By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – The Big Sky XC race on Lone Mountain is gaining attention from some of the country’s top dirt bikers.
Three medalists from the 2012 summer X Games Endurocross have confirmed they’ll be racing in Big Sky this August, Big Sky XC organizer Joe Miller.
Men’s silver and bronze medalists Cody Webb and Cory Graffunder will be here, as will the women’s bronze medalist Chantelle Bykerek. Another six X Games riders have also committed to the race, and several more are considering it.
It’s a big deal having riders of this caliber come to town, says Bozeman rider Mark Weirich, who’s currently in first place in the Open A Class in the Montana XC series and the 40+A Class in the National Hare and Hound Series.
“Those are the fastest extreme enduro riders in the world,” Weirich said. And while the race is part of the National Hare Scramble series, which has tight singletrack courses, Weirich says the Big Sky XC is actually more like an extreme enduro event because of its difficulty.
“It’s tough—tough to ride it fast and finish. You’ve got to keep your bike going, and your body.”
An architect in Bozeman, Weirich was the 2010 AMA National Hare and Hound series champion (high speed desert racing) and also did the entire National Hare Scramble series in 2008. No other course on the series is as gnarly as Big Sky, he said.
“A lot of guys that race both those series are from California, and despite the fact that there are a lot of rocks in California, they don’t ride them the way we do up here. The locals definitely have an advantage, because that’s the type of terrain we ride all summer for fun.”
Now in its forth season, the event has grown each year. Miller estimates that in total, 1,000 people came to Big Sky for last year’s event, including more than 350 riders.
This year, there will be a series of six different races over two days. Because each race is broken down into classes, there are events for everyone, Miller says, from age 4 – 60, from beginners to professional athletes.
The pro race, which has a $10,000 purse, starts at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday and will last three hours. The entire mountain will be open for hiking, and trail maps marked with prime viewing spots will be available that day. More of the action will be visible from Swift Current chairlift than in past years, Miller said, and the lift will be open for spectators.
To allow preparation and clean up before and after the race, and to maximize safety during the weekend, Big Sky Resort will temporarily move its mountain biking chairlift access to Andesite Aug. 23 – 27. The Lone Peak Tram Expedition will continue running during the race weekend.
A pro racer autograph session will be held in conjunction with the youth/novice awards ceremony at 7 p.m. on Saturday night in the Huntley Dining room. Youth/novice classes take place all day Saturday. Miller encourages the Big Sky community to check out Saturday’s events too, especially to support several youth racers from Ophir School.
Last year’s race brought people from Florida, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Canada, Miller said, filling more than 100 hotel rooms and closing down the free skier parking at Big Sky Resort for camping.
“The race attracts some of the country’s fastest motorcycle racers, and it truly is a fun spectator sport,” Miller said. “It’s the type of event where you can watch a professional athlete from just feet away from the action.”
There is also a spectator friendly endurocross section (which is like an obstacle course) near the base area, but to get the most out of watching the race, Miller says you really have to be involved in it.
“It’s best to come expecting you’re going to do some hiking. The endurocross section is exciting, but the story unfolds out on the mountain.”
He suggested catching the chairlift up and watching from multiple spots on the hike back down to the base area.
Kenda Tires is the event’s title sponsor, Klim technical gear is the presenting sponsor, and Yamaha Corp./Blitz Motor Sports are the pro purse sponsors. Tire Rama and Ressler Motors are the supporting sponsors.