Rocks,Roots, Repeat: The Pisgah Stage Race

Jan 17, 2017
by Jeff Plassman  
I think everyone looks for adventure and truly memorable experiences. Mountain bike stage racing is one of my favorite ways to get the experiences I’m seeking.

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

In the fall of 2009, I was looking for a stage race to cap off a big season on the bike. I had wrapped up a season of 100-mile mountain bike races in the National Ultra Endurance series and was looking for a stage race that would be a ton of fun.

Just one short year beforehand, I had completed the 2008 BC Bike Race and had gotten hooked on stage racing in demanding mountain terrain. I love riding in BC, but I was looking for something challenging that was closer to Virginia and less expensive than the BC Bike Race. I wanted a race that offered the same kind of experience but fit into a week. That's when I found out about the inaugural Pisgah Stage Race. Just like the early BC Bike Races, the initial Pisgah Stage Race was very challenging. The trails were raw, demanding, and the closest thing to BC I have found on the East Coast. I signed up and raced on some of the most badass trails I had ever ridden.

I fell in love with Pisgah trails and the Pisgah Stage Race

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

How does a stage race featuring five days, 140 miles, and 20,000+ ft of elevation gain in the Pisgah National Forest sound? Go ahead and kick start your season with an adventure in mid-April. How about hitting all the hot trails in Pisgah? Farlow Gap, Laurel Mountain, Pilot Rock, and Squirrel Gap are some of the many trails that will test your mettle and put a huge smile on your face. What about a stage race where 3/4 of the miles are technical single track and every stage has a chip timed Enduro section?

Pisgah mountain biking trails
Top it all off with daily stages centered around your home base in the scenic town of Brevard located at the gateway of the Pisgah National forest and the Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

Here's a little insider knowledge, It's as kick ass as it sounds

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

For the past 8 years, Blue Ridge Adventures has been carefully refining their premier event. All the best trails in Pisgah are featured, and each day contains almost 75% singletrack. Each stage has an Enduro segment with professional chip timing and electronically scanned start and finish chutes. There are fully stocked aid stations, dinner and awards every night, and professional photos and movies featuring you, rock star.

Compete solo in Open Men, Open Women, Enduro, Masters Men, Duo Teams, Single Speed, or you can choose roll monster truck style in the new Fatbike category. Racers come from all over the US and all corners of the world to participate. I’ve raced in this event with some of the best riders from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, South America, the Caribbean, and all corners of the US. Yeah, there is a lot of talent that shows up for this race!

One thing that really strikes me about the Pisgah Stage Race is the continuous improvement and innovation year after year. Blue Ridge Adventures is always looking for new and creative ways to provide the best race experience possible. I’ve been impressed with how well run every race day is from start to finish. They sweat all the small stuff so you don’t have to, leaving you ready to focus 100% on Rocks, Roots, Repeat!
Blue Ridge Adventures - Pisgah Stage Race

Refined, World Class, and Kick Ass - The Pisgah Stage Race


Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Pisgah is known for rocky terrain. The trails on Pilot Mountain and Farlow Gap are notoriously chunky. Looking Glass Mountain has a huge exposed granite dome that is renowned for its unique beauty. There is amazing rock climbing that leads up an enormous vertical face of exposed granite transitioning to a rock dome near the peak. Pilot Rock is an iconic Pisgah trail that tests your skills as you negotiate features including slick rock, rock chutes into switchbacks, a huge rock garden, and a super rowdy singletrack descents through Rhododendron tunnels.

The first time I raced down Farlow Gap, I could barely process how rough and raw it was. It looked more like a rock slide than a trail in some parts. You have to be careful crossing over the tops of two waterfalls and commit to riding some tough lines that are sometimes harder to walk. This was hardcore riding, the likes of which I had never seen in a race before.

Yeah, It’s Bad Ass

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Just thirty minutes away in Dupont State Forest, there are more amazing slick rock trails that feel like riding on the surface of the moon, but surrounded by forest. The enormous High Falls crash down 125 vertical feet before flowing downriver to another beautiful cascade at Triple Falls. The cycles of plate tectonics, water, and weather continue shaping the land here, just as they have for an inconceivably long time.

