” So Pete, what made us think we would escape the rain, roots and mud of riding in West Virginia?” I said this as my friend Pete Hilton and I made our way through the Backcountry Trails at Silver Creek right outside of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia. We decided to take a flyer and go see the World Cup Cross Country Races and get a ride in too. We have a lot of experience over 30 years of riding mountain bikes in West Virginia for different events and unfortunately it rains most of the time. But somehow, that adds to the allure of the place and we kind of expect it. When we went to the Word Cup finals last year, it was a hot, sunny weekend. But that was a first. At the Wild 100s, the 24 Hour Races, the NORBA Nationals, the Fat Tire Festivals over the years- it always rained………….and that’s ok believe it or not.
So Pete picks me up at 4:00 AM and we take the drive to Snowshoe from Pittsburgh. About a 4 hour jaunt and when we get there, we get our tickets for the races and then head to Silver Creek. The long and the short of that is we got lost because I started out on the wrong trail. We had a long, rocky, climb and eventually ended up in the woods on a trail system that we had ridden before. Rooty, muddy , slimy and all around West Virginia treacherous snot fest. But we survived as usual and got back to the van and changed clothes and headed to the races. We met up with our Pittsburgh contingent and took in the expo area and saw a lot of the new bikes and equipment and also saw some of the racers who were warming up for the respective women’s and men’s cross country events.
As we made our way to the start line and then to the course, it began to sprinkle and then about halfway through the women’s race, the skies opened up in true West Virginia fashion. We were positioned at this amazingly muddy and steep downhill and witnessed some of the most skillful bike handling you will ever see. Take the time to watch the races on Red Bull TV and you will see how difficult the course became and how well the women rode. My MVP for the day was Jolanda Neff of Switzerland who bombed down the muddy, slimy, rock infested descent and bridged to the lead group to finish on the podium. An amazing feat of fitness and skill was on display for all of us to see in a truly biblical, torrential downpour.
The men were next and it seemed to be raining even harder as Hank, Samra, Pete and I hung out in the North Face Store just to stay a little dry although we were totally soaked. We welcomed people into the North Face Store jokingly hoping not to get thrown out. But eventually we made our way to the wicked fast start and eventually back to that treacherous downhill to see how the men handled it. Well, not only are the speeds higher than the women, but the fearless attacks in the torrent both on the climbs and on the descents were impressive.
Although the weather was really foul, the amazing thing about the whole event is the people. First off, the fans are truly enthusiastic and no matter how badly they were soaked, their cheerful attitude and encouraging voices and cowbell rings, buoyed the riders on. The Red Bull TV people all comment on the enthusiastic fans at Snowshoe and it was on display even in the raging rainstorm.
The athletes, managers, and employees of the manufacturers at the booths are amazingly approachable and always happy to oblige with a picture or a discussion. There is something in the air at Snowshoe that makes it a great venue for mountain biking and mountain bike racing. People are friendly, and the visiting athletes from all over the world are always glad to come here. Even though it is quite remote, it is like a gem in the wilderness of West Virginia and the people of mountain biking make the venue even more special.
On our way out, Pete and I stopped at the Almost Heaven Smoke House at the bottom of the mountain on the way out to RT219. Great bar b que if you visit and the owners are hard working and friendly – typical of the locals of West Virginia who embrace the World Cup every year. I am hoping that the UCI always hosts the World Cup at Snowshoe and we can continue to see world class athletes show us all how it is done. Nothing like the races and nothing like the people of the mountain bike community.
We headed home after the men’s races were over and the four hour drive back seemed to fly by with our enthusiastic recounting of the events of the day. A long day for a couple of guys in their 60s but what the hell- go for it. Spending the weekend is the way to go, but Pete and I had other things that precluded that. But we made the effort, got a ride in, and saw some great racing in the wilds of West Virginia. It truly is ” Almost Heaven” even when it rains. Thanks for reading.