Mountain Sports Festival hones its focus

CROSS FIT: Mountain Sports Festival officially kicks off with the cyclocross competition; a sport that is a hybrid of mountain and road biking with a dash of running. The cyclocross takes place on Friday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m.
CROSS FIT: Mountain Sports Festival officially kicks off with the cyclocross competition; a sport that is a hybrid of mountain and road biking with a dash of running. The cyclocross takes place on Friday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of Mountain Sports Festival

The Mountain Sports Festival will draw on the past to make this year’s event stronger. Festival Director Terry Bemis says there will be an increased focus on access to outdoor gear information and techniques, noting he wants the festival to be “the go-to event for the outdoor sports industry in Asheville and Western North Carolina.” He says the festival is also looking to create a more intimate atmosphere among athletes, musicians and spectators.

Bemis says organizers are intentionally creating an engaging environment by placing the music stage, food trucks and beer vendors in the middle of the bike track. Ellie Schwarz, MSF’s music booker, says festivalgoers will be able to watch the symbiotic relationship between competitors and musicians unfold, “What’s so cool about it is you’ve got this national-quality music playing and these bikers racing around the village room, and it’s all happening simultaneously. I think the racers are feeding off the energy of the music and the musicians are feeding off the fact that there’s this competition going on and this awesome sporting event. So, I think you have the energy that is coming out of the competition portion and just the pure adrenaline rush that comes from competing in a sport tied with music.”

In planning this year’s festival, Bemis says he asked himself, “How can I create a better village atmosphere that makes our athletes and our fans want to hang out more and be together and celebrate our industry? I think music sets the stage for that [type of atmosphere]. And also, frankly, from a pure business sense, because we have to sell beer to make this work, or otherwise we’d have to create a ticketed festival.”

Schwarz says curation of the music acts is very intentional and respects the broad demographic that will be attending MSF. “What I try to do when selecting the bands is bring together a lineup that is going to be appealing to a very wide variety of people. We’ve got the people actually competing in the sporting event, which is one demographic. You’ve got local music lovers and families. So it’s fun to put together a really diverse lineup.”

After spectators have been thrilled by a sport, they can check in with industry insiders at the demonstration area and learn how to try the sport themselves. “Each vendor is asked to put together a 30-minute beginners clinic on a new or best product,” says Bemis. “The idea is to get those on the fence about outdoor sports to learn more about kayaking, fishing and other outdoor activities.” He says demos will be held about every 30 minutes in a “quiet corner of Carrier Park,” and presenters will have a tent with a sound system. Bemis says the move is based on feedback from previous festivals, noting attendees expressed a desire for more access to outdoor products in a quieter environment.

You can find a schedule of sporting events, demos and music here.

FESTIVAL FROLICKING: The 16th annual Mountain Sports Festival is a marriage of music and sports that caters to participants and spectators alike. The festival village, located at Carrier Park, will feature bands, beer food, and, of course, viewing access to a variety of sporting events.
FESTIVAL FROLICKING: The 16th annual Mountain Sports Festival is a marriage of music and sports that caters to participants and spectators alike. The festival village, located at Carrier Park, will feature bands, beer food, and, of course, viewing access to a variety of sporting events. Photo courtesy of Mountain Sports Festival

Fringe sports showcase

MSF is also a chance to showcase sports people might not be as familiar with as some of the more traditional outdoor activities. Sports like pickleball and adult dodgeball will be taking place in the midst of in-line hockey and ultimate Frisbee, giving them exposure to new audiences and potential participants. Most of those activities are available in the Asheville area via clubs and recreational organizations, making their appearances at MSF not just an introduction, but the beginning of a potential outlet for exercise and community.

Adult dodgeball

Some dreaded it, some lived for it; most of us have an opinion on dodgeball tied to nostalgia of school gymnasiums of our pasts. However, gone are the iconic red rubber balls that were the agents of victory or torment. Amy Vanden Heuvel, the adult dodgeball coordinator, says they have been replaced with “softer and better balls.” She says that should be comforting for anyone looking to get involved with the game noting, “It’s just one of those fun team sports that doesn’t take much skill and lets adults laugh and have fun.” And the fun can come in the form of competing or spectating as Vanden Heuvel says one of the best things is “watching people get hit. Watching people try to dodge because of the faces they make and the sounds that come out. Watching the miscalculated jumps … the shock value of all of it.”

