Big Sky Biggie back for year five
Total riders already outnumber the 2022 event, early bird registration ends May 31
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
On Aug. 26, the Big Sky Biggie will tender the legs of bikers from across the nation.
Since 2018, Big Sky has hosted this cross-country mountain bike event as a fundraiser for the Big Sky Community Organization, and more recently as a fundraiser for Big Sky’s chapter of Bozeman-based SWMMBA—the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association. Last year’s event raised $6,000 for each organization.
Community is the primary beneficiary, according to Race Director Natalie Osborne, who founded the event after deciding there needed to be a bike race in southwest Montana—Butte and Grand Targhee being the closest options.
The race has grown each year since 220 bikers took the inaugural start line in 2018.
As of April 5, 420 early birds have signed up for 2023. That’s already more than 2022’s record total of 408 bikers. For the fifth annual event this August, Osborne is hoping to reach 600.
Early bird registration concludes at the end of May, and pricing will increase on June 1.
“[The Biggie has] gotten kind of a following,” Osborne told EBS. “It’s kind of a big deal in the mountain bike community. We’re starting to see our little bubble expand from people in southwest Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, into southern Utah, Arizona. All the way to the East Coast we have word spreading that it’s a great event and people should come.”
A survey of Big Sky’s technical, rugged trail network, the event has always featured a 30- and 60-mile course. Those courses will see significant improvements this year, Osborne explained.
“Our 60-mile course is probably one of the hardest mountain bike races in the U.S., I’ll just say it,” Osborne said. “It’s a little intimidating: we have wildlife concerns, we have weather concerns with late afternoon showers and thunder that always seem to come in late August. So it’s not for the faint of heart, and I feel like it’s a special tribe that comes every year to do the 60-mile course—it’s huge bragging rights.”
The course includes over 9,000 vertical feet of climbing and features the mules loop, which will reverse direction this year—riders will ascend First Yellow Mule, and descend Second Yellow Mule, which Osborne said is a huge change.
“That climb is hard. Riding up First [Yellow Mule], the grade, the pitch is much steeper and it’s rutty… It can be sort of a grind… I think it will be interesting to see what the pros can do, how fast [they] can get up First Yellow Mule.”
She said the 30-mile course is nothing to sneeze at either, sampling the best trails in Big Sky. Last year, the Biggie added a 15-mile short course which proved popular with families, teens and high school mountain bike teams from Bozeman and Helena. That 15-mile route will not change for 2023, but the 30- and 60-mile courses change every year, Osborne said.
Also new for 2023, Lone Mountain Land Company has given the Biggie access to 15-20 miles of trail in the Spanish Peaks Club’s ski resort area, replacing a paved portion of the previous course. Osborne said LMLC is one of the event’s biggest supporters and advocates, and it has been fun to work with them.
“Now we are able to incorporate some really cool climbing routes in Spanish Peaks, and some cool descents in their ski resort area. That’s all new, and that’s just incredible… It just goes to show how supportive the landowners in this town are, for providing these opportunities and supporting these events. They could have easily said no, and they’ve kind of gone out of their way to allow them to happen,” Osborne said.
A cooperative history
When Osborne first set out to establish the Biggie, she found it difficult to string together cohesive 50-mile training rides in Big Sky. She wanted to bring awareness to that issue by starting a bike race, while attracting more cross-country mountain bikers to Big Sky.
“Everything was so disjointed,” Osborne said. “We had great pockets of trail, and BSCO was doing such great work in building, but they weren’t really connected.”
She said the Biggie is unique: in 2018, the event needed to acquire 13 different permits and land-use agreements.
“I got a lot of naysayers,” Osborne recalled. “I was really shocked. All it took was going and talking to these different land managers and finding out how I could connect the trails… Everyone was so supportive.”
Since 2018, Big Sky’s overall trail connectivity has improved.
“I would love to say the Biggie had a hand in that, but I don’t know if that’s true,” Osborne said. “There was already a lot of leadership and stakeholders, land managers throughout the Big Sky area that were already talking about fixing this problem.”
Ashley Wilson, BSCO controller and president of Big Sky’s SWMMBA chapter, paraphrased BSCO’s mission: “it’s to build a connected community through recreation. Part of that connectivity is the trails. The reliance on vehicles in a town this small is pretty high, and that’s because a lot of the trails don’t connect.”
While acquiring land-use permits for the Biggie, Osborne learned how much work goes into land access, and said she gained a lot of respect for the work BSCO does. Wilson said BSCO is lucky to have great partnerships in Big Sky, and she’s proud that the community respects BSCO’s trail stewardship.
For the event’s first three years, Osborne said weather was perfect. She knew that they were due for some adversity. It arrived in 2022, cumulonimbus-style.
“We had this thunderstorm roll in… we decided we’d have to just see what happens.”
Osborne said the event’s safety crew is “the bomb,” comprised of the local section of the Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue, Big Sky Resort Bike Patrol, Big Sky Fire Department and an ambulance on standby. That crew helped make the decision to race last year. Racers endured an hour of hail, lightning and mud.
“People were drenched in mud, so happy to finish,” Osborne said. “It just created this even bigger bond between some of the athletes. People who didn’t know each other were finishing together and so happy to have accomplished that.”
‘A town event’
“When I tell people there’s a mountain bike race in Big Sky and I’m marketing it at other events in the Western U.S., everyone is like, ‘oh, Big Sky Resort?”
She said the resort is lift-access, downhill-enduro-trail oriented—mostly not suitable for this cross-country event.
Osborne is proud that the race starts and ends in Town Center, where the Big Sky community exists. The courses do traverse into Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin, but mainly the entire valley surrounding Big Sky. When the event finishes, Aspen Leaf Drive is closed for a “huge block party.”
“This is a town event. It’s not a resort event, and that’s really important to me personally,” Osborne said. “[Big Sky Resort] are amazing partners to us—patrol helps us on the day of the event, they have been so generous with their use permitting fees for the trails we do use on their property. Boyne has been a great partner, and the leadership at Big Sky Resort have been some of their biggest advocates for this event… It’s just really important to me that our community had something to gather around, sport related, in town.”
Osborne emphasized the importance of the event’s volunteer support, and said the event is still pursuing help.
“I can say from experience that volunteering for this race is so much fun,” Wilson said.
“Putting on a bike race is almost as rewarding as crossing the finish line in your own race,” Osborne added.
Wilson emphasized Osborne’s effort and leadership with growing the event.
“This is something I heard about before I lived in Big Sky. The amount of respect and camaraderie and overall hype around this race… I’m incredibly honored to be involved in it,” Wilson said. “Natalie is a badass.”