July 6, 2017

Enduro race boosts Killington region’s mountain biking mojo

Bikers take off from the foggy Killington peak Friday afternoon during a round of practice.
ROBERT LAYMAN / STAFF PHOTO

Bikers take off from the foggy Killington peak Friday afternoon during a round of practice. ROBERT LAYMAN / STAFF PHOTO

KILLINGTON — The creation of mountain bike parks at seven Vermont ski resorts and the building of bike trail networks by dedicated enthusiasts and volunteers throughout Vermont attest to the sport’s growing popularity. Providing places to learn, ride and compete, the trails are becoming a significant source of summer business.

Green Mountain Trails, a grassroots 25-mile hiking/biking trail network in Pittsfield, and Killington Resort’s Bike Park became the first Northeast venues to host a two-day Clif Enduro World Series Qualifier on July 1 and 2. The eight-stage race was also a Vittoria Eastern States Cup and Enduro East event. All welcomed male and female amateurs and pros.

As part of a pathway to the world stage of global enduro racing, the Enduro qualifier featured $10,000 in prize money to top finishers in various age classes and attracted pros from around the country.

George Ulmer, who operates the Eastern States Cup series and new Enduro East races, said the qualifier is “for racers who want to get into international EWS races.” The winner of each class is automatically qualified for all 2018 EWS races, provided they are members of the Enduro Mountain Bike Association.

For the qualifier, mountain bikers had to pedal up 1,000 feet of vertical in the rain Saturday to race on rocks, roots and mud for four timed stages at the Green Mountain Trails. On Sunday they enjoyed a sunny day and lift transportation to Killington Peak, but there were still plenty of mud splatters as they traveled all over the mountain in four more stages. Total two-day times determined the winners.

Friendship and a way of life

Racing requires focus, fitness and agility skills, and offers an exciting way to make a living as a paid professional. It also offers an opportunity to travel, have fun, and make friends with like-minded athletes and adventurers at the events and parties that accompany them.

Dan Albert, 25, quit his job and now lives out of his van as he chases his dream “to ride for a living.” He drove out from a race in British Columbia with hopes to qualify for Enduro World Series races, which would give him an opportunity to “see the world.” (He finished 10th in the weekend’s qualifier.)

Kevin Yackle, of Spokane, Washington, drove out in a van so sons Jake, 16, and Nye, 14, could race. “My wife and I made a commitment to support their racing,” Yackle said.

She’s the breadwinner, he’s chauffeur, teacher — they’re home schooled — and manager, coordinating some 20 sponsors. Proud of their daily training and results, Yackle added, “We travel the country together and camp out,” characterizing the lifestyle as a “tie that binds.”

Farid Noori, a senior at Middlebury College, attended to support and socialize with fellow bikers and friends. Appreciating both the physical and social aspects of the sport, Noori is a competitor who hopes to start a mountain biking program in his native Afghanistan. He’s working on gaining sponsors to provide equipment for participants, noting the beneficiaries would help build the trails.

New Yorkers Jason Memmelaar and Leif Lorenzen have been riding with West Rutlander Jordan Newth for 10 years. At Saturday’s race, the trio rode for five hours in the rain. “We ride in the mud all the time,” Memmelaar said. Lorenzen added, “Saturday was the most fun in years.” Nodding agreement, Newth said, “Today, I was a little cautious and crashed into a tree.”

Competitor Casey Coull “hated the mud. Mud and water slow you down and make you work harder,” he said.

Mazie Hayden, 16, has been cross-country mountain biking since she was 8 years old, but began downhill last year. The Pittsfield resident rides for the Eastern States Cup Junior Downhill Team and was the first female named to the East Coast Downhill Team, which makes her eligible for Junior World Cup races. She entered the Enduro “for fun,” stopping on the last stage to move an injured bunny off the trail, knowing she was assured first place as the only female in her qualifying category.

Bikes and business

Bike manufacturers, cycle shops and companies that make gear like helmets are important sponsors for riders and competitions. Gary Erickson was on a 175-mile ride when after his fifth energy bar, he vowed he could make a better-tasting bar. With his mother’s help in the kitchen, Clif Bars was born and named for his father, who had introduced him to wilderness adventures. Twenty-five years and many products later, the company sponsors races and supports racers with free tire tubes, air pumps, beverages, and energy products. They also support runners and the Boston Marathon, noted Richard Patty, Clif’s Northeastern field marketing manager.

When Killington reinvigorated its summer business several years ago by building an Adventure Park and adding more activities, they also expanded their mountain biking network, hiring Gravity Logic to design trails for beginners and aspiring riders at the Snowshed and Ramshead areas.

Killington Director of Marketing Rob Megnin said the resort is building “the critical mass” needed to increase summer business, and that mountain biking “is the center of that drive for summer.” Noting a major commitment to create a progression of trails for learners, he said Killington is also expanding its appeal to upper ability levels by hosting events like bike races. “Visits are coming,” he said, an indication that the strategy to provide opportunities for all abilities is working.

Referencing the trails at Pine Hill Park in Rutland and the Green Mountain Trails, Megnin added, “We are positioning the region as a destination for mountain bikers. So far, we’ve seen significant growth and some overnight activity as a result. Our season pass sales (for lift-served mountain biking) have seen double-digit growth every year since we made the commitment to build the park in Snowshed . . . our trial programs are working.”

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