorable conditions could yield the most entertaining and competitive downhill ever, Rausch said. An above-average snowpack last winter, coupled with the recent rain, has made the dirt moist and tacky instead of dusty.”They’ll be able to [take] corners a lot faster,” Rausch added. “You’re going to see people just ripping it. We could see the fastest times ever.”

There is a new starting gate for the Fanny Hill mountaincross, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, higher up the mountain, and modified man-made features.The Big Burn cross-country course, a grueling 11.6-mile loop that covers 2,300 vertical feet and includes sections of the renowned Government Trail, has been extended nearly 4 miles from last year, Rausch said. The expanded terrain includes a difficult downhill section aptly nicknamed “Anaerobic Nightmare,” immediately following a climb to 10,000 feet. Riders will also have to traverse the mountain feet for nearly two miles at 9,000. The race kicks off the two days of competition on Saturday; beginner and sport classes race at 8 a.m., and pros and experts start at 10:30. “It’s definitely intense. It comes right out and gets you,” Rausch said. “It’s a pretty sick course. You don’t see many courses that good with that much singletrack.” Snowmass changed little on its Super D. The event, in which riders negotiate a downhill course with occasional climbs, will start at the top of Coney Glade, wind down through Summer Road and onto the Sleigh Ride trail before finishing at the bottom of Coney Glade. Spectators interested in viewing the race from an optimal vantage point can take laps on both the Coney Glade and Burlingame lifts for $6, Rausch said.

In contrast to other mountain biking venues, Snowmass offers a completely on-mountain experience. Riders won’t have to traverse pavement, ride through town or enter the base area, which has been congested because of construction. Spectators, too, will find easy access to the event. Ample parking is available at any of Snowmass’ base-area lots. In addition, village shuttles will run continuously from Two Creeks to base village.All the logistics have been sorted out, Rausch said. The mountain is primed to provide a staunch test for the many riders who climb, traverse and descend its slopes this weekend. “Snowmass is just the total package and a total challenge,” Rausch said. “It’s true mountain biking.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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