Wheely Big Air
Rich Barry

Wheely Big Air

What could be sillier than adults riding Big Wheels down Vail's main street?

Maybe a bunch of otherwise-sane grownups sailing off a three-foot-high jump at the end of that street. During Vail's annual Big Wheel 'N' Chili Festival, June 22 and 23, you can see both. With a fifty-yard racetrack down Bridge Street, the Colorado Mountain Express Big Wheel Classic is not for the fainthearted. "We've actually clocked people going 21 miles per hour," says Joe Blair, vice president for operations at Untraditional Marketing, the Vail firm that is running this year's festival.

Thirty-two teams of four will compete in the event, each with a pusher to give the racer speed, someone crazy enough to put his or her legs over the handlebars and steer, and two catchers who wait at the bottom of the incline to try to make sure that the rider finishes the race without suffering serious bodily harm. Just to be safe, of course, a hay barrier stands at the finish line."There is a lot of carnage at the finish line. Some people definitely walk away with scrapes and bruises," Blair says.


Big Wheel 'N' Chili Festival

Vail Village

June 22-23
Free for festival, $5 for all-you-can-eat chili
1-970-477-0111, www.vailvalley.com

As one safeguard, participants are required to wear helmets.

Lest this event seem haphazard, insiders swear there is a strategy:

"The key is having a light rider, with a big guy doing the pushing," says David Crane of Vail Sports, a member of 2000's winning team who hopes to reclaim the trophy this year. "And the rider can't be afraid of getting hurt."

If you work up an appetite while watching others injure themselves, $5 will buy you all the chili you can eat as twenty local restaurants, such as Sweet Basil and Los Amigos, vie for bragging rights at the annual Chili Cookoff.

A less dangerous activity for the little ones is the Hot Wheels Big Air Classic, during which kids can let their favorite matchbox cars loose on a seventy-foot track with a jump at the end. The car that travels the farthest wins.

It's all for a good cause: Proceeds from the festival go to First Descents, a local kayak camp for kids with cancer.

This year, organizers have added a second day to keep the anticipated 6,000 spectators entertained. Sunday will feature the Big Wheel Big Air contest, also on Bridge Street, where contestants will do tricks as they go off a large jump. "It's basically a man and his machine," Blair says. "It's going to be goofy."

With a maximum recommended weight of eighty pounds per rider, the Big Wheels take a pretty hard beating in the name of fun. "A lot of the riders are kind of large," Crane says. Blair agrees, adding that he hopes the weekend's only serious casualties are a few busted-up plastic tricycles. "We definitely expect to have some broken Big Wheels by the end of the weekend."


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