Friends: Will Olson ‘rode to feel alive’ |

Friends: Will Olson ‘rode to feel alive’

Gary Olson speaks at a memorial service for his son, Will Olson, at the top of Vail's Eagles Nest on Thursday. Tears mixed with laughter as friends and family shared stories about what an amazing person Will Olson truly was.
Townsend Bessent | |

VAIL — Friends and family said goodbye Thursday to Will Olson, a local and former U.S. Marine described as one of the best mountain bikers in Colorado.

Olson died Saturday after crashing during the third stage of the Crested Butte Enduro World Series. He was 40.

“He often said he had a great life,” said Bonnie McDonald, Olson’s girlfriend whom he planned on marrying. “As fast as Will rode, he would always take time to stop and smell the flowers. He rode to feel alive.”

In addition to being described as a graceful, effortless mountain biker, Olson was also called a great communicator and a straight talker who liked to read and play cribbage. His brothers, John and Fred Olson, said he was a loving uncle to their children and was looking forward to starting a family of his own with McDonald.

“Everybody loved Uncle Willy,” Fred Olson said.

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Processing his brother’s death has been “the worst experience I’ve ever had,” John Olson said, but added, “I’m having a fun time remembering him.”

One memory included Olson’s improbable laceration of his liver, shared by friend Mike Pastore.

“Who lacerates their liver riding uphill?” Pastore asked the crowd.

Another, shared by self-proclaimed “old” skier Lorinda Arpin, included details of Olson taking off down the hill after a long day of partying on a deck at Vail Mountain.

Everyone else took off, but “Will stayed behind,” Arpin said, ensuring she made it down OK.

“You done good,” Arpin told Olson’s parents, Gary and Carolyn Olson, who were in attendance at the event. “He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.”

Gary Olson said in order for Will to get into the U.S. Marine Corps, he needed to earn his GED.

“So Will and I went to community college, I took the four classes and went to community college with him so he would actually graduate,” Gary said with a laugh.

When he returned from the Marines, “He was ready for bear,” Carolyn Olson said.

Fred Olson shared a story of a young Will Olson, a “cat with nine lives,” as described by Fred, in which Fred’s motorcycle needed to be retrieved from tangled barbed wire in the middle of the night.

“I didn’t share that story with anyone for years,” Fred Olson told the crowd of hundreds gathered at Eagle’s Nest atop Vail Mountain. “Not until it was safe.”

Local mountain biking legend John Bailey said Will Olson was a great friend to him and his children since meeting in September of 1996.

“He electrified the room when he entered,” Bailey said.

Will Olson’s childhood friend, Jack Ridenour, said Olson was in the prime of his life when he died.

“He was the happiest I have ever seen him,” Ridenour said.


One story in particular, shared by a new friend of Olson’s — fellow enduro mountain bike rider Colin Godby — captivated the audience the most. Godby said he became friends with Olson because he was one of the few riders in the field who would talk to the new guy, share tips and tricks about the trails upon which they would become competitors shortly thereafter.

On the morning Olson died, he told Godby he felt excellent.

“He was focused, but smiling,” the last time Godby saw him alive, at the top of the Crested Butte Enduro World Series stage three.

The stage began, and “he was just gone,” Godby said. “He was so fast. About three quarters of the way through the stage, I came around a corner and my life changed forever. I want everyone to know he was with loving, caring hands through it all. We all just wouldn’t let go of his hand or stop touching him. We gave it everything.”

Godby said he didn’t want to share the details of Olson’s final moments, but he would regret it for the rest of his life if he didn’t.

“I think we all needed to hear that,” said Larry Grossman, who helped organize the event.

On Tuesday, a Go Fund Me site was set up with a goal of $20,000 by Colorado mountain biker Dee Tidwell in an effort to offset the cost of Will Olson’s memorial expenses for Gary and Carolyn Olson. As of Thursday’s memorial, the site was less than $1,000 from achieving the goal.

“If that isn’t a testament to the impact he had on people, I don’t know what is,” Pastore said.

You can contribute by visiting the site at

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