Big-time mountain and traditional sports come to Taos in 2013

Big-time mountain-sport events are a common occurrence in Northern New Mexico and 2013 was no different. 

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Big-time mountain-sport events are a common occurrence in Northern New Mexico and 2013 was no different. Taos Ski Valley’s Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships returned and were bigger than ever before. Angel Fire Resort hosted a couple of the biggest bike events in the country, including Red Bull Dreamline and USA Cycling’s Downhill Mountain Bike National Championships.

In addition to mountain sports, traditional sports like baseball and soccer also came to Taos and gave spectators a chance to watch professional and collegiate athletes play.

A few events, however, stuck out.

 Red Bull Dreamline

When pro BMX rider Anthony Napolitan started getting tired of the contest circuit, he wanted to find a way to bring the fun back to competing. His idea was to build bigger, smoother dirt jumps, let riders have fun riding and then judge themselves. Red Bull Dreamline 2011 was his dream coming to fruition. In 2013, Dreamline was reincarnated at the Angel Fire Bike Park on Saturday, Aug. 10, with even bigger features than the original.

While front flips, back flips, tail whips, bar spins, horizontal spins, supermen and a million variations and combinations of the tricks went down at Dreamline, the laid-back atmosphere and camaraderie among the athletes still reigned supreme. “This isn’t a contest,” Australia’s Kyle Baldock said after the event. “It’s like the best thing ever. Everyone was doing their own thing and just killing it.”

The giant playground and jam format let riders forget they were competing and just have fun pushing their limits.

“This is the best contest,” the winner, USA’s Pat Casey, said. “It doesn’t even feel like a contest. I didn’t feel any pressure. The format was so chill.”

Progression, however, was always a goal of the event and building some of the biggest dirt jumps in the history of BMX were again part of it.

“(The event) definitely stepped itself up,” Napolitan said. “The terrain at Angel Fire definitely made us able to reach those goals pretty easily.”

The 1200-foot course took 1,500 man hours and 20,000 tons of dirt to build.

 Extreme freeride championships

With the merging of all of the major, worldwide big mountain ski and snowboard competitions into a single, unified world tour, the format at Taos Ski Valley changed to accommodate the increased level of competition in 2013. The score from all three days counted in 2013 and riders stepped up to meet the challenge. “I think it forced skiers and snowboarders to ride as hard as they could from the get go,” TSV’s Hano Blake said. “That’s why you were seeing guys go huge out of Heavy Timber right away.”

The Taos event also proved to be an important step for athletes trying to qualify for the world tour. Eleven athletes from the Americas qualified for next year’s Freeride World Tour, and nine of them competed in Taos. The men’s ski winner, Ian Borgeson; the women’s ski winner, Francesca Paviallard-Cain; and the women’s snowboard winner, Kaitlin Elliot, all qualified to compete in the world tour.

Taos’ Garret Altmann, who finished third at Taos, fifth at Snowbird and seventh at Crested Butte, was one of four male skiers from the Americas to qualify for next year’s FWT.

Two of the riders who finished behind Taos’ Justin Bobb, the male snowboard division winner, also qualified for the world tour.

 Downhill mountain bike nationals

The best gravity racers in the country battled for stars and stripes at Angel Fire, Aug. 2-4. The 2.5 mile route tapped into some of Angel Fire’s steepest, most difficult terrain.

Team F.I.Taos’ Dan Weinman competed in the pro field. “It’s not something you pass up in your back yard,” Weinman said. “It was a cool thing to have locally.”

In the end, Aaron Gwin proved why some people call him the fastest man on two wheels. Gwin, who won the last two UCI Mountain Bike World Cups finished the downhill race in 5 minutes 14.017 seconds, over 11 seconds faster than the runner-up. Weinman finished 31st.

 Professional baseball

The Pecos League expanded to Taos in 2013. The Taos Blizzard was mostly a travel team, but fans got the chance to watch players try and advance their careers. The opportunity to play in the Pecos League meant a lot of different things to a lot of different players. For some, the league was merely a stepping stone. It was the perfect place for them to learn a new position, nail down their fundamentals, improve their arm strength and try to impress coaches in other leagues so they could get promoted.

“We’re living our dreams,” Craig Richmond said after the season. The camaraderie he shared with his teammates, the atmosphere at the games, the towns and whole experience stuck out in his mind. With the new lights at Taos High’s baseball field, the Blizzard will play a minimum of 30 home games in 2014.

Eco Park NCAA soccer showcase

The Taos Eco Park’s NCAA soccer showcase grew in 2013 to include a spring and fall event — giving collegiate and club teams two opportunities to prepare for their seasons. In 2013, the University of New Mexico men’s and women’s teams were once again the highlight of the event. Both teams battled the University of Denver on April 13.

UNM’s men’s soccer team went on to reach the NCAA national semifinals this fall.

Olympic gold medalist

Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion came to Taos for a pair of events April 13. In addition to a free fitness clinic for local youth, Liukin also talked about the importance of being active every day, setting goals and dreaming.

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