Nature doesn't care how old you are.
Neither does Alder Butsch, 11, or Don Leet, 62, two Bend athletes from two very different backgrounds—and eras. Leet, an accomplished mountain biker and co-owner of Sunnyside Sports, was already receiving AARP mailings when Butsch, a sponsored snowboarder, was a bump in the belly. The two may have as much in common as Justin Bieber and Bob Dylan, but this weekend both outdoorsmen ("men") go head-to-head against their peers, on the trails and on slopes.
On Saturday morning, more than 300 riders, including Leet, will storm up—and down—the dusty, twisty singletrack in the 16th annual Cascade Chainbreaker mountain bike race near Shevlin Park. Meanwhile, 100 snowboarders, including the five-foot-and-growing Butsch, will be surfing (on a snowboard) the ocean-like features at Mt. Bachelor's Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge. And, just like a North Shore big wave competition, the mountain shredders will be judged on control, speed and power.
Here's a look at how the small fry stacks up against the elder statesmen.
Alder Butsch 11, snowboarding phenom
Snowboarding is in Butsch's genes. His parents, Faith and Peter, started him at Mt. Bachelor when he was only 3. Immediately, young Butsch was hooked. He would follow his father, a sponsored pro-level boarder who owns outdoor apparel company Witt Wear, all over the hill. Eight seasons later, Butsch, now 11 years old and 5 feet tall, is as comfortable off piste as he is in the park.
"I like learning tricks and getting better," said Butsch. When not on the mountain, he is a well-rounded peewee athlete, riding his mountain bike or skateboard, and playing soccer with his Oregon Rush team. Snowboarding, though, remains his main event.
At last year's Big Wave challenge Butsch finished second in the "Grom Division," (grom being a common term for a young surfer), and he's recently returned from a national championship competition at Colorado's Copper Mountain. Though the Westside Village sixth-grader has been with MBSEF's youth program for years, this was his first season on the competition team. And while the Side Effect Board Shop rider hopes to one day turn pro, he's not bent on world domination.
"I just like to have a good time with my buddies," Butsch offered.
The Big Wave Challenge isn't just for groms—there are men's and women's open division as well as a "Makule" category (what was known last year as the "Ol' Dogs" division, 40-plus). The competition's built features are made to mimic waves—a nod to Gerry Lopez, the event's namesake and native Hawaiian who pioneered big wave surfing on Oahu's North Shore in the early '70s. The soft-spoken surfing icon moved to Bend in 1992 and has been carving up Bachelor ever since.
Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge
Competition: 10 am-2 pm
After party and awards: 12-4:30 pm, Hawaiian-themed music by Bill Keale
Saturday, May 11 at Mt. Bachelor (under the Pine Marten Express lift)
More info at mtbachelor.com
Don Leet 62, mountain biking sage
Leet likens mountain biking to that scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke Sywalker and company race through the tightly spaced trees of the Endor forest. In mountain biking, Leet said: "You do that! It's real."
He would know. The wiry 62-year-old has been riding knobby tires for 30 years. The gray-headed veteran started racing mountain bikes just as the sport began to dawn on the national radar screen, at a time when front suspension didn't exist and shock absorbers were extra lining in your bike shorts.
Since then, mountain biking has become as popular as road biking. In 2011, U.S. mountain bike sales were nearly dead-even with road bike sales, accounting for 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of total bikes sold.
"I'm not out here, as an old guy, to be an inspiration to anybody," asserted Leet. "I don't give a rat's ass. I do it 'cause it's fun."
But Leet is an inspiration. In the early '80s, Leet rode one of Trek's first mountain bikes, a prototype given to him by a company employee. He loved it and rode the heavy contraption all over Central Oregon's young trails as well as in the early editions of the Cascade Cruise—a burly mountain bike race, which started at Mt. Bachelor and finished in Shevlin Park. And, as a bike shop co-owner, he's been pushing mountain bikes since 1980.
"Age doesn't matter when you're mountain biking," Leet explained matter-of-factly.
He has results to back up his statement. In 1988, Leet took third in downhill at the mountain biking world champs in Mammoth, Calif. In a testament to his durability, passion and aerobic ability, in 2011 he won a national championship title in Sun Valley, Idaho, while racing in his 60-64 age group. Leet has also captured the Oregon XC Mountain Bike series title for his age group on a number of occasions.
And at 62, he's still riding and riding hard. Sure, his body has aged, but he's always taken care of it and doesn't bemoan his advanced years. His secret, he said, is knowing his limits.
"I have to be more careful," Leet admitted.
But he was quick to point out that he feels as strong now as he has in years. If all goes well Leet should be atop the podium's top step for his age group Saturday at the conclusion of his 23-mile mountain bike race.
Race starts at 11 am; after party at WebCyclery 5-8 pm
Saturday, May 11 at Bull Springs Road, northwest of Shevlin Park
More info at webcyclery.com