By Eddie Clark
(February 11, 2012) VAIL, Colo.—Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Resorts, and Teva built on the success of the iconic Teva Summer Games to host a first ever winter version, which showcased numerous snow sports and three extremely popular cycling events. The bike events were a dual slalom race much like a ski slalom race except with a mechanical gate to start on, a snow bike crit, and a big jump contest that was held after dark.
Fortunately for the cyclists, the weather held solid and a moderately warm and sunny winter day helped all the cyclist ride to their potential. The mild weather was especially welcomed during the practice session for the big air competitors.
For the big air event which saw some of the world's top freestyle riders hitting either a 45 foot or 60 foot gap jump, Jeff Lenosky was called in to oversee the course construction. "I've been coming out for the summer games for past ten years, and coordinated the urban speed trials. I've done some on-snow jumping before, but it was just at slopestyle parks", said Lenosky.
Lenosky also added about the jumps, "The weather is always a variable and can cause problems with soft snow creating bad ruts on the run-in, so we've decided to make wooden lips so there's a nice consistent take-off. They're hitting a 60 foot jump, so there's no need to make it any more difficult."
After the jump practice, attention shifted laterally across the slope to the dual slalom course. For nearly all of the dual slalom racers, racing on snow was a completely new twist to the dual slalom format. The big talk in the pits were about tire selection, and what set-up would work best.
The course was easily twice as long as the typical course, and racers were driven up to the top on the back of snowmobiles, which was another first in many cases. Although there were no jumps to clear, simply navigating the slalom gates and staying upright provided plenty of challenge.
"It's my first dual slalom on the snow in the United States, I think I did one like fifteen years ago in Europe. The course was awesome, by the end there were berms building up so it was easier to get through it, you needed good tires. It was good for me, I like the gated racing, and it's more fair." said third place finisher Petr Hanak.
Kyle Ebbett of Essex Junction, Vermont put his skills and equipment to task, and took the top prize in a tight race over second placed racer and accomplished freerider Aaron Chase. Wendy Palmer from Moab, Utah won the women's dual slalom event.
Just as the dual slalom racing finished, the on-snow bike crit started in the Golden Peak base area at 5pm. The base area served as the hub for all of the bike events and the Bud Light Mountains of Music stage as well as many of the other snow sport events, which made for great spectating. Racers competed in the all-new snow bike class or standard mountain bike class, and all took off with a mass start. The course featured 170 feet of climbing per 0.62 mile lap, and most completed 8 laps.
Women's fat bike and overall winner, Judy Freeman loved the new form of racing. Freeman commented, "This was my first ever snow bike ride/crit. It was pretty tricky and fun. The downhill's weren't so bad, but the uphill's were kind of tricky if you slid out and lost your momentum. Holy cow, try it, it's so much fun!"
Men's overall and fat bike winner Mitchell Hoke has become a fan of the snow bike too. "I got the bike, went for a ride and learned how to ride on the snow, so it was good", said Hoke. For some descending tips he added, "You sit on the top tube, stick one foot out and ride it moto style with just 5psi in the tires. It's fun, it's cold, and you gotta be ready for the cold."
Interestingly the top 3 fastest men and women were all on snow bikes, which certainly says something about the validity of this new breed of bike when it comes to quickly covering snow covered terrain.
After the sun set, and the lights came on, the big air event took center stage with some fans watching from the bottom of the insanely giant run-out, while some ventured further from the beer tent to walk up along the side of the course for pre and post jump views. As an added bonus, the event organizers brought in a flame thrower of sorts that spat out giant fireballs with each trick the bike riders and skiers threw. Riders sessioned the jump in a jam format for one hour.
With only 6 days on a mountain bike, X-Games BMX gold medalist Chad Kagy set the bar with a massive flip whip to win the event. Previous Teva (summer) Games winner Mike Montgomery took second, and British rider Sam Pilgrim sealed up third place.