Downhill mountain biking in northwest Montana

By Moira Blazi

To most people, mountain biking means bouncing along on a well-worn trail, making sure to avoid hikers and horses, and doing lots of hard pedaling, sometimes on steep uphill slopes.

To those who race downhill mountain bikes, it is something altogether different.

“We practice on deer trails,” said category 1 racer, Jorden LeCount.  “Regular hiking trails are just not steep enough for us.”

LeCount, is one of a group of local daredevils who have embraced this exciting sport. Along with Teagan Haugen and Dawson Young, LeCount is gearing up for the upcoming Northwest Cup.

The August event is part of the Northwest Cup series which includes competitions held in Port Angeles, Wash., Mt. Hood, Oregon, and Silver Mountain, Idaho. “It is number one in downhill mountain biking,” said LeCount. “This is not your usual BMX style riding, we have to walk the courses ahead of time, and sometimes the terrain is just too steep to walk down.” When asked if riding such steep slopes is sometimes a little scary,13 year old Haugan said, “Certain things like new jumps are not that scary as long as we go plan it out first.”

LeCount, 21, who has been riding bikes on mountain trails since he was three, is poised to move into the professional category, a move which would not only bring a higher level of competition, but also take some of the financial pressure off. This is not an inexpensive sport, the bikes are specialized starting at $4,000, and ranging upwards of $12,000. LeCount, Haugan, Young, and other local riders are fortunate to have help and support from Bryce Huck, owner of Bad Medicine bike shop.

“I just try to help them out,” Huck told The Montanian. “I try to keep their bikes running for them.” Huck has also been active in helping develop local bike trails for all ages and levels of riders.

“I think downhill biking is neat,” Huck said, “and Libby has so many beautiful places to explore on a bike.”

The downhill racers do get a fair amount of Huck’s time, when The Montanian visited his shop, he was replacing an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber one and replacing a destroyed rim for one of the racers. He does it because he wants to see them succeed. “These kids don’t yet have accessibility to the trails that kids in other places have, they have to be very dedicated. It is emotionally tough, and financially tough too” Huck said.

Along with the Northwest Cup, there is a Silver Mountain series of races held mostly in Canada. There is also the Red Bull Rampage, an event held once a year in Utah, and there are numerous other race opportunities in this rapidly growing sport.

“The sport is huge in Canada,” said LeCount, “especially for teens, it’s as big as football is here.”  Haugan, only 13, has been competing at a high level for over two years now. With the unwavering support of his family, Haugen is poised for great success.

Dawson Young is already a Junior professional. “It’s kind of a release for us,” Haugen told the Montanian, “You are super focused, not worried about anything else.”

The Northwest Cup downhill race will be held at Big Mountain Resort in Whitefish from August 24 through 26.