By Jen Clancey DIGITAL PRODUCER
Austin Manser stood at the front of the Ramcharger 8 lift line, hoping to hop on as soon as the lightning delay ended. Mud speckled the brim of his helmet. It was his first time mountain biking in the Rocky Mountains, let alone Big Sky.
“It’s quite the experience, you come out here and you think you’re fast until you come further and see how people really ride,” Manser said.
Manser was a participant in the Big Mountain Enduro Finals, held at Big Sky Resort on Aug. 5 and 6 for the series’ 11th year. As the last opportunity to score points and achieve fast times, pro, expert and amateur riders approached the slick courses with fervor.
Manser is used to a 900-foot hill in his home state of Missouri. Big Sky Resort’s elevation gain on the Swift Current 6 lift is nearly double that number.
“For someone who’s not used to it, it was quite the experience,” Manser said. “It’s definitely made me a better rider.”
He described the rainy and slick conditions during the Expert Men’s race. Across the board the conditions added to the competition on the courses. The weekend was marked by heavy rain and passing thunderstorms and even for pros, the weather posed challenges.
How the Pros prepare for the race
For 2018 U.S. Enduro national champion and professional biker, Porsha Murdock, courses require a level of study and preparation, combined with improvisation. After a practice ride on the mountain Friday afternoon, she took a breather to chat tactics.
“It’s definitely a different riding style compared to if it’s dry,” Murdock said. As a course sees more riders, mud is dragged over roots making conditions that Murdock likened to “ice” in some sections.
To stay on route, Murdock envisions a course and what to expect on the trail.
“Typically, for me I like to kind of recap what’s coming up on the stage, certain features I have to look for and be ready for to get in position to hit them and execute,” Murdock said.
“I’m gonna slide and I might not hit all the lines I want to but it’s kind of just like flowing with it as you get to each little section.”
Although Murdock feels she began the sport later in life, she is excited to see younger female athletes get involved in Big Mountain Enduro, a unique type of racing.
“It’s a little bit more fun, less cross country focused and less just one run downhill. It’s a nice hybrid of the two,” Murdock said.
“So, I think all of those things factor in and then younger girls are having… more programs that they can join when they’re younger, like start progressing at a much earlier [age].”
Murdock finished third overall in the Big Mountain Enduro series and third in the Big Sky race.
Second in the race, first overall in U21
No stranger to a rainy climate, Brandon Fischer from Bellingham, Washington completed Big Sky’s Mountain Enduro with a spot on the podium, racing in the U21 category.
“It was really good today,” Fischer said, pausing to wash the mud off his bike. “It was super fun because it dried up and [was] really sunny and the trails were really good.”
Despite the weather, all weekend long bikers returned to lifts and pedaled up the mountain post-race to get the most out of Big Sky biking.
“I travel all around the United States to race,” Fischer said. “This is definitely my favorite place and favorite race every year… I love it.”