Day 2 dawned bright and sunny, and with an hour-earlier start time plus a climb to get to the starting line, the time it took to tear down camp, mess around with bikes, and get ready saw us arriving at the resort at the supposed pro start time.
After finally getting our gear together, we hopped on our bikes and started wandering up toward the start line. At first finding the route up was a challenge, but once we spotted a sign pointing us to the Stage 5 start, the route was easy… yet the climb was anything but! Essentially, we ended up climbing most of what we had raced down on Stage 1 the day before, which made for a stiff climb on tired legs. Max and I had even chatted with one guy at the bottom of the mountain who we had met the previous day that claimed “the climb was too steep for me… my legs are too tired. I turned around halfway up, so I guess I’ll just have to skip this stage and do 6 and 7.” Really? I thought we were mountain biking?
Due to a parts issue the week before, I was running pretty steep gearing on my bike (for me) that forced me to hike at times, but in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with some hike-a-bike!
When we finally reached the beginning of Stage 5, it turned out that A) there was still a long line, so we definitely weren’t late, and B) we weren’t even the last riders in our group to get there. So, the whole morning worked out well!
Stage 5: Village Bound, Government Trail, Upper Connector, Ditch Trail, and Nature Trail
Stage 5 began as a pedally, relatively-smooth descent with some gravel road and doubletrack sections mixed in. However, lower down, the course took an abrupt dive off the road into a wet, loamy, rooty, technical chunk of trail that was an absolute hoot to ride! That was my kind of riding, and I ate it up!
Stage 6: Vapor Trail, Powerline Trail, Starks Trail, Two Creeks Meadow
Max and I had checked out the top half of Stage 6 the day before during the break between Stages 2 and 3, so we felt pretty confident heading into it. The wait to start wasn’t bad, and pretty soon we were dropping in.
I ripped through the upper sections, confident from my ride the day before. At about the third berm I got too confident, and found my front wheel jacked sideways in some loose rocks, taking me down! Thankfully, I made the wise choice to rent kneepads the day before, as I slammed down onto my left knee hard. Thanks to the pads, I hardly felt it, hopped up quickly, and resumed my run.
Stage 6 was, in my opinion, easily one of the best and most intense stages. And it was undisputably the longest descent. Dropping about 3,000 vertical feet in one rapid shot is no joke, and by the time I finished the sweeping berms and chunk of the upper section, I had to coast a bit through the smooth transition to the lower section as I shook out the pump in my arms. After buckling a loose strap on my left knee pad on the fly, I dove into the top of Valhalla, railing the berms and airing the jumps.
Stage 6 turned off of Valhalla abruptly about halfway down, onto oldschool, narrow, loamy singletrack shrouded by tall grasses. This section was absolutely bomber, with riders reaching speeds of fast and faster! But by this point in this relentless run, I was simply hanging on for dear life! My only goal was to not go flying out of a turn and not to allow my fatigued forearms to lose grip on the bars as I pinned it through webs of roots.
Thankfully, I made it down in one piece! The pavement climb back to the base camp was almost a welcome relief from the relentless descent.
Stage 7: Bonzai DH
After a delicious lunch, we took the gondola to the top, and rode the same singletrack trail–Expresso–across the mountain that we had ridden the day before to access Stage 1. While we rode an awesome variety of amazing singletrack this weekend, this untimed XC trail was really one of my favorite sections of singletrack: chunky in spots, flowy in others, great views, rushing streams, excellent dirt… it was really a pleasure to ride!
When we arrived at the top of Stage 7, it became apparent that our good luck with the volatile Colorado weather might have run out: a dark cloud blew in on top of us and started blowing hard and spitting rain. Thankfully, it didn’t lightning much or all-out dump, but it made for a chilly wait in line as we prepared for the final–and most challenging–stage of the day.
Stage 7 was infamous even before we ran it. All weekend it seemed like every racer that Max and I spoke with told us how hairy Stage 7 would be, how there’s a blind drop after the road that some rumors claimed was “mandatory for all racers,” how there were relentless rocks, a waterfall section, and an even bigger drop lower down. Unfortunately, we personally didn’t have a chance to preride this section… and as we listened to the rumors, our apprehension grew all week. By the time we lined up at the top of Stage 7, we reminded each other that we had to stick to the pact: No broken bikes, and no broken bodies. We just wanted to make it down alive.
When my turn finally came, I exhaled, and dropped the hammer into the top of Bonzai. Bonzai is the certified downhill race course here at Snowmass, and the upper section was uber steep with floater drops and a waterfall of bumps. That’s the kind of riding I dig, though, so I blew through that section without issue. In fact, I was quite surprised at the lack of rocks: I love pinning through rock gardens, and had hoped for a lot more rocky gnar than I saw.
As I approached the road crossing, I slowed way down as the blind drop–which I hadn’t scoped–was supposed to be coming up. I spotted a sign for an alternate line, though, and I hollered at the spectators, “yep, this is about my speed!”
As I dropped lower down the course, the second drop loomed into view, with no visible ride around. I slammed on the brakes, stumbled off my bike, and yelled “Holy shit!” just a bit too loud. While everything flashed through my head rapidly, I realized that I could have dropped the left side without issue if I had known it was coming… but I didn’t. Trying to recover and make it down as quickly as possible, I ran down the drop with my bike. The landing was so steep and loose, though, that my momentum kept carrying me down the hill, stumbling along with my bike.
As the hecklers hollered, “GET ON THE BIKE! GET ON THE BIKE!” I did an awkward flying cyclocross mount mid-stride, skidded sideways, found my pedals, and made the sharp right turn at the bottom to a round of cheers. Disaster averted!
If the photos from the BME Facebook Page are any indication, there was plenty of carnage on that drop… it could have been so much worse:
I ripped through the remainder of my run without issue, and flew through the finish line with a wave of relief. As Max finished just after me, we high-fived, and realized we had kept our pact: both of us had made it through the weekend without braking our bikes, or ourselves!
BME Value Proposition
After I’ve competed in a few more events I plan to publish an article ruminating on enduro racing in general, but throughout the weekend one thing that was on my mind was the value proposition that Big Mountain Enduro offers. I’ve heard several people complain about what they claim are steep entry fees for the BME races… and even one of the writers here on Singletracks mentioned such a reservation in passing. However, at the end of the weekend, I decided that the $165 entry fee for the Snowmass race was really an amazing deal. For $165, over 300 racers received:
- 3 full days of chairlift access at the resort (or shuttles for comparable events)
- 2 delicious lunches
- 4 free Oskar Blues beers
- Swag (BME t-shirt at the Snowmass event)
- Free nutritional support from Clif (those gels, bars, and shot blocks aren’t cheap!)
- 1 raffle ticket with the chance to win some sweet prizes, with the a gift certificate for a Fox fork of your choice as the grand prize at the Snowmass event
- Plus, of course, two full days of intense racing!
With one-day events like the Leadville 100 charging $345 for an entry fee + a non-refundable $15 lottery entry cost, $165 for a two-day BME race is a steal in comparison!
And let’s face it: riding the gondola to the top–at least some of the time–is way more fun than pedaling 100 miles!