The terrain in Pisgah is ancient, the ruins of the oldest mountain range left on earth built some 480 million years ago. They are the eroded remnants of huge peaks that once rivaled the Alps. Pisgah Mountains are part of the Appalachian range composed of folded and thrust rock from deep in the earth, as well as marine sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks and slivers of ancient ocean floor. These mountains were initially formed an incredibly long time ago in the middle of Pangea.

The riding is Primal

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Riding the rocky Pisgah trails has an ancient and raw feeling. Forget about sanitized flow trail and pump tracks, you are riding on the guts of the earth. As you navigate the terrain, you will meet geologic forces head on, one rock garden at a time, nearly half a billion years in the making.

Rock Star Treatment

Of course, an event like the Pisgah Stage Race has been getting seriously dialed over the last 8 years. All the amenities you would expect from a world class stage race are there. Five days of professionally planned and marked routes. Fully stocked aid stations with medical and bike repair help as well as course marshals to guide you. You get a slick race guide with clearly marked course maps, elevation profiles, trail descriptions, and an overview every evening. There’s also top tube / handlebar elevation profiles for your bike. Each Enduro section is chip timed with someone to scan you in and automatic finish scan as you ride through the Enduro finish chute. Once you’ve smashed the stage, you’ll find a recovery zone with snacks and recovery drinks at the race finish. Go ahead and sign up for a massage while you’re at it. Every night there is a happy hour, dinner, and awards are presented for that stage’s podium positions as well as the coveted leaders’ jerseys.

Every day at the stage start, racers are greeted with fresh coffee and pastries. Also, there is a professional film crew that captures all the day's race action and creates an awesome movie featuring rock stars, like you! It's hard to explain how cool it is to see an awesome bike race movie of the stage you just raced earlier that day. There is something special about that shared experience, everyone wants to make the cut, and I think everybody really connects with all the other racers reliving the stage.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

The Pisgah Stage Race has always attracted Rock Star mountain bike racers as well. Professional athletes like, Jeramiah Bishop, Adam Craig, Sue Haywood, Melanie McQuaid, Neko Mulally, and Kerry Werner are just a sample of the top talent that regularly competes in the race. In fact, many of the best mountain bike racers in the region, and from around the world return year after year. You’ll be ready to add yourself to the hall of fame after five days of rock and roll in Pisgah, trading paint with the best!


Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Pisgah National Forest is well known for its rooty, rocky, often slick terrain (due to the heavy rainfall in a temperate rainforest) and boasts over 400 miles of singletrack and ‘half’ track trails. Squirrel Gap is well known for its narrow, winding, and technical surface. Also, it's known as one of the local’s favorite trails because of the challenge and the reward. The riding in Pisgah hones technical riding skills, and rewards great bike handlers. Once you have raced in Pisgah for a week, you'll emerge with some fresh Jedi chops.

Cradle of Forestry in America

Pisgah is home to the birthplace of science-based forest management in North America, Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate, founded the Biltmore Forest School in 1898, the first forestry school in America. One of the stages in the race starts and finishes at the visitor center for the Cradle of Forestry in America. It’s a really cool place to learn about the roots of modern forestry and the legacy of Pisgah.

Video still Land of Sky Media courtesy of Blue Ridge Adventures

Roots of Adventure

Pisgah has long been the starting point for countless adventures in the high country of North Carolina. From the town of Brevard, you and your family will have direct access to some of the best adventures in biking, rock climbing, whitewater sports, and waterfall exploring. Once you have raced the Pisgah Stage Race, you can use the knowledge and experience gained during the stage race to come back and rally.

Cradle of Talent

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Mountain bike riders from Pisgah are a stout bunch. They are uncannily fast and technically capable riders. The terrain in Pisgah has monster climbs and hair-raising descents. You need to be a brawler to survive in Pisgah, but you also need skill and finesse to thrive racing here. Pisgah breeds a certain kind of talent, and there is no shortage at the stage race.

