By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – On Aug. 28, a misty summer morning, lyrics sung by the Notorious B.I.G. “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see?\Sometimes your words just hypnotize me” ring out over a crowd of bikers and spectators gathered in the Big Sky Town Center Plaza. The occasion is the Third Annual Big Sky Biggie mountain bike race presented by Lone Peak Physical Therapy featuring 30 and 50 mile course options that take athletes on a winding route through Big Sky on the many mountain biking trails our town has to offer.
The excitement crackled in the air early on Saturday morning as bikers took laps to warm up and spectators huddled together sipping coffee. The energy was distinctly more subdued than the evening before when many Big Sky community members gathered under the same inflatable archway to cheer on kids in the two short track races.
At 7:30 a.m. a horn sounded and the 50-mile course riders were off grinning madly as the chilly air bit their skin. The 30-mile racers followed shortly after at 8 a.m.
The Big Sky Biggie was created by Natalie Osborne in 2018 as a fundraising event to benefit the Big Sky Community Organization. After a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19, the race returned this year with about 250 total athletes competing on both courses.
“It was a huge success,” said Osborne of the 2021 race. “There were no injuries, no major incidents. I think everybody was really pleased—I got a ton of great feedback from racers [and] from volunteers.”
The mission of the event is to not only benefit local organizations in Big Sky but to create awareness of mountain biking and the many trails in the area. The philanthropic side of the race split this year between two primary benefactors, BSCO and the Big Sky Chapter of the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association, two organizations that Osborne says, “do the most work for these trails in [the] area.”
“We’re a small event still, I’d say in the infant stage,” she said. “As we grow into adolescent, teenage years, we’ll be able to give more money back to the community, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
The work Osborne wants to support includes maintaining existing trails as well as further expanding and connecting the existing trail systems. The 250-athlete total this year was dictated by a cap set by the Forest Service but Osborne looks forward to increasing the number of athletes that can participate in the future with updated courses—according to Osborne, efforts are in the works to create a new 30-mile course not on Forest Service land that can expand race participation caps in the future.
She also hopes to reach 50 percent female participation. This year participation was skewed heavily male with 70 percent male athletes and only 30 percent female athletes.
Also new this year to the Biggie was the race’s inclusion in the National Ultra Endurance Race Series, a marathon series born in 2006 to elevate the sport of ultra-endurance Mountain Biking to the national stage. The Biggie joined 11 other races in NUE’s marathon series, which includes races from all across the U.S.
Winners of the 50-mile course this year got a slice of the $1,500 Total Cash Purse Prize courtesy of American Bank with first place prize of $400, second place at $250 and third place at $100 for both the women and men divisions.
Amber Steed earned first place overall in the 50-mile race women’s division with a time of 5:16:18 and Heidi Meierbachtol finished first place overall in the 30-mile race women’s division with a time of 2:53:55. Tanner Visnick came in first place overall in the men’s 50-mile race with a time of 4:12:53 and Aiden Sorich claimed first place overall in the men’s 30-mile race with a time of 2:32:33.
Visnick finished far ahead of the rest of the 50-mile pack and left early after a solo podium ceremony. He had to rush back down to Bozeman for his own wedding happening that same afternoon.
Registration for the 2022 Biggie will go live on Jan. 10, 2022 and the hope is to register even more athletes than this year. According to Osborne, she has been working with BSCO Parks & Trails Director Adam Johnson on obtaining easements to make the new 30-mile course a reality. The new course would not only expand participation but bring in more revenue allowing the Biggie to give back to the Big Sky community even more.
Osborne outlined her goals for the Biggie emphasizing safety and continuing to work closely with local landowners to make the courses possible.
“[I] have really found a lot of joy in riding my bike, and one of my personal goals of this event is to bring that joy to other people and just bring all kinds of different riders together of different skill levels together for one day and celebrate these trails and the beauty of Big Sky,” Osborne said “that’s really what it’s about.”