WEST JEFFERSON — About 1,200 hay bales lined a 1.6-mile stretch of Mount Jefferson State Park Road for the fifth annual Mount Jefferson Downhill race Sunday, July 28.
Throughout the day, those hay bales stopped downhill skateboarders from sliding off the side of the mountain during race heats, which saw skaters whizzing down the curvy state park road in excess of 50 mph, slowing only as little as necessary to hug the asphalt around hairpin turns.
Virginia native Aaryn “Axl” Curtis was one of 36 competitors in the tournament-style race bracket, participating in his first major downhill skating event on Mount Jefferson. His race day ended with a helmet full of hay in the main spectator corner.
“I’ve been skating for two years, I’m very new to it,” Curtis said. “The bales are so soft this year.”
Curtis said crashing is just a part of the downhill skating sport — an inevitability that racers get used to pretty quickly.
“I’m two years into it and I’m already here competing. Anyone can do it, it just takes dedication,” Curtis said. “I’ve practiced every day for the past two years.”
At their fastest, race organizers clocked skateboarders shredding 54 mph through a kink drift bend around the middle of the course.
Six-year veteran racer Emily Pross, who finished third during the 2018 Mount Jefferson Downhill and won the event in 2017, fell short of the podium this year, losing out to Aaron “Daisy” Breetwor by way of photo-finish during semifinals.
“Downhill skating is all about getting from point A to point B,” Pross said before the race.
According to Pross, many skaters find the sense of speed equally as calming as exhilarating, and many of the competitors join together from across the world to tour the world’s steepest, windiest roads for racing — from Australia, to Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania, Colombia, Argentina and elsewhere, such as Mount Jefferson.
Saturday, July 27 was a free-ride and practice day during which about 100 skaters, including local novices, took to the mountain to learn the curves before competition heated up on Sunday, according to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area Superintendent Joe Shimel.
Marcy Tilmann, president and founder of the volunteer-driven nonprofit Ian Tilmann Foundation, set up a tent Saturday passing out free helmets in memory of her son, who died in 2005 as the result of a longboarding accident. Tilmann said her foundation passed out 130 helmets to local skaters during the free-ride Saturday, with none left to distribute by the time races started Sunday.
About 1,000 spectators were present to witness the high-speed races, about as many as showed up during the 2018 downhill, Shimel said.
After the races were finished and the wheels stopped spinning, Canadian Matt King took home the first place prize for the 2019 Mount Jefferson Downhill. Second place went to Ed Garner of Virginia, while Cole Trotta took third place and Isaac White of Missouri finished fourth.
To view a photo gallery from the 2019 Mount Jefferson Downhill, go online to www.ashepostandtimes.com.