by Lydia Mong
SNOWSHOE -- Fun and fund-raising are why mountain bike enthusiasts will invade West Virginia next month. In its 10th year, the 24 Hours at Snowshoe mountain bike race is the first and largest of its kind.
Organizer Laird Knight, president of Granny Gear Productions in Davis, says when he announced his plans for a 24-hour race in 1991, "It became clear that we were all about to enter uncharted territory."
The first race in 1992 had 36 teams participating. Over the years, due to land access changes, the event has moved from outside Davis to Timberline Resort to Snowshoe Mountain. This year more than 500 teams from all over the country are registered and more are on the waiting list. The event also will help raise funds for the American Lung Association.
This is the second year the event has been held at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Says director of communications Joe Stevens, "It's the largest team mountain biking event in the world, and we're the largest privately owned resort in West Virginia. It's a perfect match and a great partnership."
It's a grueling 10.3 miles of backcountry terrain in the Silver Creek area of Snowshoe Mountain Resort, with about 1,500 feet of climbing per lap. The event starts at noon on June 9 and ends at noon on June 10 as teams see how many laps of the course they can make in a 24-hour period.
Susan Haywood of Davis, a member of the winning team in the Pro-Am Class for the last two years, says the course is a rugged one. "After so many years at Canaan, the track there got really well established and easy to ride. You didn't have to get off your bike to get through sections. The Snowshoe course is a lot newer and a lot more gnarly with roots and stuff. It's a hard course."
Haywood's team is one of the few professional teams that participate. It won last year with 18 laps in 24 hours.
Jim Harris of Morgantown has completed the race at least six times at Canaan and is looking forward to his first at Snowshoe. "Our team is in it mostly for the fun. We're not competitive like some. We do it just to see if we can finish."
Both racers say that by mid race, they are questioning why they do it. The payoff is different for each of them, though.
For Haywood -- "When you're standing up there on the podium during the awards, you know why you did it."
For Harris -- "When you're on that last lap watching the sun come up on the mountain. That's the best part!"
John Bulka of Bridgeport will race for the first time this year.
"For the last five or six years I've gone to the race for support and just watching," Bulka said.
From a spectator's viewpoint, Bulka says, "Canaan was a lot more compact. At Snowshoe there's lots more things to do. It's so big, and there's so much going on that you can do lots of other stuff while you're waiting on a racer to make it around the course."
A shuttle service between Silver Creek and Snowshoe Village will allow racers and spectators to take advantage of all sorts of festivities throughout the resort.