Roots of a New You

Rolling up to the start of the fourth day of a stage race is a pretty damned good feeling. Sure, you are a bit tired and sore. However, there is a certain confidence and resolve that you gain from a week of stage racing in Pisgah. By the fourth day, you are transformed. Battle hardened and tested like never before. It’s a good feeling. You’ll have confidence and strength you may not have known existed, the roots of a new you. You’ll be confident, capable, and secure in the knowledge that you can get through pretty much any challenge.

This race pushes you beyond

Courtesy of Blue Ridge Adventures Icon Media Asheville

I've returned to this stage race six times because it's one of the most amazing ways to spend a week on your bike in the promised land of the Pisgah National Forest. This region has become the destination for mountain biking on the East Coast of North America. The best way to sample it all, and also find the beast inside of you, is to participate in the Pisgah Stage Race.


Stage racing can be challenging to keep up with. You’ve got to get ready for each stage, compete hard, clean yourself up, clean up your bike, and recover for the next stage. When I raced in BC, this was a challenge because every stage started and ended in a different town. Sure, you get to see a lot of different towns, but you never really get a chance to settle in.

Home Base Advantage

Video still Land of Sky Media courtesy of Blue Ridge Adventures

All of the stages of the Pisgah Stage Race start close to Brevard. This is great because you can rent a house for a week, book a room, or set up camp without having to move every day. You’ll get to enjoy everything Brevard has to offer, and really get to know the area. You’ll also get to know the local bike shops like Sycamore Cycles, and maybe even get to be a regular at the Oskar Blues tap room. By the end of the week you’ll feel like a local rider.

Repeat Your Success

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Stage racing gives you multiple chances to compete. Every day you get to throw your hat in the ring for the stage win. Of course, each day you also compete for your place in the overall stage race results. Plus, every day you get to open it up in the Enduro section. Sometimes racers have been known to win both the stage win and the Enduro win! You’ll make new friends and find yourself challenging your competition every stage. Instead of just one race to sort it out, you get to keep competing for five stages, racing with the friends you’ve been getting to know. You never know how the whole week will unfold and that’s part of the fun of stage racing. Every stage, you get a chance to rock.

The Usual Suspects

Photo courtesy of Icon Media Asheville

Part of what makes the Pisgah Stage Race so cool is the core group of competitors that return year after year. I’ve made a lot of friends racing and riding in Pisgah, and each year I get a chance trade paint and rally with some of the best mountain bikers from all over the world. Every year is also guaranteed to bring fresh faces and talent. You never know who is going to show up and that always keeps things interesting. One thing is for sure, there is going to be a lot of heat at the start line!

For Those About To Rock

Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.

Some people think stage racing is too much commitment, too expensive, maybe too much hassle. My experience is that it’s worth every penny, every bit of training, and every bit of planning. I have fond memories of every stage race I’ve done, every obstacle I have overcome to finish, every battle and friendship I’ve made along the way. To me these experiences are priceless. The Pisgah Stage Race is an adventure you’ll never forget.

Adventure awaits, sign up for the Pisgah Stage Race

MENTIONS: @jsplassman

Author Info:
jsplassman avatar

Member since Feb 26, 2013
10 articles

  • 11 0
 Great photo's, good read & just a peak of awesomeness that we call home, North Carolina!
  • 7 0
 Very grateful that I get to ride in WNC every weekend!
  • 4 0
 Chew you up spit you out Pisgah. Beautiful and brutal all at once. Hell I got slammed twice last night and still can't stop daydreaming about it.
  • 5 0
 PISGAH...where I go to punish myself and love every second of it.
  • 4 3
 Piagah...where every time you try to ride, there's an event in your way. Being overly dramatic, but the trails are tight and technical and getting stuck in this crowd when you're just out for a normal ride sucks hard. Seems to happen a lot these days
  • 2 0
 One of my favorite places to ride. Good folks up there, too. Some other great bike shops in the area: The Hub and Squatch Bikes. Be sure to eat at Magpie Meat & Three. The place is awesome after a ride in Pisgah.
  • 2 0
 So thankful to live so close to such an amazing place! I struggle with different obstacles every time I go there, but I never mind it.
  • 2 0
 North CAk represent
  • 1 1
 You spelled Jeremiah's name wrong.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the heads up, I'll work on getting that fixed. My apologies to Jeremiah.

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