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7/7/2014 9:05 PM

I am here to address a growing concern of mine, highlighted by some events this weekend at the ESC race at Killington:

Where are all the course marshals?

In the earlier years of racing, at every single race, from Mt Snow to Mtn Creek, there were marshals [volunteers] track side with whistles and radios - both on Saturday and Sunday. Up until 2012 (the year I took off from racing), there was a steady decline in their presence, though they were still scattered along the course. But now, I don't see anyone out there who would be able to aid me in a time of crisis or concern, and this is not acceptable.

The sounds of whistles and the crackle of radios was as common place as bird songs out on the hill, but now, all is quiet, and this is cause for alarm. After noticing the lack of marshals in 2013 and thus far in 2014, I am bringing this forward in an attempt to make this issue heard. After hearing of an incident at Killington just this weekend, a severe situation in which a course hold and class rerun was instituted, I was shocked to hear that there were only a couple medics there to attend to the rider, and it was up to the spectators and a racer to call a halt to the race.

Not only is this unacceptable for race day, but this is also an issue during the two days of practice on Friday and Saturday.
With mixed categories sharing one track, making sure that the track is clear for riding should be top priority. With Cat 2/3 racers sharing one ribbon of dirt with Cat1 and Pro riders, there is going to be a lot of discrepancy in ability and race etiquette. Marshals are there to regulate traffic, impose rules, provide guidance, and above all, make sure rider safety is established. I have been hearing too many pit-chats about riders rounding blind turns or approaching jumps/drops/fast/technical sections to find a rider down unannounced, or simply not being informed about an upcoming incident on track, despite multiple by-standers and/or other stopped riders.

I understand that organizing a race is no cake walk, but, more needs to be done about on-track safety in regards to marshaling. I can't think of any other sport similar to ours that doesn't have track-side support at regular intervals for all days of practice and race days. After ten years of racing, I have come to expect certain levels of support at races. I can understand a glitch in timing; I get that delays happen. There is no excuse though for leaving and entire (or large sections of) track unattended when 200+ people are out on course pushing the limits of mind, body, and engineering.

If it is a matter of just getting a headcount, all is takes is asking spectators to volunteer their time while out on track to aid in rider safety and course regulation. Compensate them with a bagged lunch and tshirt or something of the like. This was standard procedure for countless years at Mtn Creek, Platty, and Mt Snow - I know because my mom and dad were always volunteer course marshals. There are plenty of WAGs and BAHs who would be game to have a radio, whistle, food, and tshirt while they watch there significant other fly by every 20minutes. It also helps build a sense of community and camaraderie amongst the racers and fans.

My hopes for this piece are two-fold:
1. Just get marshals out there with whistles and radios.
2. Getting people, riders and spectators alike, to lookout for one another out there.

Thanks for reading and being a part of this conversation. If you wish to share some constructive thoughts, constructive ideas, constructive concerns, or anything else that is relevant, please positively add to the conversation.


7/7/2014 10:00 PM
Edited Date/Time: 7/7/2014 10:01 PM

Well-written post, sideshow. Thanks for posting it. I'm anxious to hear some positive additions to the conversation, too.

Like you said, running a race is not easy, but safety is a must. I remember a handful of instances over the years of sparse marshals/medical staff and as a photo dork trackside, having to intervene to warn on-coming riders of downed riders plenty of times. I was (and am) always glad to help, but think there should be sufficient, dedicated staff to cover the course during a race.

(what's a WAG or BAH?)


7/7/2014 10:07 PM

Thanks Spomer! Glad it's on-point, and relatable. I am interested as well to hear people's thoughts.

WAG: Wives and Girlfriends
BAH: Boyfriends and Husbands (HAB is also acceptable)


7/8/2014 8:47 AM
Edited Date/Time: 7/8/2014 10:25 AM

As far as I know, course marshals are always WAGs BAHs or LRPs (Local Retired People.) and are not hired for the event. A lunch and a t-shirt aren't always enough to inspire a day of standing in the sun blowing a whistle. Perhaps making the request for volunteers on the registration forms, so that the racers are inspired to recruit them, would help? Perhaps a discount on the entry fees if the racer provides a volunteer?


7/8/2014 9:32 AM

or how bout a rider dropping in at a large gap jump with no speed because he did not know riders were coming in hot, forcing one to jump over the other.... i heard that happened last weekend too.


7/8/2014 9:45 AM

haddad wrote:

or how bout a rider dropping in at a large gap jump with no speed because he did not know riders were coming in hot, forcing ...more

This story was the second incident that prompted me to write about this issue. I excluded it only because I didn't want rampant guessing and hyperbole to flame up regarding the outcome of a potentially disastrous clash between riders. I was glad to hear that both riders were unharmed and continued riding the section without further incident.

