VAIL - With snowflakes in their faces, cyclists slipped and slid over a snow-covered course Feb. 9, competing for a $4,000 prize purse at the Winter Mountain Games.
The riders circled Golden Peak for roughly 40 minutes in the event, called the On-Snow MTB Crit, which saw both men and women competing in snow bike (4-inch tires) and mountain bike categories.
The course was a challenging one, taking riders from a start/finish area near Chair 6's first tower, uphill along the outside of the Chair 12 line, through the Golden Peak tunnel and back down the catwalk that crosses under Chair 6, with snow the only surface throughout the entire course.
The snow bike category saw the most competition, with the result a repeat of Feb. 8's cross-country snow bike race - Jake Wells took home top honors for the men and Judy Freeman won the women's race.
Despite the falling snow, softer riding surface and tough conditions, Wells said general fitness is the most difficult aspect of the competition.
"Handling your bike on the downhill switchbacks is one thing," said Wells, a pro cyclocross racer who lives in Avon. "But this climb is painful."
After the 35-minute crit format elapsed, the riders lapped the course eight times.
"First couple laps it was riding pretty well, but then with the traffic and everything, everybody was swerving and cutting up the snow, it definitely got more difficult as we progressed," Wells said. "Racing bikes on snow is so much fun. It's awesome to have an event of this size in your backyard."
Wells said that to adjust for the softer snow, he deflated his tires slightly.
"Yesterday I ran probably about seven or eight PSI, and today I ran about five or six," he said. "The softer the tire is, the more traction there is to come in contact with the snow ... but it was actually harder packed than I thought it was going to be, probably because of all the skier traffic all day."
Third place finisher and local cross-country mountain biker Jay Henry said going into the race he didn't think the conditions were going to bother him as much as the actual terrain.
"I don't think the snow in your face will make much difference, but the drop's going to be out of control," he said.
"It gets hard to keep your line and you can't really predict where you're going to go," he said. "A little bit of panic sets in, you got strong guys chasing you and you can't afford to make any mistakes."
And those guys were on snow bikes with huge 4-inch tires.
Women's mountain bike category winner Cait Dmitriew rode on plain old mountain bike tires. She said the race was crazy.
"The downhill's really hard when it's rutted out, but it's so fun," she said. "Perversely, I enjoyed it."
Dmitriew came in from Boulder to compete in the crit and Feb. 10's dual bike slalom.
"I hope a bunch of people come out and do it," she said of the slalom. "Especially girls."