VAIL, Colorado - Vail's Golden Peak ski race course has seen its fair share of action over the years, but on Saturday, the slopes saw a whole new brand of competition with Vail's first-ever Dual Slalom Bike event as part of the Winter Teva Mountain Games.
Riders from all over the country showed up and squared off in standard slalom format, combining the times in two separate runs to determine who will advance to the next round. A field of 32 was narrowed down to 16, which narrowed to eight before semis and finals, where Aaron Chase of Glenwood, N.J., raced against Kyle Ebbett of Essex Junction, Vt., in an exciting conclusion to a long day of racing. Ebbett walked away with it, crediting his preparation more than actual skill, although his masterful navigation of the slippery course proved key in the win.
"The hardest part about it was the mental aspect of it," Ebbett said after the race. "You've got to stay focused out there."
Ebbett said he spent more time preparing his tires than actually competing, which is standard for the sport.
"Your tires make all the difference out there," he said.
Locals Billy Mantle of Minturn and Doug Klacik or Avon both made it into the top 16.
The bikes used by the Dual Slalom Bike competitors are similar to what you'll see dirt jumpers or slalom bikers use in the summer - very low to the ground with a short travel suspension. The tires are what really separate the winter bikes from their warm-weather counterparts, though, with the studs making all the difference between a cleared gate and a crash.
"You've got to have death tires out here," said Chase, carefully caressing them through his glove. "The bigger the spikes, the better."
The gates and course ended up looking more like a giant slalom than an actual slalom, and Chase said his background racing slalom on skis helped him prepare for events like this one. Chase and Ebbett both said they have been riding bikes with studded tires on the snow since the late '90s, and like anything else, experience is key.
Riders said the hardest part about the Golden Peak course was a technical section near the top, where a sharp turn at the bottom of a steeper pitch was needed to clear the gate.
"Turning downhill with speed is the hardest part," said third-placed Petr Hanak of Winter Park. "And staying out of the ruts that form in the course."
On the women's side, local competitor Katy Hanlon of Avon had nearly wrapped it up when a mishap occurred on course, giving the win to Wendy Palmer of Moab.
"My powder skirt got caught in my tire," exclaimed Hanlon upon crossing the finish line.
Palmer said the hardest part for her was training herself to lay off the brake, which - like any vehicle on ice - tends to make things a little squirrely.
"I've never done anything like this before, so it was definitely a learning experience," she said. -
Third place went to Soraya Khalje of Denver, who beat out fourth-placed Marti Renn of Avon.