The Mountain Sports Festival kicks off this weekend, May 27-29, with live music, outdoor-sports competitions and a variety of free gear-and-sports demos. Focused on “all-things outdoors,” the three-day event is based primarily in Asheville's Carrier Park, just minutes from downtown in the revitalized Amboy Road area. The riverfront park offers participants a chance to walk, ride or skate as they enjoy the festival, which will be set up inside the old motor speedway (known as the Mellodrome by cyclists). From Friday through Sunday, an impressive lineup of live music promises to keep the energy level high near the centrally located main stage too (see the “msfmusic box”).
There’s a little something for everyone, from the adventure-sports enthusiast to folks who just like to head out in the woods for an occasional hike. Some of the more notable and exciting events include a cyclocross bike race, a longboarding competition and an Ultimate Frisbee demonstration.
Graham Averill, Blue Ridge Outdoors’ senior editor, has attended the festival for the last six years, and he says the event is a great way to get out and have fun in the outdoors, while sharing in the camaraderie of the festival experience. “I really like it because it's local. It's right down the road at a really cool park that is right in the heart of town, but doesn't really feel like it,” Averill says. “It's just a great way to get out and experience what the city has to offer for the outdoors.”
Chuck Lee, creator/publisher of the Asheville Adventure Guide, is a 10-year veteran of the MSF. “There are a lot of cool things about Asheville,” Lee says. “And that's exactly why I like this festival. The Mountain Sports Festival really is a one-of-a-kind event and it's the only festival around that showcases all of the outdoor sports options in the area.”
While some of the events that make the festival so popular are held at Carrier Park, a number of the competitions are held at nearby sites that are more suitable for competitive adventures. For example, one of the mainstays of the festival each year is the Rock2Rock Trail Run that takes place in nearby Black Mountain. Other popular events include Urban Mountain Biking, the Wheel Ride for Food and the Climbmax climbing competition.
“Since the events are all over the area, you get a taste of all kinds of different trails, rivers and sports that the area has to offer,” Lee notes.
And with 15,000 people expected to attend this year's festival, spreading the love around also helps keep the crowds manageable, something that Averill says is one of the best parts of the event. “It's one of my favorite festivals in Asheville, partly because it's a lot less hectic than Bele Chere, [and] it's a smaller festival spread out over a bigger area, which makes it great for families because it's a little less overwhelming.”
Further, the festival is never boring, he adds.
In addition to the competitions and sporting events, several vendors and sporting-goods manufactures will be on hand to provide clinics and demonstrations on a variety of sports. There’s also plenty for kids to do, Averill continues: The Iron Kids Challenge gives youngsters a chance to test themselves in a fun and exciting format that is sure to fire up the adventure spirit while also using up some of that rowdy energy.
Between events, it can be nice to kick back and relax with friends at the Festival Village, Lee mentions. “Asheville has a great music scene, so, for me, the combination of two really great aspects of Asheville with the outdoor sports scene and the music is just perfect. No other event really does that throughout the year. That's probably the best thing about it: good folks, good music and great adventures.”
Dusty Allison, the vendor and exhibitor coordinator this year, is one of the folks who makes it all happen. A board member for the last two years, he's experienced the ins and outs of the meetings that make it happen. “For me the festival is just the perfect cross section of all-things outdoors in the Western North Carolina community,” he says. “You have people showing up to the board meetings who have just finished a 15-mile trail run, but you also have someone who looks like an investment banker coming in to sit down at the same table. But they are involved because they love the outdoors and play pretty hard as a weekend warrior, whereas the other guy might make his living in the outdoor sports industry.
“That type of diversification of the board is what brings a fresh perspective and good energy to the whole festival. It's just a good medley of different people coming together to make the best festival we can.”
For more information, go to mountainsportsfestival.com.
— Eric Crews is a freelance writer and video producer based in Western North Carolina.