After two years of rough weather, canceled practice sessions, and cold long days on the slopes on Aanoch Mor the sun is finally shining and the dust will surely be flying for this weekend's World Cup in Fort William. While most seasoned racers have ridden these slopes in a plethora of conditions, to many of the young guns and newcomers it might as well be an entirely new venue in its current bone dry and slippery state.
Who will it suit? Well, you'd be hard pressed to bet against the likes of Greg Minnaar and Rachel Atherton who have dominated here in the past. But we've also seen Manon, Gee, Sam Hill, Aaron Gwin and Danny Hart win or come agonizingly close in recent years as well.
And let's not forget who's missing this weekend. Last round's winner and probably the hottest rider of 2016, Loic Bruni, is sidelined with a broken collarbone which could leave the door wide open for a rider like Gwin to capitalize on the points, as well as allow others to move up a spot or two.
Then, of course, there is Stevie Smith. The rider that will hang heavy on the minds of everyone in attendance this year, and a man whose presence will be felt all weekend long. So it is fitting that the first tire tracks on course, and the first beers raised in a toast at the finish line were put down in Stevie's honor today. 70+ riders strong, the best in the world, all together on one run to remember the legacy and acknowledge the passing of one of the greatest riders of a generation, who was a true friend to the entire downhill community.
It's good to be back in Scotland this year. Especially when the weather is shaping up to be the best in recent memory.
Downtown Fort William... Wetherspoons and the curry house to be visited on alternating evenings.
The Nevis Range, home of the good stuff.
When the sun is shining the scenery here is stunning.
Some accommodations really are fit for a king.
Fort William town across the waters of Loch Linnhe.
Highland refreshments in the making.
The further north you venture in the UK, the more gnarly the farm animals become. Like this lamb for example.
It's a wild, wild ride.
Eye on the Highlands. Gee Atherton heads out on track walk.
Greg Minnaar and Mark Wallace out of the gate in front of a smaller patch of snow than we're used to seeing in recent years.
Rocks, rocks, and more rocks make up the top of the track in Fort William.
Tahnee is a big question mark this weekend after dislocating her elbow and spraining some ligaments last weekend.
Wyn Masters is one of many riders sporting commemorative facial hair this weekend.
Boris is in a kilt this weekend and sporting some new ink.
In the wet, these rocks are no trouble, but in the dry the dust gets pulled onto them, and they are going to be extremely slippery.
What's your line?
The high-speed boardwalk. Same as it ever was.
Rachel Atherton takes a look at what will surely be a speedy track this weekend.
Plenty of extra "dirt" is at the ready for track repairs.
Dave Trumpore shaved before his four-week European stint, but he improvised his Stevie stache well.
GT have a large squad here at Fort William. Martin Maes has returned as well, and will be running in A group practice.
Specialized Gravity Republic going over some dry and dusty line choices.
These rather basic corners are going to be extremely slippery this weekend as the gravel and dust begins to break up and deteriorate.
Laurie Greenland inspects the surface of the track, made up of a substance not commonly found in Scotland.
Josh Bryceland drops out of the start gate sporting his new aero haircut.
Gwin and Suarez already starting to feel it high up on track.
Gee Atherton high on track walk life and soon looking to repeat his Fort Bill glory days of 2010 and 2013.
Where marbles meet wood and wire at high velocity.
It's been a while since Sam Hill dominated Aanoch Moor... World Champs 2007 to be precise, but don't forget his second place in 2014.
Danny Hart is one to watch at Fort William. A week's riding before and after the BDS round he won here and he's 'learned so much'.
The grey mile.
WynTV interviews on the classic bedrock.
Surprisingly Bryceland has never had much luck at the Fort, with only the one podium over the years. Of course, with his kind of skills anything is possible.
Get off line even by an inch in this high-speed section and you will be in a world of hurt.
After over a decade of hammering, some sections just keep getting rougher and rougher.
When was the last time you saw this in Fort William?
It's a long, long way to the bottom on one of the longer tracks on the circuit.
Here we have the sole of a hiking shoe and tree stump painted yellow. Damned if we can remember which is which.
Goodbye horrific axle-deep bog, hello grassy bank into a brand new woods' diversion.
We have a new woods section this year, littered with stumps and filled with perfect loamy hero dirt.
One of the most dubious additions to the track is a 'road gap' with a 3-meter long take off over only a 4-meter gap.
The 'ones to watch' list welcomes an in-form Fort William boss, Greg Williamson.
Absolutely nothing to see in the gap of the Hazard hoofer.
Just above the woods, the track resembles more of a scree field than a DH track.
Matt Delorme drops in on a crash pad just below the road gap.
And executes a textbook Sam Hill inside line through the next corner.
The Mondraker team checks out the road gap just below the woods.
The usual dose of airtime to the finish with some enlarged take-offs.
The perfect stage taking shape.
Peaty's special Scottish D3.
Memorial plates adorned all the pros' bikes for Stevie's lap.
Rachel's bike cooling off after the first run of the World Cup.
Procore going in at the #squad
Mitch Ropelato is back racing World Cups!
SRAM has special Steve Smith Memorial Boxxer decals for this weekend.
Gabe Fox and Sam Hill go through iron-on placement.
Long live Chainsaw. You are sorely missed Stevie.
Emotions were high here today on the memorial ride.
Roots, rocks, and sublime soil. We are in for a treat at Fort William this year.
Gabe Fox was more than stoked on this rendition of the Canadian flag.
Gabe Fox was busy today with the iron-on Stevie Memorial patches.
A tribute run for Steve Smith was organized for the end of track walk today, with almost every top rider making their way down in one long and dusty train.
Minnaar and Blenky sending it on Stevie's memorial run.
Brendog boosting the train on the memorial lap.
Sik Mik equipped with one beautiful tribute 'stache.
Beers and cheers for all in memory of Stevie.
Red Bull made Finn Iles a replica of Steve Smith's helmet to pay tribute here in Fort William.
Dust, or better yet Chainsaw fumes, hang in the air at the bottom after a mega train in honor of Steve Smith.
As if the drive up to Fort William wasn't long enough, you have to stop the car a bunch on the way up too.
Stay tuned all weekend for coverage from Fort William.
/ @davetrump / @natedh9