This further highlights the need for non-racers to be spotting sections and making sure that the "Pro Lines" are clear and not being congested or blocked by slower riders.


7/8/2014 9:49 AM

When I was co-organizing races we'd always find enough vollies for marshalls. If it wasn't family or friends, we'd have to sometimes really bribe people to get out. Buy them lunch, keep them hydrated, free t-shirt, beer - basically anything they wanted while out there, we would provide for them.


7/8/2014 10:48 AM
Edited Date/Time: 7/8/2014 10:57 AM

The Eastern States Cup is doing great things for the sport in the Northeast. But having raced the ESC in 2010, 2011 and 2012, I was always surprised at the lack of safety--course marshals and crash pads included--at some of the stops on the series. It seemed that some resorts were better about safety than others; better at getting competent volunteers to come sit outside for the whole weekend to deal with the gamut of adrenaline junkies, and better at wrapping up trees that could abruptly stop riders should they veer off course.

Surprisingly, many of the resorts were missing marshals during practice. If you went down on the hill, your only hope was your riding buddy or another racer who would hopefully stop to help. The few times I crashed hard, I was on my own and had to roll or walk myself down one of the fire roads to the medic tent. A few times, I remember watching riders come down the mountain and waste time trying explain where on the course their buddy lay injured. No course marshals, not even periodic course numbers so one could specifically say "he is lying in the left hand turn between markers 8 and 9." Fortunately, major incidents do not occur all that often, but it seemed quite risky that when they did happen the medical/safety staff were quite underprepared.

As with any group you are going to have those who excel (e.g., Mt. Snow *thank you*) and those who under perform (e.g., Plattekill, Killington, etc.). It is the job of the ESC organizers to ensure that each stop of the series is being held to a high standard (required by USA Cycling or UCI?). There are plenty of ways safety could be improved beyond the obvious. Definitely, ESC should be encouraging resorts involved in the series to share advice and best practices on how to keep riders safe and attract volunteers. Maybe there should be some requirements for racers to marshal a race if they are to stay in the overall points standings or incentives for racers to get a free race if they marshal. This could lead to participants having much more appreciation for the duties of the safety sentinels.

Hopefully, the ESC can implement practices that will elevate the safety at all the races and keep the series going into the future before an unfortunate injury (or death) jeopardizes the whole series due to a few resorts' negligence.


7/8/2014 11:37 AM
Edited Date/Time: 7/8/2014 1:58 PM

As a former racer, I've taken up course marshalling to stay connected to the racy side of sport.

Course Marshalling has the potential to be pretty long and boring. Sometimes 5-6 hours, solo, in the same spot, no mobile connection... So both the race organizer and the marshals need to find ways to make it fun. Free shuttles, heckle zones, carnage zones, swag, food, drink, after BBQ, make volunteers feel like part of the race "family".

Also, pair marshals up so at least you have someone to talk to.

Racers need to be very appreciative of ALL the volunteers. It makes volunteers beam if you say something simple like "Thanks for being here!" or other sharing of the stoke. No volunteers, no race. Some dropped a ride day to volunteer at your race.

For me, I stay entertained as a marshall by dressing up stupid, heckling, cheering, random name calling, and sometimes showing my moobs. So if you see a marshall that looks like he is having more fun than you in the pain cave... that would be me. ha ha.

Go get it!



7/8/2014 11:57 AM

I've been pushing to organize a volunteer marshall program for the NW Cup, but I was let go and couldn't execute it. I really hope that marshals become standard requirements. Racers should protest by not racing until organizers can get eyes on the track. Great post- great direction. I'm all for it.


7/8/2014 1:42 PM

2014 USAC MTB rulebook does not require course marshals, so that would be left to the discretion of the race director. I remember that Gravity Nationals used to have a rule about marshals and establishing line of site, but that seems to have been relaxed as well.

Race Mojo Wheels | Read VitalMTB

7/8/2014 2:27 PM
Edited Date/Time: 7/8/2014 2:34 PM

Being both a racer retired come back retired and comeback again, ive always marshalled where possible, some great ideas above .

Some of this needs to come back to the sport itself and the event organisers, this has come about by some neglect over the years taken for granted volunteer time and slowly cheapened each year!

In a world where being connected and connected like never before, its like we have no communication at all at times until a call for help is put out.

Volunteers are ever increasinly hard to come by for a number of reasons, taken for granted, messed about and little organsiation.

1: Its like racing DAWG,,getting to the top is hard, staying theyre is even harder.

Solution - connect with your voluteers and stay connected to them between events, get them involved with some track improvements (group day) maybe even some marshall stations with clear pain points marked out., involve them now and again, dosent have to be every weekend.

2: its basic, and its a cost, but provide a lunch pack and a drink, it is a long day, food and drink is essential, they are giving they're time to help you and your event, dont look at it as a cost, but an investment in your event.

