Local mountain bike racer killed in Crested Butte crash
Celebration of Life
A celebration of Will Olson’s life is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, at Eagle’s Nest atop Vail Mountain. The gondola ride is free.
MOUNT CRESTED BUTTE — Crested Butte’s enduro mountain bike race was to be Will Olson’s last of the season, and for a very good reason: true love. There’s no better reason than that.
Instead, it was the last race of Olson’s life. A crash during a Saturday race stage killed him, and organizers canceled Sunday’s final day of competition. Racers instead took a ride in tribute to Olson.
Olson, 40, of Edwards, apparently died of blunt force trauma to the chest during the Crested Butte stop in the Enduro World Series. Olson was close to the finish line when he crashed, race organizers said.
Will the Thrill
He was humble and grateful to be living the life he was, friends said in an outpouring of emotion and support.
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“He had so much gratitude. He was so grateful to be doing what he was doing,” said Bonnie McDonald, Olson’s fiancee.
Crested Butte was to be his last Enduro World Series race this season. He was going to miss the end of the series because he was moving to Burlington, Vermont, later this month for an outstanding reason — that’s where he and McDonald would live. They had kept their long distance relationship strong and wanted to shorten that distance.
In fact, they met in Crested Butte on a mountain bike trip with a bunch of friends.
One of Olson’s close friends, Mike Pastore, called McDonald yesterday to see how she was doing and ask if she knew what Olson had for her. She thought maybe it was an engagement ring because that’s what they’d been looking considering. It was a brand new mountain bike they built her … and you can’t love a woman more than that.
“The outpouring of love for him has been incredible,” McDonald said.
He lacerated his liver twice, once while snowboarding and once while mountain biking uphill.
“That’s how hard he rode,” McDonald said.
As close as they were, McDonald said she was only part of his life. Olson is originally from Scappoose, Oregon. He is survived two brothers, John and Fred Olson. His mother, Carolyn Olson, still lives in Oregon. His dad, Gary, lives in Edwards.
“He had the best brothers a guy could ask for (which he stated all the time); a mom as loving, proud and supportive as could be; and a dad he loved to spend time with and considered a close friend,” McDonald said.
Olson moved here 19 years ago with Jack Ridenour and a host of others from Oregon. John Bailey hired Olson to work at Trails End, a bar in Lionshead.
“We called him Will the Thrill. If he wasn’t going off cliffs in East Vail, he was going hard on his bike,” Bailey said.
How hard? Strava is a phone app that measures your time on various bike rides. Olson had the best time on lots and lots of stuff.
Eventually, he became director of purchasing for the Vail Cascade. When the Cascade folks learned he was leaving, they started lobbying with a sister hotel in the Burlington area to keep Olson in the company.
When someone asked him how he was doing at work he’d always say, “Awesome!”
Enduro racing is fairly new and has been gaining popularity the last few years, thanks partially to rapid improvements in bicycle technology. Olson was one of its most beloved ambassadors. Olson just started enduro racing last year, but before that he was a “stealth badass,” said Bo Pihl, one of Olson’s friends.
He won the Enduro World Series season opener in Snowmass earlier this summer and was one of a favorites to win in Crested Butte, where he had won before.
“He was feeling good and looking forward to riding in Crested Butte. It was his favorite mountain,” McDonald said.
He rode fast, and could because he was so skilled, friends said.
“He was so fast but so unassuming and quiet about it that nobody really knew, and he was fine with that. He was just as happy pedaling along on a group ride shooting the breeze as he was mobbing a trail like Doctors Park unbelievably fast, as long as he got to do some of both,” Pihl said.
“I hope there is singletrack in heaven and these two can ride again,” Kevin Anderson said on Olson’s Facebook page under a photo of Olson and his dog.
“It’s so hard when a community loses one of its own. Will Olson, you were a beautiful rider and a wonderful soul. You will be missed dearly and ridden for often,” Jeannine Anders said, also on Olson’s Facebook page.
“Will loved to ride his bike more than anyone I’ve ever known, and that is really saying something,” Pihl said.
Beyond his incredible skill and athleticism though, he was a genuinely good person. He was utterly devoted to his friends and family and, of course, to Bonnie, Pihl said.
“He was a good guy in a world that needs more of them,” Pihl said. “He was always up for a ride, to go skiing or on a hut trip in the winter, or a cook out, or even to help out with a project. He was a guy who would actually come help if you had to move or something. We all miss him terribly.”
Friends and teammates
When Mike Pastore moved to town in 1996, he went to work at the Cascade and met Will.
“Will has always been fast. He and I were cut from the same cloth and we throw ourselves into the downhills. That’s what made us so tight. He was right next to me and I was right next to him for 16 years,” Pastore said.
Interestingly, Olson loved to go fast, but wasn’t that interested in racing. Pastore knew how good Olson was, and so did his wife Maria Pastore.
Mike has a bunch of national championships, and his wife has her own. They kept begging Olson to race.
Last year at Snowmass was his first enduro race ever. Pastore won the first three stages on Saturday, and Olson won the Sunday stages.
When the math was done, Olson’s combined time was 13 seconds faster than Pastore’s. They were both thrilled. Friends are like that.
“From that point on he caught the bug, as I knew he would,” Pastore said.
Pastore races for a national team and talked the team director into signing Olson.
Olson started winning races, and racers started to recognize him. It didn’t affect him like it would lots of people.
“It’s weird,” Olson told Pastore. “I go places and people just come up to me. It’s fun, but I feel bad because I don’t know these people’s names.”
Crested Butte is the single biggest enduro race in the country, and possibly the biggest mountain bike race of any kind.
Although Olson was advised against it, he raced in Keystone a few weeks earlier, crashed, wrecked his bike and would not be able to get another before last weekend’s Crested Butte event. Pastore gave him one of his bikes, they adapted it to fit Olson, and he went racing in Crested Butte.
Olson struggled a bit early, and when they talked, Olson told Pastore, “It’s all or nothing. I’m going to put it down and make up all the time tomorrow.”
“That’s what he was doing when he died. He was going through a chicane corner, slipped off the bike, likely hit a tree and probably before he realized it, it was over,” Pastore said.
Pastore had fractured his hip last weekend, but when they heard Olson was injured and not doing well, he and Maria fought their way out of the hospital and drove to Crested Butte. They learned on their way that Olson didn’t make it.
“He’s in heaven riding Velcro dirt right now,” Pastore said. “We just try to think of the awesome times, and we’ve had so many over the last 16 or 17 years.”
The Mt. Crested Butte Police Department said two other racers found Olson lying face down and immediately performed CPR for approximately 30 minutes. Race officials arrived and performed CPR for at least another 30 minutes.
A paramedic arrived by helicopter and pronounced Olson dead.
Olson crashed close to the finish line, but that finish line was on a four-wheel drive road a long way from town and anywhere else, Bailey said.
“The site looks like something he’d ridden through thousands of times,” Bailey said.
Racer Adam Craig told Velo News that in the wake of the tragedy, canceling Sunday’s stages was the right decision.
“Racing is no longer relevant,” Craig said. “Canceling was the only thing they possibly could have done.”
The Enduro World Series now moves to Whistler, British Columbia.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.