Race Report: Chomolungma Challenge at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, WV

By Justin Steiner and Eric McKeegan. Photos by Emily Walley and Philip Duncan.

This past weekend more than 100 racers lined up to test their mettle at Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s Chomolungma Challenge. This endurance downhill event challenged riders to race down nearly 30,000 vertical feet of elevation loss, which amounted to 20 runs down Snowshoe’s Western Territory—1,500 feet of loss with each run.

Racers could choose to tackle this event solo or as a member of a duo or four-person team. Race promoter Mike Baker was wise to segregate solo and team riders on two separate courses. Upon race start, solo riders tore down the natural terrain Pro DH trail, while team racers ripped the mostly flowly, bermed jump line consisting of Judi Chop, Ninja Bob, Ball ‘n Jack, and finally Powerline. At Noon, racers switched tracks to keep things interesting.

Dirt Rag staffers Jon, Eric, and myself rolled down to represent in the Solo category. We arrived Friday afternoon and rode a few practice runs in between weather holds due to storms in the vicinity. Fortunately for us, very little rain fell in the Snowshoe area to spoil the absolutely perfect trail conditions.

For Saturday’s race start, riders were organized in Snowshoe’s Village area at the top of the mountain via random number generation. With a shotgun start, we were off, ripping down through the village, and down the road to the trails. Despite the road section, things piled up quickly on trail, resulting in a somewhat frustrating first lap—that’s racing, however.

Everyone from the middle of the pack and back had to deal with pile-ups on trail, as there were simply too many people on trail to make passing productive. This first lap was the only time all day I experienced a line at the lift. Even then, I wasn’t waiting too long. That said, the race leaders were completing their second lap just as I was starting up the lift for the first time. Lesson learned; next year I’ll be hammering as far to the front as possible. Better start working on my sprint training…

By my second lap down the mountain, the pack had spread out far enough to allow for quite a bit of flow before catching other riders. Despite an amateurish crash on my third lap, it was easier than expected to tick off laps over on the Pro DH track, which offers nice flow through a variety of terrain. For the most part, the course held up amazingly well to the abuse, though some of the more flowy sections sprouted gnarly braking bumps after a few laps.

Going into this race we were uncertain how our bodies would hold up during 20 laps of abuse. For me the first 13 laps on the Pro DH course went well, with just some hand and wrist fatigue/pain creeping in around the 10-lap mark. After switching tracks to the longer and more pedaling intensive flow track, I started to fatigue quickly and my pace dropped significantly. Who knew you ride every berm from top to bottom by sitting your inside thigh on the seat? I didn’t, but quickly found it to be the easiest way down the mountain. There’s a relatively straight, blisteringly fast section of Ball ‘n Jack that’s littered with baby head rocks which was simply torturing my hands on the last handful of laps.

I have to admit to being mighty happy to finish my 20th lap, both because I could stop riding and because I came away nearly unscathed. I wish the same could be said for your intrepid Subscription Guy, Jon. Unfortunately, subscription customer service may be running just a bit slow for a few weeks while Jon’s arm heals. Check it out below. Yikes! Here’s to a speedy recovery, Jon!

With mostly cloudy skies and moderate temperatures, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions for this race. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled by how well organized and executed this entire event was. Many thanks go out to Baker and the rest of the Snowshoe crew for putting on such a wonderful event. As the pain of my sore muscles fades away, I’m pretty certain I’ll be back for next year’s race, which will certainly be bigger and better than this year.

Racing aside, the opportunity to spend that much quality time in the saddle was great for my riding. This race pushed me to become a better rider, and that’s all I can ask for from any event, really.

Tech Editor Eric McKeegan’s race report:

I thought I’d sworn off DH racing, I really only ride downhill for fun, a timed run usually takes the fun part out of it for me. The Chomolungma Challenge and its focus on endurance rather than outright speed changed my mind.

Considering the broken bones, hard crashes, and mechanicals I saw and heard about, my race was pretty uneventful. Other than loosing some skin off my knuckles in low speed collision with a tree I was crash-free, and a broken shift cable was the worst of my mechanical issues.

I probably lost a few places bandaging up my fingers and adjusting the derailleur limit screws to get my bike out of its hardest gear, but I wasn’t really there to race other riders, I was there to see if I could finish 20 laps.

After our three run practice session on Friday I was worried I’d be a mess by lap 15, but I ended up feeling great for most of the race. My hands started to cramp on the Pro DH side, but once we switched to the course with more flow I started to recover.

At this point my XC fitness (thanks Trans-Sylvania Epic!) came into play, allowing me to pedal, pump and jump my way past some obviously flagging competitors, moving up from my first lap second-from-last position.

The Dirt Rag pit area was well-equipped with food, tools, and spare parts, but other than a few bottles of water, a banana and a 3mm allen wrench I had little use for it. This was mostly because the neutral aid provided as we got on the lifts was awesome. Two pleasant ladies stationed there provided fluid and food hand-ups, and the 10-minute ride to the top was plenty of time to eat and drink.

After a few days my hands are still a little weak feeling, but over-all I feel great, both physically and mentally. I had fun and bumped my DH skills up a few notches. This may be the best 1st year event I’ve ever attended.

There aren’t many events like this in the country, and none that I’m aware of on the east coast. Trestle Bike Park is hosting the Red Bull Final Descent 12-hour race on Sept. 8th and Mountain Village Bike Park will be hosting the Fall Tilt Telluride 12-hour race on Oct. 6th.

Across the pond, there’s the Fort William Downhill Endurance 6-hour race, which went off in July this year—you’ll have to wait for the 2013 event. So, the Chomolungma is nicely positioned to become the go-to event for east coaster downhillers looking to go long. Don’t dally to register for next year, I’m guessing this race will fill up quickly.