The adult dodgeball tournament ramps up on Sunday, May 29, from 2-3:30 p.m. at the hockey rink in Carrier Park. The tournament consists of one division, open to most ages. The winners of a best-of-three game format will advance through the bracket. There will also be a losers’ bracket. Registration is $15 per team.

If you’d like to get involved with adult dodgeball outside of MSF there are a few leagues in the Asheville area. You can find more information at Asheville Sport & Social Club, Buncombe County Parks & Recreation and Asheville Alternative Sports.

Pickleball

Like a game concocted by kids with a hodgepodge of sports equipment in their garage; pickleball borrows from pingpong, tennis, badminton and even Wiffle ball. Eric Barsotti, MSF pickleball organizer and YMCA member engagement director, says it’s the sport’s inaugural appearance at the festival. He says the sport has gained popularity at the YMCA and he’s glad pickleball gets its time to shine at MSF. “One of the great things I’ve seen over the past few years is a great sense of community. A lot of folks that play are playing daily. It’s a tightknit community.” Pickleball uses a medium-sized racquet, a plastic ball with multiple holes and a net that is lower than a tennis regulations and is played on a bouncy surface, in this case inside the roller hockey court at Carrier Park. Barsotti says, “It’s good for people that used to play tennis because it’s similar, but on a smaller court so it’s easier on your body.”

The pickleball tournament is only for doubles and has one division: ages 16 and older and all genders. There will be 16 teams with a double-elimination bracket. The tournament will be Sunday, May 29, from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

To get involved with pickleball at the Y, get more information at its website or contact Asheville’s Stephens-Lee Recreation Center at 350-2058 and that Shiloh Complex at 274-7739 for information about pickleball availability.

Cyclocross

Cyclocross is a hybrid sport that incorporates elements of road and mountain biking with a dash of running. Cameron Brantley, the MSF’s cyclocross organizer, calls it “the redheaded stepchild of cycling.” He says it’s like a steeplechase, “because there are sections that can’t be ridden and requires racers to get off and run with their bikes, and then jump back on and keep going.” For MSF, those will be barriers about 1.3 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Brantley says the race course is just over 2 kilometers and will take riders about 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

He says it’s a great spectator sport because you can view most of the Carrier Park course. Plus, “There’s also cheering and heckling, which is a great part of cyclocross.” He says the heckling is good-natured, and it’s actually a very accessible sport and a great introduction to bike racing noting, “Everyone is open and accepting and wanting more people to come into the sport. Even if you’re racing for last place, you’re still going to get cheered on.”

Cyclocross will be the Mountain Sports Festival kickoff event on Friday, May 27, from 6-9 p.m. The tournament will have women’s and men’s divisions at three different skill levels. Registration is $20 in advance, or $25 the day of the event. If cyclocross catches your attention during MSF, Brantley says the Asheville Cyclocross Organization hosts summer introductory events ahead of its fall racing season and invites anyone interested to get in touch via its Facebook page.

Disc golf

Golf is often seen as a high-investment form of frustration masquerading as a sport. And that’s exactly why Ryan Pickens, co-author of The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf, wants more people to know about disc golf. “Disc golf allows for a low point of entry price-wise — you don’t have to have a lot of money. It’s also an amenity for a number of parks and recreation departments; often you don’t have to money to play on a course.” Pickens says it’s a great way to interact with people from all walks of life. Disc golf is one of MSF’s more popular events as evidenced by registration for the tournament selling out the day it opened. Pickens says MSF will attract top-shelf talent and features one of the more interesting ways of crowning a champion. The final round, featuring the top four players from previous rounds, will take place in the streets of the River Arts District, with temporary holes placed in and around various city landmarks. Pickens says that round used to take place downtown. “Originally, about nine years ago, we played through the Vance Monument area, Pack Place and down into city-county park.” He says, logistically, it makes more sense to move the final round to the RAD.

The disc golf tournament takes place Saturday, May 28, 5-10 p.m. at Richmond Hill Park and then Sunday, May 29, 1-2 p.m. in various locations around RAD. Registration is full.

If you want to get involved in disc golf around the Asheville area, the Western North Carolina Disc Golf Association offers instruction, games and tournaments on a year-round basis. You can find the WNCDGA on Facebook.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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