By Katy Savage
The Killington Mountain operations team began preparing jumps and tracks for the Fox U.S. Open of Mountain Biking last year.
U.S. Open co-founder and event director Clay Harper walked the mountain with Killington Resort’s team last fall, looking for ways to improve Goat Skull, the downhill mountain bike race track Harper originally helped Killington design in 2016 for the Pro GRT National Downhill events.
“It was a good race track, it just wasn’t to the level we needed it to be,” Harper said. “The level of sport has progressed so much.”
This weekend, Sept. 16-18, about 500 of the world’s top mountain bike athletes are expected to compete on the trail at the Ramshead Base Area.
The pros and amateurs will compete in four different events — dual slalom, downhill, endurance, best whip — and each will start at a different area at Ramshead. There will also be an adaptive downhill mountain bike race and a Next Gen Downhill race for those under 15 years old.
Harper made multiple site visits to Killington over the summer and spent the week leading up to the event out on the trails until dark.
“The Killington ops team has crushed it,” Harper said.”I couldn’t be happier.” This is the U.S. Open’s first time back in Vermont since its debut in 2018. The event, which started in New Jersey, moved to California in 2019 due to construction of the new K1 Base Lodge at Killington.
“We didn’t think it would be possible (to host the event at Killington),” Harper said, explaining moving the event to Ramshead wasn’t an option at that time.
Harper said the event was invited back to Killington this year after the pandemic canceled the event in 2020 and wildfires in California caused the event’s cancellation in 2021.
Course improvements to Goat Skull began in June.
“That’s been dubbed our downhill race track,” said Killington Terrain Park Manager Taylor Zink.
The course is designed to set the really good rider apart from the average rider. Some of the routes and turns were changed on Goat Skull and merged with existing ski trails and more jumps were added.
“We’ve really enhanced the free ride side of things,” Zink said. “The course is shorter than the course in 2018 — about half the length — which I think will be better for the racers overall.”
The team took input from racers. Dirt from beneath the original K1 base lodge was used in much of the construction, most notably the whip jump.The jump was dug into the slope near the progression carpet and dragged downhill to existing terrain to shape it. Goat Skull was also enhanced with dirt from K1.
“It was perfect timing for this large project,” Zink said. “That saved us some money there instead of having to bring in dirt.”
The whip jump is the largest jump ever built at Killington.
“It’s taller than a two-story building,” Zink said. The crew also built a new track for the dual slalom event near the whip jump. The short, 30-second dual slalom race features “a good mix of traditional BMX-style features with the technical element of grass turns,” Zink said.
Adaptive riders will compete down Rabbit Hole, an existing trail at Snowshed. The upper half of Rabbit Hole is a black diamond technical trail while the rest is a mix of machine built berms with technical roots and rocks.
“It’s just long enough to test their endurance,” Zink said.
The enduro race will be completed in five stages, spanning between Ramshead and K1, with a combination of lift-access track and road competition. The enduro race will feature “some Kilington classics and others that may be less ridden by people that are normally riding here,” Zink said.
The best whip jump will be taken down after the weekend, but the dual slalom track, Goat Skull and the other trails will be open to the public.
“I know there was a lot of hype around bringing (the event) back here,” Zink said. “I think it’s going to be great for the mountain, great for the local scene and it will be great to bring people to see what our bike park has to offer.”