All hail the second annual Mountain Sports Festival!

If one word describes this year’s Mountain Sports Festival, it’s “inclusive.”

Many sports festivals cater only to elite athletes, leaving mere mortals cowering beneath the covers and feeling terminally inadequate. Not so Asheville’s Mountain Sports Festival. “It’s the average person just getting into sports that is driving this festival,” MSF co-founder Stuart Cowles told Xpress recently, adding that “you don’t need to be an athlete at all to join the fun.”

Mainly, you just need to enjoy being outdoors and interacting with others who feel the same way. Demonstrations and beginner-level events in most sports will educate and engage spectators, even sports novices. And the Festival Center in downtown Asheville’s City/County Plaza will offer a dazzling array of activities designed to please the couch potato as well as the hard-core sports enthusiast. Live music runs throughout the weekend, featuring such popular local bands as Sons of Ralph, Scrappy Hamilton, Strut and the Laura Blackley Band. A climbing tower, bike demos, chiropractic testing, yoga workshops, food and drink vendors, fun children’s activities and much more will be offered.

The Festival Center will also host sports- and outdoor-oriented films and slide shows, and even a bike stunt show.

Dogs, too, will have their day at this year’s Mountain Sports Festival.

Jay Schoon, owner of The Trail Hound — which specializes in hiking gear and accouterments for dogs — puts it this way: “The neat thing about the Mountain Sports Festival is that it’s for everybody — kids, adults, everybody — and you don’t want to leave out your canine family members, either. … Half the people that are going to be at the festival probably take their dogs hiking.” To that end, Schoon and Trail Hound will offer a series of talks in collaboration with the Humane Society, discussions with kids about how to raise and care for dogs, information about the American Red Cross’ pet-first-aid class, and tips on dog ethics (such as the do’s and don’ts of going back country with your dog).

As for people activities, pro and amateur athletes will compete in seven categories this year: running, biking, climbing, paddling, disc golf, a triathlon and the brand-new adventure race.

Most competitions really do include something for every skill level. Running events range from an easy downtown-Asheville 5K run/walk to the super-vertical Trace Ridge Trail Run to the utltra DH-Freeride Contest, which features a course littered with such obstacles as wrecked cars, huge concrete culverts and 40-foot drops. Biking options range from demos and tryouts hosted by local bike shops to the grueling Town Mountain Road Hill Climb (featuring five miles of pure hill). First-timers can try their hand(s) (and feet) at rock climbing at ClimbMax Indoor Climbing Center’s open climb; more advanced climbers can compete in the U.S. Competition Climbing Association’s point-based climbing contest. Paddling novices (or the merely curious) can enjoy paddling demos and tours on the calm waters of Lake Julian, while more seasoned paddlers tackle the French Broad Downriver Challenge. The disc-golf tournament is open to all ages and skill levels. Only experienced athletes, however, should even consider participating in the RiverLink Triathlon — a sprint event on the French Broad River corridor that involves a four-mile run, a five-mile paddle and a 12-mile bike course. Ditto for this year’s new Adventure Race — a strenuous undertaking marked by up to 12 hours of paddling, hiking and biking, navigated with map and compass (the course will not be revealed until the morning of the event).

Last year’s inaugural Mountain Sports Festival drew about 5,000 people; attendance this year is expected to at least double. The MSF also drew national media attention … and in its wake, national outdoor-gear manufacturers (such as The North Face) and sports publications (Sports Illustrated for Women) have come calling. This year’s competitors will include an elite team of world-class Kenyan runners.

It’s no secret that Asheville is an outdoors-lovers’ paradise — a mecca for hikers, bikers, climbers and paddlers. “I came back to Asheville from Durango, Colo., specifically for the outdoor opportunities,” notes Schoon. “Even though Durango’s known for its outdoors scene, I like it more here. I like the community better, the music scene better, the mountain biking is stellar here, the dog-friendliness … everything about Asheville is great. … Bike magazine recently called Asheville one of the top five places in America to live if you’re a biker. (Trail Hound itself was recently named one of America’s best gear shops by Outside magazine.)

One relative newcomer to the local outdoors scene that seems to be skyrocketing in popularity in our mountains is disc golf. The quirky sport — which boasts its own 18-hole (or is it “basket”?) course on Richmond Hill in West Asheville — “has become really big,” notes Kirk Edwards of Asheville’s venerable Diamond Brand Sports. “I’ve been kind of surprised by that. It’s been real popular for quite a while in other areas, but now we can hardly keep the discs in stock.”

Paddling, says Edwards, has also enjoyed a steady rise in popularity over the past few years. “I think it’s branching out into a little more of a mainstream arena instead of being thought of as some extreme sport, with the touring boats in area lakes available now and that sort of thing,” he offers. “We see a lot more people getting involved. The days of it being just this sexy whitewater sport are over. Paddling has become multifaceted.”

Just like the Mountain Sports Festival. For complete event info and schedules, read on.

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