photography: tony zammit (IG @mes_tony) // words: michael grimland (IG @grimlandm) and tony zammit
There’s an old saying in Wyoming and Montana: If you don’t like the weather right now, just wait an hour and it'll be completely different. The flip side of that saying - the side people tend to forget - is also true: If you like the weather right now, you’d better enjoy it.
The final round of the 2019 SoFi Montana Enduro Series took place at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Saturday. The weather leading up to the event seemed perfect. Cooler autumn temperatures, a little precipitation, and sunshine graced the hero dirt that covered JHMR’s trails. Saturday's race, which used the world-famous Jackson Hole Tram to deposit riders at the 10,455’ (3,187m) summit of Rendezvous Mountain for the start of the planned race, had levels of anticipation and excitement – from racers, organizers, and the mountain crews alike – unlike any other race this season.
The weather forecasts the week before the event, however, started painting a bleak picture as far as the weather was concerned. A big drop in temperature, and four to nine inches of snow on Rendezvous Mountain on Friday night and Saturday morning. For anyone burning their skis to appease the snow gods, their prayers were being answered. For everyone else, a lot of questions started swirling.
On Friday, everything was going according to plan. It was wet, but no real snow accumulation at the summit. So the course was marked and set. Racers were able to load the Tram by the dozens to practice the entire course, dealing primarily with mud as the biggest obstacle. As the day wore on the weather picture became clearer: We were in for a snowstorm. Multiple meetings took place with the MES crew and JHMR. The backup course was planned and prepped. When Friday was all over, it was decided that a Saturday morning call by a group of MES and JHMR on a pre-ride would determine the fate of the course.
The advance crew caught the first tram car up the mountain. The summit greeted them with a raging snowstorm and temperatures well below freezing. Stage 1 was scheduled to begin at the highest point on Rendezvous Mountain, Rendezvous Peak. But after the advance team punched through dozens of 3’ (1m) snowdrifts, encountered mandatory walk areas, and taking 45 minutes of moving to cover what had taken less than 10 minutes without the snow, Stage 1 was culled and Stage 5 (from the backup course) was officially added.
For racers, the day began at 7:30 AM when, for the first time in the resort’s 53-year history, a bicycle race used the services of the Jackson Hole Mountain Tram to deposit 25 bikes and racers per trip to the summit. As riders loaded the Tram, Race Director Eric Sivers announced a last-minute course update due to the aforementioned blizzard raging at the top of the mountain. The race would start on Stage Two, still located well above the snow line. Once at the summit, racers descended immediately upon Corbet’s Cabin to seek shelter from the cold and enjoy a pre-race waffle or two.
The interior of Corbet’s Cabin, elevation 10,450 ft, is decorated with an eclectic collection of wintertime widgets, and more than a few patina photographs showing helmet-less daredevils of old hurling themselves down Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on skis. On September 21st, the cabin also contained upwards of 60 mountain bikers at a time, dressed in a spectrum of clothing ranging from traditional mountain bike attire to downhill ski gear. Outside the cabin, a literal blizzard blasted the landscape, creating drifts of snow down what was, up until the morning of, Stage One of the Rendezvous Enduro, the final stop of the 2019 SoFi Montana Enduro Series.
When racers finally did begin on course, they were led from Corbet’s Cabin by Jackson Hole locals familiar with the mountain in winter. Riders bypassed Stage 1 and instead traversed down a mountain road covered in roughly half a foot of snow to reach the new start of the race, Stage 2.
Overnight, Stage 2’s Cirque trail had blossomed into a winter wonderland, complete with plenty of sidehill and off-cambered roots. This set the tone for the day as the mountain demanded rider’s respect. Bikes and their passengers became separated with shocking ease as the barley-above freezing temperatures and snowy ruts wreaked havoc on the overly confident. A large hill, climbable in the dry, was completely impassable in the saddle that morning, requiring a cyclo-cross style bike carry. This led to jumping remounts and sliding the rest of the way to the stage’s finish.
Fortunately, Stage Two ended at a mid-mountain lodge allowing riders to warm hands and feet indoors while preparing for the day’s longest effort, Stage Three. Stage Three was made up of the popular hiking trail ‘Wildflower’ and took riders out of winter and into autumn. Caution was well-warranted up top as the snow required picking through root sections with trepidation, but as the elevation decreased, the snow gave way to dirt, and speeds dramatically increased. Built as a hiking trail, Wildflower used tight switchbacks and closing radius turns to keep riders on their toes, while a few notorious tree squeezes left more than a few fingers bruised. Awkward rock gardens scattered throughout the stage’s 3.5 miles emerged from the mist that enveloped the lower mountain, making worn roots shiny and slippery. Hardly a rider ended Stage Three without evidence of meeting the ground at some point.
Ski gear was shed on the transfer to Stage Four, replaced by lighter weight and more breathable materials in preparation for another 3-plus mile stage, starting off the side of the Resort’s gondola station and proceeding down some machine-built trail before merging onto singletrack. Riders praised trails built with bikes in mind, and with the dirt now well saturated these machine-built sections rewarded those who caught the downsides of jumps, pumped rollers, and sprinted the flats.
But even Stage 4 had its share of drama: Bears. One JHMR local mama bear and her three cubs decided that they were going to use a portion of Stage 4 as a rainy playground. Once past the bear adventure, Saratoga trail dealt well with the moisture and provided high speeds to racers willing to trust tires and hold lines. Entering the lower mountain, participants found themselves on Bronco, a staple of the Mountain’s bike park, where only slippery wood features stood between them and the Stage’s finish.
An additional fifth stage, added due to the removal of the original first – which was clearing rapidly as the day wore on - was seamlessly added to the race. A mellow transfer through the bike park ferried riders to the top of Stage Five, made up of the park’s technical trail - Quick Draw. This trail was managed by keeping one's speed in check and tires on the ground. Rocks that would have caused consternation on other days disappeared under rider’s tires as the trail led riders through the bottom berms and jumps, ending in the Resort’s base area.
The 2019 Rendezvous Enduro and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort made quite the statement as the series finale, requiring every tool in the rider’s skillset – and then some - to successfully navigate and race. In a fitting end to the day, sunshine soaked and champagne sprayed as winners were announced against the backdrop of a half-snowy Rendezvous Mountain.
Results:2019 The Rendezvous Enduro Official Results
Check out the full photo album for the Rendezvous Enduro
right here on Pinkbike!