Eight inches of snow greeted Paul Mayes at the USA Cycling collegiate national championships at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico on Halloween weekend. Angel Fire typically offers some of the nicest (if largely unknown) mountain biking in the West—even this late in the season. But an early storm made the downhill track look like a vertical cyclo-cross course. The conditions put an unpredictable spin on the event, with slick, snowy courses and frozen ground that thawed to mud.
“The downhill course was pretty crazy,” says Mayes. “It was just too steep and slippery to ride.” Despite crashing and sliding out (twice) in the downhill qualifiers, Mayes was seeded fourth heading into the finals. It was an unruly ride. “I had no idea how I was going to get down,” says Mayes, although he eventually rode to a sixth-place finish. The competitors were equally challenged by the conditions. “It’s usually a five minute track,” says Hogan Koesis, Angel Fire’s bike park director. “The winning time was around eight minutes.”
“It was definitely the craziest race I’ve ever done,” says Mayes, a student at Michigan Technological University. “I was scared to ride down the course. I think with a little more practice on snow I could be a lot faster. The winner in each race was whoever could make it through without getting bogged down too badly. By the end, a few turns were tacky and really ripped, so I was aiming for the dry spots.”
The snow affected the other events as well, but that didn’t stop the 270 college mountain bikers from battling it out in slush, snow, and mud. “It changed the format a little bit,” says Koesis. “For the cross-country race, we actually blew all the snow off the trail.”
The race will return to Angel Fire next year, and so will Mayes. “I’m hoping the courses are dry, but if it snows again, I’ll be ready.” —Gavin Gibson
For complete results, click here. For more downhill action on the snowy course, take a look at the video below.