Taking it in stride

“It’s pretty spectacular,” says Adam Winton, speaking about the Urban Decay Freeride Competition, one of the most spectator-friendly events at this year’s Mountain Sports Festival presented by RBC Centura. Urban Decay, which invades the Festival Village in downtown Asheville at 10 a.m. Saturday and runs all day, will give riders a chance to show off their mastery of bike tricks, from back flips to 360-degree spins. “I’d say it’s the most exciting event to watch,” adds Winton of Pro Bikes, which is sponsoring the event.

That same spirit of enthusiastic commitment is what has kept the festival on track amid the inevitable challenges of nurturing a young event. “Even after it rained all day, we had a great time,” says Winton, recalling nature’s test of festival loyalists at last year’s Mountain Sports Festival. Unable to ride during a downpour, Winton and his fellow mountain bikers had to wait till it was nearly dark to start displaying their prowess on the Urban Decay course, a daunting collection of ramps, rails and obstacles. That determination to have fun — weather be damned! — is part of what gives the MSF its staying power.

Asheville is thick with seasoned athletes, notes Winton, attracted by the area’s abundant outdoor-recreation resources and a climate that allows enthusiasts to practice cycling (among other sports) just about year-round. That keeps the locals primed for competition — something they’ll get plenty of from the nationally sponsored riders flocking to town for the festival.

And of course, the whole weekend will unfold against a soundtrack provided by a diverse lineup of talented musicians who’ll plug in at the Festival Village in City/County Plaza (what else would you expect here in Asheville?). On Friday, local trio Menage will give a sensual send-off to the bikers embarking on a grueling five-mile climb up Town Mountain. These vocal virtuosos will be followed by a full range of performers — everything from Bio Ritmo-style salsa and Delta Moon’s blues to singer/songwriter R.B. Morris’ rhythmic wordplay and the Firecracker Jazz Band’s rambunctious Dixieland.

Sharing the spotlight in City/County Plaza will be a host of eager athletes presenting action-packed demos of such still-fringe sports as mountain boarding (think skateboards, big tires — and dirty clothes). On Saturday, mountain bikers will fearlessly take their act airborne.

If the kids get tired of being wowed, they can jump into the action themselves. The Iron-Kid Challenge runs all weekend, and the Bike Rodeo happens both Saturday and Sunday.

This year, festival organizers have gone the extra mile to attract families as well as hard-core jocks. Besides setting up a kids’ area at the Festival Village, they’ve also retooled several events to make them more family-friendly.

“The Family Duathlon is something we’re really excited about,” crows organizer Katy Palombi. The event combines biking and running, with parent/child teams taking turns on different legs of the race.

And Saturday’s canoe race, which starts at Bent Creek, features a seven-mile flat-water course that’s as appealing to folks looking to enjoy a scenic float trip though Biltmore Estate as it is to competitive paddlers.

“It’ll be a real competition, with timers, but we are also encouraging families to participate; it’s an interesting new twist,” explains Susan Roderick, executive director of Quality Forward. Like the nonprofit’s annual French Broad River cleanup, Roderick says the race “calls attention to our natural resources.” The registration fees will support Quality Forward’s environmental work.

Saturday’s Adventure Race, meanwhile, is the stuff that legends are made of. Teams of three will bike, hike and paddle their way through the backcountry, armed with maps, compasses and plenty of grit. The race route is kept secret until the morning of the event.

But while the adventure racers are pushing their way through the bush, a host of other events will help keep Saturday lively for participants and spectators alike. Food Lion SkatePark Mayhem will feature an afternoon of competitions, demos and other sure-fire crowd pleasers. And at Asheville’s Richmond Hill Park, disc golfers will tee off for a two-day tournament (having warmed up during Friday’s Blind Draw Doubles).

Farther out, in Hot Springs, the white-water raft race begins at 9:30 a.m. And at the Alexander Mountain Bike Facility, riders will rack up laps on the five-mile course during the Dixie Bootleg 6 Hour Enduro. Both solo riders and relay teams will compete, with those who complete the most laps taking home the prizes.

New to this year’s festival is the city’s involvement. For three years, a volunteer board ran the independent weekend celebration. But the city Parks and Recreation Department has now taken over management of the MSF, adding another gem to Asheville’s already-impressive festival roster.

The move brings new resources and venues to the festival. Climbing events, for instance, will be held at the Montford Center and hosted by Parks & Rec. The Montford climbing wall will be open throughout the weekend, with a kids’ climb on Friday and an adult competition on Saturday.

“We’re working really hard to make it successful,” says Jeff Joyce, athletic director of the city Parks and Recreation Department.

And as the Mountain Sports Festival picks up speed in its fourth year, success seems as certain as springtime rain.

Parking

City parking decks are located at the Civic Center, Rankin Avenue and Wall Street. Several surface lots are also available downtown.

A section of College Street (from Woodfin Street to Market Street) will be closed during festival hours.

MSF Hours

Friday, May 7: 3-11 p.m.

Saturday, May 8: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

Sunday, May 9: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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