“Dude, I think my goal will be to make it through this weekend without breaking this rental bike,” said my friend Max.
“I just want to avoid breaking my body,” I responded. “I think I’ve only seen one person not wearing knee pads today… and the ones I packed are too small. Maybe I should go rent a pair.”
“Yeah, that too. And man, knee pads wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“Ok, let’s make a pact: no broken bikes and no broken bodies this weekend. Deal?”
My friend, Max, had ridden his motorcycle over 1,500 miles from Georgia to Colorado (1,064 straight in the first day) with his Trek Hifi 29er mounted on it just to race the Big Mountain Enduro Snowmass race.
We rolled into Aspen, lucked out in snagging a campsite, and went to register for the race. Once we’d finished registration, we had about 40 minutes left of lift access for practice… just enough time for one run! We kitted up, hopped on the lift, and away we went!
On our very first practice run, we made it about half way down the jump trail, Valhalla, and as I was riding behind Max I saw him land a jump, heard a massive “BAM!” and saw him skid to a stop. Max’s chain had sucked, destroying his cassette, snapping the derailleur hanger, and flinging his derailleur up into the spinning wheel, destroying both derailleur and a handful of spokes. We realized pretty quickly that there was no way we’d be able to find all the parts to fix his rig before tomorrow morning, but luckily he was able to snag a rental bike on-mountain for the weekend from Four Mountain Sports (which, by the way, was about half the price of renting a bike in town, despite being located on the mountain).
Which led us to our conversation later in the day. While Max was worried about destroying a bike (and understandably so), I was getting a little worried about destroying myself. I literally only saw one other person on the mountain who didn’t have knee pads on… and I think they may have just been in his hydration pack at the time. While I had pulled some knee pads out of the closet, just in case, I hadn’t really planned to wear them as they were about a size too small. But now, after experiencing what Valhalla had to offer, I quickly decided that pads were a must. Thankfully, I was able to score a reasonably-priced two-day rental on-mountain, also at Four Mountain Sports.
Stage 1: Village Bound, Water Plant, Lower DH Course, and Fanny Hill
The first stage of the event began with a ride up the Gondola and a great singletrack pedal across the mountain to the top of Village Bound. Apparently we got there too early, as we ended up waiting in line for a couple of hours before we could even start our race run. Nevertheless, once we were under way, Stage 1 was pedally, with a few wide-open highspeed straightaways.
Despite plenty of flat corners, loose rocks, and chundery sections, I managed to stay on my bike and grab one of my better stage finishes of the weekend. However, quite a few riders, Max included, went down on Stage 1. Thankfully, Max still grabbed a solid time, and it didn’t hold him back the rest of the weekend at all!
Stage 2: Rim Trail South
Stage 2 began with a stiff switchbacked climb up the beginning of the Rim Trail, and after a few miles of pedaling/hiking, we finally made it to the start. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait in line again (Stage 3 turned out to also be line-free), and were able to get rolling immediately. Of course, that meant there was no time to recover, either!
The Rim Trail was utterly buff and smooth, but boasted several screaming-fast sections leading into hairpin switchbacks, and some serious exposure. And the views? The views were to die for! And you might, if you took your eyes off the trail…
Stage 3: Rim Trail North
After finishing the first descent on the Rim Trail, I was apparently confused about where the stage stopped, since the singletrack just kept going… so I pedaled my guts out on the next section of the Rim Trail, which climbed steeply. After passing Max and another person who started in front of me, though, I realized that the timed section was over. Oops!
After taking the time to slow down, I was in awe at the terrain we were riding! While the trail itself was smooth and flowy, we were traversing a very narrow ridge above Snowmass Village, the “Rim,” if you will. The views off both sides of the rim were truly beautiful, with huge mountain peaks behind, views of the valley in front, and lush aspen groves every direction.
When we dropped into the top of Stage 3, I realized that I could have used the energy I spent grunting up the previous ridge, as Stage 3 was even tighter than 2, with plenty of tight, loose switchbacks and sprints out of the corners. My finish wasn’t the best on this stage, but I managed to stay on my bike and have fun!
Stage 4: Valhalla
Valhalla was the final stage of Day 1, and everyone was talking about it! This was the only stage of the day that Max and I prerode, so despite my general lack of experience with jumping, I felt pretty confident! After waiting in another hour+ line, we finally got to drop in.
I railed through the first berms, and then after a few solid jumps, disaster struck! I felt my rear tire go soft, and I pulled over to the side. I had somehow managed to flat my tubeless tire! It was still holding a bit of air, so I hit it with some CO2 and tried to get the sealant to seal the hole, but it wouldn’t take. So I pulled out the tire levers, slapped a tube in, and got underway.
That mechanical cost me several minutes–enough time to put me out of the running of even hoping to get a middle-of-the-pack time for the weekend. So, I just enjoyed the rest of my run down the mountain. I aired out more of the tables than I had the day before, and was stoked to be catching some air and having fun!
As day 1 wrapped up, our pact was still being honored: Max’s crash on Stage 1 was minor, and my flat on Stage 4 was minor as well (although my race time doesn’t think so). So far, we’d had a great time shredding beautiful Colorado singletrack, meeting new people and eating good food. And after the last run, we sauntered on up to the Oskar Blues tent to claim some of our free beers!