Snow gods awestruck by moto heads
PRAIRIE CITY – Late on Thursday afternoon, four of Lake Tahoe’s most accomplished athletes sat in the shade of a tree amid the swirling dust at the Hangtown motocross track. The group included an Olympic veteran and three other men who make their living putting their bodies at risk on a daily basis.
But listening in on the conversation, one might think it was a group of awestruck teenagers.
“Dude, did you see how smooth Carmichael was over those doubles? That was sick,” one asked before taking a huge swig of Red Bull.
“Yeah, I tried to hit those things fast and just banged the hell out of my back wheel,” another replied.
“I don’t have the stones to try that huge step-up,” a third said. “I’d probably kill myself. Those guys are just awesome.”
Thirty of the best skiers and snowboarders from around the West gathered to meet and race with motocross professionals at “Where the Snow Meets the Dirt” at the Hangtown track, which will host a race of the same name on Sunday. The snow pros all have at least a few years of experience on dirt bikes, but seeing the best in the world take huge jumps as if they were anthills put a new perspective on the sport.
“I’m used to riding pretty mellow tracks, but this place is just crazy,” Truckee snowboarder Aaron Vincent said. “I don’t even consider myself an athlete out here. Now I know what it takes to do what they do, because I’m out here doing it with them.”
Daron Rahlves, one of the world’s top downhill skiers and a former Olympian, has been riding bikes for 18 years but admitted he can’t even consider doing some of the things he saw on Thursday.
“It’s insane riding side-by-side with these guys,” Rahlves said. “My arms are tired, my hands are weak and they’re still out there racing. Those guys are just amazing athletes.”
South Lake Tahoe’s Shaun Palmer was also at the event but declined to comment.
As the biggest name on the snow side of things, Rahlves got a chance to take a few laps with motocross legend Ricky Carmichael. While the two are at similar levels of their respective professions, they each have a healthy respect for the other’s dominance.
“I’d be scared to death at the top of a snowy hill,” said Carmichael, the three-time defending American Motocross Association 250cc Supercross champion. “He’s probably way better at this than I am at skiing.”
Rahlves was tentative on his first few laps at Hangtown but pulled off most of the jumps once he got comfortable with the track. The 30-year-old only gets three months of biking in due to his busy skiing schedule and he doesn’t get to take as many chances as he would like. After all, being healthy for the snow season is how he makes enough money to buy his motocross equipment.
“I think my sponsors and the U.S. Ski Team guys just cross their fingers when I go out there,” he said. “I try to ride within my limits. If I’m not confident I can pull something off, I probably won’t try it.”