By Tess Weaver
If you haven’t heard of enduro racing by now, you have some serious catching up to do. The European-rooted race discipline is sweeping across North America this summer, with new races cropping up all over the West. California, Oregon and Washington all have their own series now, and this year marks the inception of the World Enduro Series. In other words, enduro has hit the big time.
In the mountain states, Big Mountain Enduro has expanded from a three-stop event to a series including five races in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. Its Whole Enchilada Enduro sold out in two minutes this year. The roster even includes a handful of Euros. The race also serves as the finals to the 2013 North American Enduro Tour, which features seven stops in North America.
In October, Brandon Ontiveros, the founder and former owner of Oregon Super D (now Oregon Enduro), purchased the Big Mountain Enduro Series from Yeti. The mountain biker and skier moved to his old haunt of Crested Butte last fall, where he serves as executive director of the company.
How did you get started in Enduro?
I ran Oregon Super D for four years. Two years ago we transitioned from Super D to Enduro. We used the same venues and very similar courses but with the growth of the sport happening in Europe, the multi-stage enduro discipline was the right move. It was just a passion that got me back involved in the enduro world. For me, it's bringing mountain biking back to its roots. It's what we always do on the trails with our friends. Getting in backcountry, taking our time up the climbs and finding the biggest descents, that's usually the bulk of the riding we do. When I had the chance to purchase this series from Yeti, it was a no-brainer.
What have you learned along the way?
Enduro formats are way more challenging to put on versus a Super D. Multiple stages means lugging multiple timing systems into the backcountry. Enduro is more cumbersome—there are more moving pieces. It's a bigger challenge. The timing system has become more of an undertaking getting that dialed. This year we purchased a 35,000 chip timing system. It's one of the most revolutionary systems in the world. We worked with a company that developed custom enduro software. There will be instantaneous results. There will be monitors at every stage and once you cross the line, you can turn around and look at your time. For the final stage of each day, at the last finish line we will have a big screen that tallies the times and rankings from each stage. We can integrate video, commercials, logos. It's really taking the sport to the next level. Timing is the main problem at events, so we thought that was a major need and made the investment. Most every stop on the North American tour will be using this timing system to keep things consistent.
How is the tour evolving?
It's in its third year. It's come a long way from the first year. There are more people involved, there's a board of directors and more momentum. The first two years were really pilot years. Last year was pretty successful. Now there are seven events in the tour and it's really become the biggest quasi-sanctioned enduro movement.
Why do you think we’re seeing such a massive enduro craze in North America right now?
It really goes back to the roots and taps into all the fun components of mountain biking. It's not as competitive and there's a ton of camaraderie. You really get a full day and multiple days on the bike. It's a great bang-for-your-buck weekend of racing. You're climbing, descending and showcasing all the skills of a true trail rider. This movement fits with the new products coming out from the industry. All the new components are driven to the all-around rider and not just top end pros. It really is a discipline for every kind of riders, from cross-country riders to downhillers to beginners.
How do you select the venues?
We kept two of the same from last year—Moab and Durango. When we sat down with our sponsors and our team, we talked about wanting to keep our riders in North America instead of seeing them all go to Europe. We thought about accessibility, the biggest descents and true backcountry trails. We wanted Crested Butte to recognize the area as a mountain bike mecca. Keystone is really supporting the enduro movement and it has some really raw, rugged terrain. Angel Fire has one of the best bike parks in the country and its team was supportive and allowed us to choose the best courses possible without too many restrictions. At Taos and Crested Butte, we're combining lift accessed and backcountry riding. A lot of the races in Europe are specifically at a resort or in the backcountry. This combination in one weekend is unique.
What does it take to plan the course?
It's a detailed process. Land management is huge with all our venues. If we don't have land management and local trail advocates on our side, it wouldn't happen. We have to get permits submitted, talk about the prep work and trail work… land management is our No.1 priority. Then, we're riding the courses. We sit with each host and decide which trails based on permits and accessibility. We have up to five permits at one venue. There's BLM land, state land, private land… the list goes on. It's a pretty cumbersome process. We just wrapped up the bulk of our course planning. We had to compromise a couple times, but we need to prove ourselves this year. It's hard to shoot for the sky the first time. Trail work is pretty meaningful. When you work for a few days or a week or build a new trail, it gives you a new respect for what goes into it—the time, the cost, the manpower. A lot of people don't realize. We don't want to be the event who comes in and throws a big even and takes off and leaves the trails as it. We've been working with our partners for the last year. Even in the winter, we are meeting once a month. We're helping with trail projects when the snow melts. We spend a week at the venue after the event to make sure everything is clean and the trails are in good shape. That's on going through the whole year. Taos happens in June, but we'll be back in July and August working on the trails. The Forest Service expanded our Moab permit by another 100 racers. Last year, we were capped at 150. Thanks to the good work we've done, they expanded it to 250.
How could the UCI rule have affected the series (the UCI recently backed off a proposed rule that would have prohibited all UCI licensed riders from competing in non-sanctioned events, such as enduros)?
We are just letting things ride and don't want to get involved too much. It would have greatly affected our series. The top pros who were planning on coming would have been fined and had their licenses suspended. To us, it was pretty ridiculous. Everything we're doing is by riders and for riders and it seems everything they were doing was pulling those pieces apart and jeopardizing the sport. We had a feeling that this outcome would take place. Things always work out.
How much do you rely on attendance from pros to boost the image of the events?
Our events speak for themselves in terms of venues and the pro purse. The pros account for about 25 percent of the entire participant base. We're friends with them, we ride with them, but the big focus is to make it a fun, not too competitive event across the board for amateurs, juniors and to help develop the sport.
Will you be expanding to other states?
It's been discussed. As for the long-term picture, we're always open to exploring new venues and new states. We've been contacted by a few East Coast promoters and we do envision an East Coast event in the coming years.
What came first, the enduro bike or the enduro race? Can the competitive format be as successful in North America as it has been in Europe, or will the spirit be lost amid all the hype? In the June issue of Bike, we talk to Fred Glo and other pioneers of the enduro movement about their predictions on how it will all pan out. Look for the magazine on newsstands next week and or download the digital version on Apple Newsstand. Click here to download the Bike Mag app on iTunes.