Snowshoe Resort will host the Southeast’s first mountain biking World Cup event in nearly 20 years. brevard’s Neko Mulally is a favorite.
“This is the most prestigious mountain biking event in the world. For us, it’s more than a race. it’s a recognition of 20 years of advances made both here and in the region.”-Shawn Cassell, Snowshoe resort manager
The year is 2005 and a 12-year-old Neko Mulally straddles his mountain bike near the top of Snowshoe Resort’s new Western Territory bike park. With a grin he watches former pro-downhiller and emerging trail-building guru Brad Stone prepare to test the park’s first big road-gap. Without warning, Mulally noses onto the trail and passes Stone in a blur of ferocious pedaling.
“I hear Brad holler and look up to see Neko bombing the hill at top-speed,” says former Snowshoe outdoor adventure coordinator, Dave Huber. Before he could shout stop, Mulally launched into the air and soared the gap like it was nothing. “I was dumbfounded,” says Huber. “Brad just threw his hands in the air and shook his head.”
Mulally went pro in 2010. Though technically still a junior, he won his first USA Cycling National Downhill Championship in 2011. Last year, in addition to a second US Open, Mulally reclaimed his national title. Going into 2019’s UCI World Cup series, the Intense Factory Racing Team rider told reporters his goal was “to place in the top 10 at all eight events.”
With the series’ championship being held at Snowshoe on the weekend of September 6-8, Mulally is a favorite.
“Neko grew up in Pennsylvania, but he was helping us build trails and riding here all the time,” says Huber. Though Mulally lives in Brevard, North Carolina, West Virginia riders consider him a hometown hero. “He was pretty much raised in this park, it’s where he cut his chops,” Huber adds. “Neko knows this mountain better than anyone.”
To take the podium, Mulally will have to best reigning French titans, Loïc Bruni and Amaury Pierron. Bruni has won three of the past four World Championships, including 2018. Pierron claimed last year’s overall title by a staggering 294 points. Defending junior world champ, Kade Edwards, will enter the fray as a rookie.
“These are the best riders in the world,” says Mulally. After injury-plagued seasons in 2015 and 2016, he’s happy to be back at the top of his game. But, “with a field like this, you can’t take anything for granted.”
The event is a big deal for Snowshoe: America hasn’t hosted a World Cup race since 2015; none have been held outside New York since 2005. Amid a list of powerhouse European destinations—including stops in Slovenia, Italy, Austria, England, and more—Snowshoe is 2019’s sole U.S. location.
“Hosting a World Cup Championship is huge,” says the resort’s public relations manager, Shawn Cassell. “This is the most prestigious mountain biking event in the world. For us, it’s more than a race, it’s a recognition of 20 years of advances made both here and in the region.”
In the fall of 2018, West Virginia became the 14th East Coast state to launch an interscholastic mountain biking program. In addition to hosting countless pro-level events—including national championships in 2017 and 2018—Snowshoe sponsors youth races. Mulally represents the first generation of area riders raised in modern bike parks.
“By way of hard work, investment, and continuous innovation,” says Cassel, “we’ve become the Southeast’s flagship park. We’re fast becoming the mountain biking capital of the East Coast.”
The fact the park is just 15 years old makes the achievement more impressive. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the scene was wildly different.
“Snowshoe offered hourly shuttles and we all thought that was innovative,” says Stone with a laugh. As a concept, flow was conspicuously absent. Ditto for tabletops, berms, wood features, and platforms. “They had tons of really technical cross-country stuff, but that was about it.”
Huber and Stone built the region’s first modern bike park in 2004 using British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb as a model. Securing the opening event of that year’s NORBA National Championship Series put it on the map. With educational staff, bike shop, rental center, and trails for all ability levels, the park set the bar for the region.
“Snowshoe proved resort mountain biking could make money on the East Coast,” says Stone, who went on to found one of the nation’s most respected trail-building outfits, 402 Trails. Meanwhile, “it introduced a generation of riders to [West Coast style] riding.”
After working with Gravity Logic to install dozens of parks throughout the U.S., Stone returned to Snowshoe to build jump trails in 2013. The 3-mile-long “Skyline” features 100-foot bridges, 50-plus jumps, monster berms, and more. The additions boosted offerings to 40 lift-serviced routes and helped secure elite USA cycling events, including national championships in 2017 and 2018.
Racing is expected to take place in the Western Territory and will likely combine routes like “Pro DH” and “Hareball.” In addition to men’s and women’s downhill, competition will include Short Track and XC. On the women’s side, last year’s rivalry between Brits Tahnée Seagrave and Rachel Atherton is expected to play out in epic form.
For Mulally, the return is somewhat surreal.
“It’s a full-circle moment,” he explains. As a kid riding at Snowshoe, he fantasized about winning a World Championship. Working on trails, he’ll try “to balance that intimacy with the perspective I’ve gained riding some of the globe’s best parks.”
Mulally aims to show the world what Snowshoe has to offer. Nabbing a world championship would make a fine bonus.