VAIL - With studs and spikes in their tires, men and women who are used to mountain biking on dirt in the summertime went out of their comfort zones to test out the snow.
The Vail Valley Foundation's Winter Mountain Games came to an end Sunday with a thrilling, spectator-friendly mountain bike race at Golden Peak. And to keep it really interesting, the race was a slalom course, meaning each man and woman who flew down the mountain just barely in control also had to think about making the proper turns around each slalom gate.
Throw in countless ruts along the course, and turning the bike becomes a feat in and of itself.
Petr Hanak, of Winter Park, won the event Sunday afternoon after spending maybe 30 minutes total practicing on snow. He's a mountain bike rider and a motocross rider, and now he can add on-snow mountain biking to the list.
"I've been riding bikes since I was 10 and now I'm 37, so I've got some practice," Hanak said.
He said the divots in the course are similar to motocross, and he liked that about it. Riding on snow is totally different from riding on dirt in the summertime, though.
Second-place finisher Jamas Stiber, of Vail, said riding at low speeds on snow is what's really weird. Once you get some speed, though, "it's very similar to a mud race or a loose, sandy course, so it's not that bad," Stiber said.
"There's actually some really deep ruts that formed in the course, and as long as you can keep it together until you hit one of those - cause it's safe in there, you can turn in the rut - it's just a matter of hanging it out," Stiber said.
It's hard to train for a downhill mountain-bike race on a snow course. Most of the men and women in the field Sunday said they had never tried racing on snow before.
Shawn Neer, of Boulder, who made it to the quarterfinals, said he rode bikes on snow as a kid and jumped, but he never tried riding down ski runs. His strategy Sunday was to keep it smooth.
"It's just like not thinking - it's just riding your bike," Neer said. "Just control - just like riding like it's any day, like we know we can. When you start thinking too much, you make mistakes, but if you just ride your bike, you'll have the fastest run ever."
Wendy Palmer, of Moab, had really limited training options. She's used to riding slick rock in Utah, which is really tacky.
"It's really, really fun," Palmer said of the snow biking. "It's really challenging, particularly for me from the desert. I don't ever ride on snow, so it's really different."
Palmer said the ride is a fine balance between braking and balancing.
"You're sliding the whole time and you're going fast because it's a pretty steep slope, and if you're braking, you're sliding more," Palmer said. "It's all about getting the bike in the right position and then lining up for your next gate because it's easy to blow the gates - otherwise we'd be going way faster."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.