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(SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo.) — Downhillers gave up their plush rides and cross country racers traded in their super-light rigs for the inaugural Master of the Mass, a four-stage, three-day mountain bike race July 13-15 in Snowmass Village, Colo.
The first year enduro-style event covered a variety of the resort town’s phenomenal trail system in four individual stages (super downhill, cross country, chainless downhill, and downhill), with the clincher being that racers had to choose only one bike to race in all disciplines.
Fifty racers accepted the challenge this year and most indicated they’d be back in 2013 for what they described as a “really fun” race.
“The feedback has been fantastic. I had racers telling me it was the coolest event they’ve done all year,” said race director Dave Elkan, who is also in charge of special events for the Town of Snowmass Village, which sponsored the race.
A former cross country racer and Mountain States Cup director, Elkan had gotten burned out on the increasingly competitive cross country scene. He wanted to put the fun back into mountain bike racing, so he latched onto the enduro format, which he believes is more accessible to a range of riders.
“In my opinion, the competition of cross country got too serious. You would come to race and you wanted to do well, but I felt like the average racer wasn’t being brought in. I felt that some of the fun has been taken out of cross country racing.”
So he designed a race that he would want to enter. That meant minimum wasteful swag, a big party on Saturday night (after the cross country race and chainless challenge but before the final downhill stage), and outstanding courses that riders would remember and talk about later.
The first stage—the Super D (time trial)—took place Friday and was billed as the crown jewel of the race. Racers first boarded a gondola to the midway point up Snowmass ski hill (nearly 10,000 feet in elevation) then rode the Elk Camp chair to the 11,300-foot summit. Late afternoon clouds loomed but the weather held as racers began at 4 p.m. in 30-second intervals.
From tundra to sagebrush, the 9.3-mile run dropped 4,000 feet and featured the swoops and berms of the Vapor and Valhalla gravity trails, connected to the classic cross country Government Trail with a bit of pedaling, dropped into the aspen groves lining the steeper Anaerobic Nightmare to Tom Blake, and onto the sidehills of the Highline and Lowline trails. It’s not often that one has free reign on these trails; to ride them from 11,300 feet to the valley floor with no other traffic was sheer bliss.
When his mom asked if he was tired and ready to go home, one of the youngest competitors, Dylan Gressett, stated, “No way. That was so fun, I want to ride it again.”
Perhaps the most feared stage for the gravity-oriented racers was the 9-mile cross country race, which began at 9 a.m. Saturday at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola. The course took racers contouring along some of the mountain’s best singletrack (Government, Village Bound and Cross Mountain), with a stout but relatively short fire road climb in the middle, and a finish down Snowmass’ new gravity trail, Valhalla. The route included 1,000 vertical of climbing and 2,300 feet of descending.
Despite some navigational issues early in the course that sent top riders past a sharp left and down the mountain further than desired, racers remained determined to mark good times. Keegan Swirbul, one of the youngest in the pro field, rode a hardtail 29er and won the stage by nearly a minute. (The cross country race was weighted less among all the stages, and to further make up for the course mismarking, times for the amateur men were adjusted by 1/4 of total times.)
With the cross country out of the way, riders turned their minds toward the two remaining gravity events. The chainless downhill (time trial) took place Saturday afternoon with a descent down Valhalla, a smooth flowy jump trail. Racers could not get enough of this new run that opened just a few weeks prior and took many practice runs in between stages.
Designed and built by Gravity Logic, Valhalla is 2.75 miles of freeride terrain with more than 1,400 feet of vertical drop. Fit for intermediate to advanced riders, Valhalla features berms, jumps, bridges, table tops, a wall ride, drop zone, fruit bowl and rainbows.
Video: Building Valhalla
Knowing that racers would want to be on the road after the final stage, Elkan held an after-party following the chainless challenge. Sneaky’s Tavern was hopping as racers gathered for beer, appetizers, a deejay and a raffle that included a 2013 Giant Reign 0 from Shock Top Belgian White brewing. Damon Gilbert of Colorado Springs was the lucky winner.
The downhill race on Sunday morning put the all-mountain and cross country bikes to the test. Men and women alike lamented not having their downhill bikes for the pro NORBA course that featured a road drop (mandatory for the pros) and the infamous Hell’s Kitchen “waterfall.” Giving it their all, numerous riders scootered into the finish line with broken derailleurs and flats.
Grassroots Cycles’ Team rider Eric Landis took second in the stage among the pro men. His downhill run was clean and smooth and the video does not do justice to the steep terrain, but check out his footage from the run.
Video: Eric Landis's Stage 4 DH run
Final results were based on a cumulative time in racing divisions for pro men, amateur men and amateur women, with a $3,000 prize purse for pros. (There were no pro women racing.) Nate Hills won in the Pro Men division, followed by Flynn George and Braden Kappius. Among the women, Trina Ortega came in first, followed by Sara Landis, Piglet Harris-Foster, and Brittany Engleking. Zach White took the Am Men division, with Justin Labier in second, and Brett Foncannon in third.
The enduro delivered what Elkan hoped: Giving a little extra challenge to people who just love to ride their bikes. And the camaraderie was remarkable, he says, with men cheering each other on and racers being supportive of each other. For instance, when three of the women started down the wrong trail in the cross country stage, competitor Sara Landis (Grassroots Cycles) yelled down at them to turn around and get back on course.
“What I saw at this race made me be enthusiastic to be a mountain bike race promoter again,” Elkan said.
Elkan already has started thinking about next year and plans to email surveys to all of the racers to get feedback. Race dates for 2013 will be announced in the fall.
“It will be next year before we know it,” he said. “I may have a surprise or two up my sleeve for next year!”
For full results and more info, visit http://www.aspensnowmass.com/master.
Images by Corie Spruill