Soaking in the Devil’s Peak Downhill skateboarding event in Georgetown
GEORGETOWN — As our shuttle van from Georgetown Lake switch-backed up Guanella Pass, Koby Simonton of Eagle relayed the one word synonymous with downhill skateboarding.
“Bravery,” Simonton, 21, said as the shuttle pulled up to the race course surrounded by 1,200 hay bales at 10,000 feet. “A lot of bravery.”
Simonton was a perfect person to enlighten me more about this sport during my first time at the Devil’s Peak Downhill skateboarding event. I’d written a feature article about downhill skateboarding a couple months back, one focused on local Summit County downhillers who practice on rec path between Vail Pass and Copper Mountain. They’d told me about the curious predicament of their chosen sport, how it’s still almost an outlaw hobby where they aren’t exactly welcome on just any road. Still, they love downhilling so much that they purchase special leather suits, helmets, palm pads, wheels and foot-stops to sharpen their craft.
Simonton, a ski instructor at Beaver Creek who hobbled onto the shuttle despite a torn ACL, put it in perspective.
“It’s a lot like ski racing for me,” he said of downhilling as we walked up the short, rocky hike from the shuttle drop off at the finish line to the final hay-bale-blanketed turn of the course, known as “Party Corner.” “Because, when we go to a football game, everybody is rooting for their side. It’s kind of hostile. But you go to a ski race or a longboard race, everyone’s rooting for everyone. It’s a different way to connect with people, to connect with gravity, per se.”
Once at Party Corner, I understood what Simonton spoke of. Family, friends and fans of the racers hiked down from adjacent Jeep roads to set up spots to watch from behind the hay, their coolers in tow. There was even a hammock-ville of sorts where spectators watched the heats play out. They dwindled down from dozens upon dozens of riders to a final heat of four. The groups of riders were initially set by a “wheel of death” where the random element of spinning a wheel dictated skaters’ spots.
The spectators even included a pair of 10-year-old downhillers from Aurora, Oliver Harris and Ben Votta. The two’s eyes were wide at Party Corner, stoked to watch a Colorado local they knew, Tanner Morelock, advance deep into the day.
What did they enjoy most about the day?
“Crashes,” Harris said. “And seeing how people get so close racing.”
Sunday had its share of crashes, though it seemed the most serious injury was to one skater’s shoulder. It was clear race director Justin Rolo and his crew worked hard over the weekend to host the event without a hitch. Rolo drove up and down the roughly 2-mile race course on the pass in his blue Ford Mustang before each round, making sure the road was clear. Rolo also had Summit local downhillers such as Mike DeGrado and Troy Westbrook working for him — DeGrado shuttling racers in the event’s rented U-Hauls while Westbrook manned a corner.
In the end, it was a skater raised in Dillon Valley, Boulder resident Daina Banks, who nearly won the Devil’s Peak. The 32-year-old took second during a thrilling final heat where race winner Chase Hiller of Branson, Missouri, tangled with him on the inside of the turn at Party Corner. Hiller eeked out the win with a wide line, keeping speed better than Banks, who was forced to ride an inside line he was more unfamiliar with.
In the grand scheme, though, for Banks, Devil’s Peak is about much more than merely winning. Guanella Pass, after all, is a spot he sharpened his downhill skills on more than a decade ago when a downhill elder named Dave Morton told him one side of the pass had recently been paved. Racing it like this? It could have only been a dream then.
“There’s a lot of memories here, a lot of friendships,” Banks said. “It’s like a dream come true.”
Banks’ downhill origin story began back when he and his friends found a skateboard in a river near his Dillon Valley home. Now he’s arguably the best downhiller in the world, with a chance to win the international season title with two races to go.
When stepping back and putting into perspective what the Colorado and Summit County downhill communities have become, he’s just grateful.
“It’s nice to see a local scene going about it the right way,” Banks said of the Summit County crew.