Offering something for pretty much every outdoor sports enthusiast — from those who get their thrills barreling down a steep trail aboard a mountain bike to families with strollers and tricycles in tow — the Mountain Sports Festival returns to Asheville’s Carrier Park from Friday, May 25, to Sunday, May 27, for its 18th year.
With an estimated annual draw of 10,000 people, the free festival is something of a local institution. Beginning in 2001 with competitive events held in downtown Asheville and around the region, the festival subsequently spread its wings and relocated to Carrier Park alongside the French Broad River, adding a host of complementary outdoor adventure sports and a full-fledged music festival to the mix.
The event’s growth and viability, however, weren’t always smooth or guaranteed. In 2005, the city took the reins and ran the event until 2010. When the event’s board of directors resumed command, they struggled to manage the logistics and costs of such a large, once-a-year production. Last year, the event beefed up its logistical capacity and secured a three-year strategic event partnership with the city, a relationship that provides $5,478 in in-kind support, such as security and trash pickup services, to offset the cost of running the festival each year.
That support, say festival organizers, will free up some profits and allow the event to likewise support nonprofit organizations that promote active engagement with the outdoors.
New under the sun
“This year the Mountain Sports Festival is doing something different,” says festival coordinator Leslie Grotenhuis. “Typically, the festival has thrown an umbrella over other events that are happening that weekend — this year we are going to produce them.”
All-new events this year include the Dirty Asphalt Urban Assault, the Asheville Beer Mile, the Festival Frenzy 5K and 1K Fun Run and the Beer City 20K Relay.
“The Dirty Asphalt Urban Assault is a mountain bike race through town. It leaves from Carrier Park on Saturday morning. It’s on roads and hits urban trails at the Kolo Bike Park, Richmond Hill and the Beaucatcher Greenway area,” says Grotenhuis.
The Asheville Beer Mile takes place Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Park track. “The premise is simple,” says Grotenhuis. “Drink a beer, run a lap, drink a beer, run a lap. Three laps — three beers.” To state the obvious: Participation is limited to those 21 and older.
“Then in the evening, we have the Festival Frenzy 5K. It’s a flat, fast, family-friendly 5K race in Carrier Park,” says Grotenhuis. “The race will go right through the middle of the festival, with the finish line inside the festival village.”
Despite the title of Sunday’s Beer City 20K Relay, runners may want to stay sober for this one.
“You can run the 20K by yourself, or you can have a team of two and each runs a 10k relay, or a team of four running a 5K as a relay,” explains Grotenhuis.
“All of the running events are part of Asheville Beer Week, which starts on the 25th,” says Tim Grotenhuis, festival director and husband of Leslie Grotenhuis. “Asheville Beer Week is a sponsor of ours. They are sponsoring us, and we are sponsoring them.”
Returning happenings include favorites like the Kross Kickoff cyclocross competition, a BMX street jam, disc golf and Ultimate Frisbee events, the 50-mile Collier Lilly bicycle ride to benefit the N.C. Outward Bound School, the Bellyak for a Cause race to benefit Our VOICE and the Downriver Dash, a 13-mile stand-up paddleboard race that launches from Glen Bridge Park in Arden.
Listen to the music
The Mountain Sports Festival boasts a lineup of musical acts throughout the weekend as well. All the acts will play in Carrier Park, with tunes enlivening the sporting events.
“There’s not many places where you can watch sporting events and listen to live music at the same time,” says Leslie Grotenhuis.
According to Tim Grotenhuis: “That’s what makes this festival unique. You’ve got all these events right within this music festival. It’s really a music and sports festival.”
The headlining musical acts are scheduled to coincide with the major races and sporting events each evening or afternoon. The sounds of Josh Phillips & A Big Band will enliven the Friday Night Kross Kickoff, a combination of road and mountain biking and running.
During Saturday night’s Festival Frenzy 5K, modern funk outfit Eufórquestra will lay down a groove for runners.
Funky blues-rockers Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats will wrap things up on Sunday afternoon as cyclists take to the Carrier Park velodrome for the inaugural Rumble on the River criterium bike race.
Carrier Park is adjacent to the French Broad River, home of the festival’s Water Zone. Aquatic events include the Downriver Dash; the very Asheville stand-up paddleboard yoga class; and the Bellyak for a Cause race.
Something like a cross between a traditional kayak and a stand-up paddleboard, the bellyak is the creation of Asheville local Adam Masters and his production team, Tim Grotenhuis explains. Those curious about the innovative watercraft — you lie on your stomach to paddle it, much like a surfer paddling out to catch a wave in the ocean — will have ample opportunity to try it and a dizzying array of other outdoor toys and gear throughout the weekend.
This year the festival’s Kid Zone is being sponsored by the Asheville Adventure Center’s Zipping for Autism program. Planned activities include a kid-safe zip line, bounce houses and games for the younger crowd.
Leslie Grotenhuis says: “The festival is super family-friendly because it doesn’t cost anything. Kids can just go and hang out, do the bounce houses, and parents can be hanging out, listening to free music …”
“Drinking a beer while their kids are all contained in Carrier Park!” Tim Grotenhuis interjects.
“It’s a safe space,” agrees Leslie, who stresses that the Kid Zone is a place for parents to spend time with their kids, not a child care offering.
With multiple sponsors and a grant from the city, the Mountain Sports Festival is pumped about past and future donations of some of its profits to local charities and awards. This year, the festival has created its own charitable fund.
“In the past, the purpose of the nonprofit was to highlight Asheville and its mountain sports. We would donate some of the proceeds to a local nonprofit that also helped support sports and outdoor life in the area, like Connect Buncombe and RiverLink,” says Leslie Grotenhuis. “We no longer feel like we simply need to exist to highlight Asheville. As the festival grows, we would like our profits to encourage a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.”
This year the festival is raising money for Streets to Peaks, a program that provides gear and camping skills to kids from the Boys and Girls Club of America who would otherwise have a hard time finding the means to get out into the wilderness.
“It’s this cool program that gets kids who really wouldn’t get the opportunity to get into the outdoors and helps them to get out there. It provides gear, there’s a camp, they go out and learn to kayak and climb. It’s a yearlong program,” says Tim Grotenhuis.
“We’re also creating a Sponsor a Youth Athlete grant, which a youth athlete can apply for if they need help with something. Say a youth cyclocross [athlete] needs money to get to a national event; they can apply for us to donate money for a plane ticket or something, and that would come out of the fund.”
Mountain Sports Festival has also created The Golden Backpacker Award, which will be a cash prize for an exceptional outdoor enthusiast.
“We are going to honor an individual who has been instrumental in promoting the outdoor industry or lifestyle here in Western North Carolina,” says Tim Grotenhuis.
If you are a fan of live music an outdoor sports, Tim Grotenhuis can’t imagine a reason you would want to miss the Mountain Sports Festival. “Beer, music, food, sports,” he says. “What else could you ask for?”
What: Mountain Sports Festival
Where: Carrier Park, 220 Amboy Road, Asheville, and surrounding areas
When: Friday, May 25-Sunday, May, 27; admission is free
Details at mountainsportsfestival.com