3: provide them with clear instructions, a map of the track, run them up to the marhsall points shuttle where possible.
bright vest whistle and walkie talkie check list make sure they all work the day before eg charged and ready to go!

Theyres really not much more to it, volunteers dont want reward, they appreciate thanks but more Imthink feel appreciated when they are engaged, have a debreif what went well what went wrong,mhlw can we improve next time, grab names and numbers facebook list to keep people updated somthey can plan ahead, encourge them to have fun out theyre, its not a stare off competition.

Marshalls or potential! Be nice about it, but give em hell racers riders love hearing noise, get some cow bells vuvuzella or what ever they call em, steel bar in a frame!

I heckle the crap out of racers coming down and help those who need it, encourge the slower riders, you should never get bored, its what you make it on the hill, it can and should be allot of fun, organisers encourge this at your marshall briefing. We dont need to be like UCi Nazis on the hill, but always keep the racers safe lver spectators keep them off the course!

Agree riders should always aknowledge the volunteers, medical and support crews.

My 2c anyway!
Finally just want to say, my club does a good job of this.


Still Dangerous!!

7/8/2014 2:32 PM
Edited Date/Time: 7/8/2014 2:32 PM


killington 2004 with lots of tree pads,

none this year,

know of 2 guys that smacked some of those padded trees quite hard, but this year they didnt have pads!

dont get me wrong here, Killington and ESC are great organizations and i have no bias towards them, i am simply providing some evidence that supports the trend identified by sideshows post.

7/8/2014 2:48 PM

Haddad, to me that is unacceptable, organisers need to have riders safety at number one priority over the event itself, we don't want regulation but this sort of stuff puts events at risk and our sport, access to best locations for tracks etc and more importantly rider injury.

With ever increasing bike technology even the average rider is riding faster than ever and bikes so capable when a crash occurs its not what but how bad, last event I marshalled the top guys were constantly having to deal with stoppages due to serious injuries on the course one after the other!

Other thing I want to see in MTB DH is scrutineering!

Basics, Helmet check, pads, shoes are up to standard.
Bikes checked, Ive seen guys brakes fail on 50kph sections, last time a guy broke both wrists it was obvious his brake bladders were f***d Avids, they need a serious service!

The amount of young especially juniors wearing running shoes, no knee lads minimum, Helmets cracked from numerous crashes or scratched to hell is unacceptable!

DH is dangerous its extreme why we love it, but minimum safety stds must be enforced

This has been std in moto or Enduro moto Enduro for donkeys years at basic club level, so don't start cost or time, you go through Scruitineering before rego, simple same line, don't lass go until stickers or tagged, wrist type tape not expensive!

If these things are too hard too costly them in my opinion you cant afford to run an event!
Same with riders who have 5k plus bikes but have dunning shoes and complain about its too expensive, if you can afford the bike then you can afford to buh basic proper safety gear have your bike running properly, a properly maintained bike is better than some fancy bling component.


Still Dangerous!!

7/8/2014 4:16 PM

BeezKneez. Great idea about encouraging the racers themselves to help marshal courses. Great idea Mr. P. on setting up the buddy system. Maverickdh005, what you said. Twice. I was tempted to correct some of your spelling errors, but they just add to the emotion of your post.

Lets all remember that a rider safety issue and the resulting lawsuit, and I'm not blaming the course marshals there, that brought downhilling to a halt at Big Bear for many years. The East Coast, or anywhere else in the world, doesn't need it's own example.


7/8/2014 5:08 PM

Yeah I lacerated my liver from a downed rider in front of me a few years back because there was no course marshals. I landed on a guys pedal on the side of my ribs and put a 4" inch laceration in my liver and broke a couple of ribs. Almost bleed to death. We need more volunteers for sure.


7/8/2014 10:41 PM

One thing that a local road club near me does (I know roadies right, woteva, get over it) Is 1 race a season you have to volunteer/marshall, OR provide a marshall


7/9/2014 12:33 PM

During my tenure as announcer for the NW Cup- I too was appalled by the lack of protection being worn at the Cat 3 level, but I'm most concerned about the Cat 1's who barely wear anything. At a Mt Hood Race- Petr and I went toe to toe over the lack of padding on the Cat 1 track where your bars barely fit between two SUV sized rocks. Just this recently last race- that I didn't attend, it was padded up again. So def scrutinize each organizers efforts in regards to safety. It could save a fellow racers life.


7/9/2014 12:39 PM

northwestdhdad wrote:

During my tenure as announcer for the NW Cup- I too was appalled by the lack of protection being worn at the Cat 3 level, but ...more

Everyone knows that all we need to do is paint all the dangerous parts of the course a color that can't be ignored, and everyone will be safe.


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