By Kate Barcellos
KILLINGTON — Hundreds will descend on Killington Resort for the chance to win $40,000 and eternal glory in the world of competitive mountain biking.
For the first time, the Fox U.S. Open of Mountain Biking is coming to Killington in August, drawing athletes from around the world to compete on what is billed as one of the nation’s most challenging downhill mountain biking courses, which had caught the attention of event race director and bike enthusiast Clay Harper.
“He took notice that we were putting so much concentration and resources into our bike park,” said Kristel Fillmore, communications specialist for Killington. “And he’s been riding here. We’re becoming the largest bike park on the East Coast.”
For the 2018-19 year, Killington invested $16 million in improvements to their trails and facilities, including unveiling their new Krusty Trail on Ramshead.
So, by October, the deal was set, and Killington’s crews worked throughout the past year, rain, shine or snow, to build trails for the hundreds of riders arriving at the mountain Aug. 1, including a host of biking legends such as Connor Fearon, Bruce Klein, Wynn Masters, Dakotah Norton, and last year’s U.S. Open champion Niko Mullaly.
“We started preparing for this back in the fall,” Fillmore said. “Our guys have been building trails since there was snow on the ground. They had to use a snowblower to blow snow off the trails to work on them.”
The deadline is nearing, and riders are checking their tire pressure, troubleshooting suspensions and “breaking” (prepping) their legs before they descend en masse on the new course — along with thousands of spectators.
“We’re expecting between 3,000 and 5,000 people,” Fillmore said. “It’s going to be big.”
The new custom trail will descend from the Killington Peak under the K-1 Express Gondola, and Fillmore said the best view of the race is, naturally, the view from the top.
Spectators are welcome to ride the gondola all the way up for $30, or if they’re in a hiking mood, (the) summit is a mere 3 miles from the base.
Wednesday kicks off the weeklong party with registration beginning at noon in the K-1 Festival Village, and guided walking tours of the new race trail conducted throughout the day before the racers begin practicing.
After all, it’s good to know one’s competition.
From 2 to 5 p.m., festivities start easy and stress-free with a three-hour Bike Bum Fun race, a leisurely ride down intermediate trail Lower Sideshow Bob at Ramshead.
“That’s a race anyone can do,” Fillmore said.
A three-hour Open Welcome Party Aug. 1, welcomes all, lighting up the Festival Village until 9 p.m. saluting the courage of all hopeful competitors.
This U.S. Open will be no walk in the terrain park, and Killington is giving the athletes ample time to prepare.
Practice races for the weekend events start early Aug. 2, with the 4½-hour Open Class racing practice at the K1-Gondola race trail beginning at 9 a.m., followed by amateur racing practice from 1:30 to 6 p.m., and GT downhill qualifiers taking the hill from 1 to 5:30 p.m.
Racers return Aug. 3 to practice more: Open Class racers will practice from 8 to 10:15 a.m., with amateur racing practice running from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
And to celebrate days of preparation, Killington will get lit up later that night, because there’s nothing like a giant bonfire to kick off two days of shredding terrain and rubber: a Fox racing blaze will light up the Fox Campground in the Vale parking lot at 8 p.m.
Aug. 4 will dawn with last-minute practice runs starting at 9:30 a.m., before the Final Downhill Open race, presented by GT Bicycles, sends hundreds of bikes barrelling down Killington Mountain starting at 11:30 a.m., followed by awards ceremonies and a two-hour contest to see who has the best flip in Killington.
As the evening descends, music legends the Rustic Overtones and Fishbone take the stage for a free concert as a part of the Cooler in the Mountains concert series.
The races continue Aug. 5, with the “Enduro” race starting at 8 a.m., the adaptive race beginning at 10 a.m. at Ramshead, and the final Grom Bomb U.S. Kids Open Downhill at Snowshed closing the racetrack with awards to follow.
“The great thing about this weekend is, it’s for everybody,” Fillmore said. “If you want to race against the pros and you’re an amateur, here, you can. And if you want to come watch, you can do that, too … for free.”