‘Keep pushing:’ Steamboat snow biker attends 3rd X Games, reflects on recent growth
ASPEN — Steamboat Springs native Mark Wilson was one spot away from making the finals in Snow BikeCross at his third X Games. His seventh place finish in the second semifinal was just shy of a spot on the line for the finals.
Wilson, 36, said his clutch burnt out at the start while waiting for the green flag to wave. He started lap one in dead last and tried to make his way through the pack.
“In this game, you really have to have a good start,” he said. “With the talent we have, you can’t do well with a bad start. Unless you’re Cody Matechuk.”
Matechuk won his third straight gold medal in the event on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Buttermilk.
Last year, Wilson made the finals and finished ninth, an improvement off a 14th place finish in his first X Games appearance in 2018. He came into the 2020 X Games weekend coming off a first-place finish at the qualifier in Elk River, Minnesota.
Snow bikers are at the mercy of their machine — at least to a point.
A snowbike is essentially half a snowmobile with a skinny track in the back and ski in the front. Like any machine under duress it is subject to malfunctions. Still, a lot falls on the rider.
“There’s a lot of variables for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s still you,” said Wilson. “You want to perform. It’s on you and your bike.”
Snow biking can, obviously, only be practiced on snow. So come November, when the snow hits Minnesota, Wilson packs up and drives north from Denver where he works construction all summer. He trains and competes on the International Series of Champions, or ISOC, series through March.
Some of the top competitive athletes live year round in snowy conditions or live in a bus, like third-place finisher Jesse Kirchmeyer, and constantly travel to train. Wilson doesn’t do that. Instead, he opts to stay in Denver and work construction during the summer.
“I’m trying to have a life,” said Wilson.
Wilson’s life started in Steamboat, a town bursting with public bike trails that is trying to dub itself Bike Town USA. He didn’t grow up pedaling through Routt National Forest. Instead, he strapped on skates and gripped a stick, playing hockey for the Steamboat Springs High School Sailors.
He then went to military school in Virginia before attending college in San Diego for a couple years. For the last 10 years, he’s been based out of Denver. While his best friends still live in Steamboat, Wilson said he hardly ever gets back to his hometown.
Snow biking only entered his life four years ago, and since then, his life has changed dramatically. He said it took him until age 32 to start “growing up,” the same time in his life he got his first snow bike.
“It’s been a lot. I’ve been working my ass off, honestly,” he said with a laugh. “It’s tough. At 36, I’m in the best shape of my life for sure, but to keep up with these 19, 20-year-olds, it’s a real feat. To be able to contend with them is an honor in itself, even if it doesn’t feel good to go home without making the main.”
He said he’s proud of how far he’s come since he started the sport, and that his support team is unmatched.
“You’re the sum of the five people you hang out with,” he said. “My crew is pretty exceptional.”
Wilson plans to keep coming back to the X Games as long as he can, striving for that podium finish. He has trouble pinning down his dream. To him, goals are fluid and constantly changing and evolving.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Always grow, always better yourself, always educate yourself. Read books. Do whatever you’ve got to do to be on the next level,” he said. “You’ve got to keep pushing. You’ve got to have something to reach for.”
Outside of snow biking, Wilson said starting a family with his girlfriend is a goal that’s started to pop up on the radar.
“I actually just made a proposal to her,” Wilson said. “If we get top five next year, we’ll have a baby.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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Katie Lee graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming in communications last spring, but as summer started, she hadn’t yet found a job.