Beech Mountain North Carolina ProGRT DH
Words: Alison Zimmer
Photos: Jonathan Lamb
Thursday evening- Myself, Dylan Conte, and Abby Hippley pulled into Beech Mountain for another weekend of DH riding and racing after 3 awesome days of riding and fun in Pisgah and Dupont forests 2 hours South. Beech stands at 5,500 feet in the Appalachian mountain chain, which makes it the highest town in Eastern America. It was a beautiful evening, and the distant mountain views were panoramic and full of depth. The ski/biking resort itself utilizes only the upper level of the mountain, as in the winter that is the only area that consistently has snow, thus the runs are relatively short (less then 1,000ft vertical).
Friday- After days of sun and beautiful weather Friday proved a very different scene with cool 50 degree temps, incessant rain/drizzle and thick fog. Practice would not start until noon, so I took a soggy course walk in the morning. The course began directly off the lift and offered a nice mix of lines choices, rock gardens, small drops, wood and open sections, ending in a bike park style jump and berm line to the finish. The conditions looked good despite the rain. Practice went well after loosening up to the DH feel, and although there were still lines to work on, it was a fun day on the bike, despite being cold, wet and muddy.
Saturday- The rain continued, which made the course treacherous at best. It was a full on mud fest, and with the dampness, cold temps, and wind there were times it was downright miserable. Dense fog confounded the visual problem as riders tried using goggles, tear offs, roll offs, or just no goggles at all with varying levels of success. The wood sections were getting sloppy, however the rocks still had good traction. The lower open section on the course was the epitome of slop, with the mud sucking you in, and making momentum a real struggle to maintain. As many riders were switching over to mud tires ‘spikes’ I decided it was time to try them out for the first time. Friend Dylan gave me the tires before I left, with the wisdom that ‘it always rains for races at Beech,’ and ‘the mud down there is like peanut butter.’ With spikes on, there was a noticeable improvement with grip in the mud, and I was surprised to find that they also felt good on the rock gardens. Riding was both mentally and physically taxing, however certainly a part of East Coast riding, albeit extreme. The teeth chattering cold, and tremendous amount of mud made the fun factor a bit of a reach, while also making me tentative to push lines, hit jumps (some of which were impossible even for the Pro Men due to mud) and let go. In the afternoon seeding run the focus was on being smooth, and staying on the bike, however foggy goggles had me struggling to see and despite staying on my bike I was 3rd in the field. After a full bike and body/gear spray down it was time for a hot shower and warm food!
Sunday Race Day- The rain had let up and blue sky and sun welcomed us in the morning. Despite the welcomed sun and warm temperatures the mud on the track had become a thick nutella consistency in the woods. Holding on and keeping the bike up was precarious at best, and on my warm up runs I found myself laughing at the craziness of it. Not only had the woods become more treacherous, the rock garden was now laden with mud on top, and although that had been the most fun and solid traction the past 2 days in the rain, now it was becoming one of the more hazardous spots. The good news was the very beginning and lower sections of the track were developing nice ruts and drying out, making them much faster. Practice ended at 11:30, and the Pro Women did not kick off until 3:20. By the time for our start, the track had continued to dry in the places that were visible, however the changes that inevitably were happening with the racing that had been going on over the past few hours in the woods were a mystery. The weather held clear and warm, giving us the first Appalachian views from the top of the mountain that had been seen all weekend. My goal in the start gate was to stay on my bike, and ‘dig deep’ as Dan had texted me earlier.
The beginning of the course went well, pumping over the early rocks, finding good ruts, holding on in the sketchy upper mud. Coming out of the woods I came off line, lost momentum, and dropped into the rock garden slow; however this may have been a blessing in disguise as the rock garden had become even more ridiculous than it had been in the morning, and with the mud spikes on, dancing over the rocks felt like being on ice. It was far from my best run through the rock garden, but the vast crowd of spectators cheering and making noise keep me moving forward. The bottom section of the track was the fastest I had yet ridden it and lots of fun.
Taking a ProGrt win as well as claiming the overall for the series thus far with accumulated points was the most ideal way I could have ended a phenomenal trip! So stoked I had the opportunity to get to both Beech and Snowshoe, meet more awesome folks in the riding community, and spend nearly 2 weeks riding and having fun! Thanks to all of you who have helped me get here. Love and Gratitude.