Cole Bangert’s all scrapes and smiles
The 16-year-old from Twin Lakes and his father Darryl, owner of Lakota Guides, build bike ramps in their backyard. Cole’s mother, Robin Leedel, watches all of her son’s races from the bottom.
It’s safer down there.
Because Cole is a downhill mountain bike racer, he puts his body in between literal rocks and hard places, usually moments after ungracious flight. He has scrapes on his elbows. He describes friends in body casts with broken backs as “OK.” His father shakes his head at the sight of his son risking much more than life and limb, but still, with the approval of the family, he builds the ramps.
And this new family activity is paying off. Earlier this month, Cole cleared the back-breaking rock section at the U.S. Nationals in Mount Snow, Vt., a feat accomplished by only a fourth of 57 junior experts.
“Once I cleared the rocks, I was pumped,” he said. “The crowd cheered so loud, my mom heard it at the bottom of the run. I crossed the line and my mom told me I was third. I was amazed.”
Cole, a junior at Buena Vista High School, stayed in third, continuing his recent habit of keeping time on the podium. In the regional Mountain States Cup, Cole is ranked No. 1 after a summer of finishing in the top three, most often in first. Combined with his finish at nationals, Cole’s ranked fifth among the National Off Road Biking Association (NORBA) downhill juniors, and third in his specific age group.
The success has come only recently. His father bought him his first downhill bike last year, four years after Cole sat and watched professionals on Vail Mountain. He wasn’t just admiring the professionals, he was imagining being one.
“I will. I hope so. I want to go pro, someday,” he said.
His dad silently agrees.
“Well, that’s his passion,” Darryl said. “If you’re not living your passions, you’re not living at all.”
While Cole has had his humbling moments, including an eye-opener at the season kickoff event in California, the first glance at the rock section at nationals presented a new emotion: fear. He watched the pros practicing the section and fall. He watched his own competitors attempt the steep, boulder-filled section and injure themselves.
“It was so slick, I couldn’t even walk down,” he explained.
Then came race day.
“I went out as fast as I could. I didn’t hold back at all,” he said. “I don’t think about crashing. I just went as fast as I could.”
He turned onto a ski run, flying past a lift tower and hurled himself off a 40-foot jump.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said.
“To you,” his father said again, shaking his head. “You hit a lip going 40 miles per hour and go 40 feet flying out. Most people in the universe wouldn’t do that.”
But that was just cake. Nailing the rock section meant a high finish. He knew it. So he did it, even though the racer in front of him crashed twice, forcing Cole to change his line. Down and relieved, he saw his friend Mike Howse, of Boulder, lying in the dirt unconscious.
“He was out watching the pros race the next day,” Cole said. “Then they realized he had a broken back.”
Then came the finish and the realization he had a solid run and third place. He came home with a new focus. Next summer, he said, he’s going to concentrate on national races, still compete locally, and win like it’s his job – that ultimate goal. With that kind of success comes factory sponsorships, the pinnacle for junior racers.
But for now, it’s still practicing by himself or with the occasional pro that he runs into on Vail. It’s still meeting friends, worrying about their health, and building ramps with his dad.
“We have kids, Cole’s buddies he rides with, stopping by all the time telling me they have to try out the new jumps,” Darryl said. “They sleep on the couch, on the floor. Really, it’s a lot of fun.
“Right?” he asks Cole.
And Cole can only smile, a scrape running from his elbow to his hand.