Snowmass becomes bike central
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It takes just a few hundred mountain bikers to prove that snow isn’t necessary for a good downhill course.
Blast the ‘Mass, the seventh event in the nine-part Mountain States Cup, took control of the Snowmass Ski Area over the weekend with nearly 800 bikers and over 1,000 spectators in tow. And considering the increasing popularity of the event, sanctioned by the National Off-Road Bicycle Association, race officials hope to make Snowmass Village an integral part of the summer racing circuit.
The Blast began Saturday with one of the weekend’s most grueling events – a 13-mile cross-country race up Fanny Hill and its surrounding trails. Later that afternoon, the mountain cross – a crowd favorite, thanks to head-to-head competition through a jump-laden track – pitted riders against each other in a four-person downhill format.
“They’re better than they were last year. They stepped up and made some harder courses,” Kremmling, Colo., racer Bob Bergman said of the events.
Sunday was devoted to downhill events – or, as race director Eric Jean puts it, “gravity-fed racers” – with beginner, sport, semi-pro and expert divisions offering every level of competition. Downhill events boasted one of the Blast’s major improvements on last year’s race course – the “Bonzai,” a trail that drops nearly 2,000 feet over 2.4-miles.
Ryan Harris, a semi-pro downhiller from Castle Rock, finished the course in just 3 minutes, 43 seconds, a second-place run. The Bonzai wasn’t as challenging as it could have been, considering the other downhill tracks around the Mountain Cup circuit.
“This one isn’t my favorite because there isn’t much pedaling,” Harris said. “It’s not as difficult as it could be.”
Others called the course the best in the race series.
“You know the course is rad when you can get down 1,900 feet in four minutes,” one breathless rider said after his last run of the day.
Jean agreed, citing compliments from World Cup racers who rate the Snowmass course above those on the European circuit.
“This is the best course I’ve ever designed, by far,” he said.
Event organizers ran into only a few snags over the weekend. A few scattered showers chased away crowds, but dedicated racers waited out the storm for a few extra hours of riding.
The mud flew Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, Jean said.
“What it did for the racing was make it a lot more fun,” he said. “Riders were going down all over the place – it allowed the most well-rounded riders to step up.”
Last summer, at least five competitors were trucked away by waiting ambulances after spectacular crashes. However, Jean reported only one major injury – a broken arm – during this year’s competition.
These minors glitches have Jean and other organizers looking forward to next summer and another Blast. And if all goes to plan, Jean said, he could make sure that Snowmass sees at least two major bike races each year.
“I’d really want to see a national championship here,” he said. “We could have even bigger success, and I believe this is the proper stepping stone.”
For complete Blast the ‘Mass results, check the race Web site at http://www.cyclecyndicate.com.
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Skico CEO Mike Kaplan emphasized in a virtual address that this upcoming skiing season will be as spread out as possible with limited personal interaction in order to avoid potential COVID-19 infections and keep the mountains open.