ZOOMING ALONG — Skateboarders race down a steep hill in this Gravity Fest file photo. Gravity Fest is returning to East Hill Road in Munnsville Saturday and Sunday, 16 years after its founding and three years after its most recent run. (Photo submitted)

Downhill board racing event returning to Munnsville

Published Sep 14, 2018 at 4:00pm

The hills of Madison County are luring back downhill skateboarders and street luge riders who hurl themselves down a closed road at up to 50 miles per hour, all for fun and prizes.

Gravity Fest is returning to East Hill Road in Munnsville Saturday and Sunday, 16 years after its founding and three years after its most recent run, new organizer Emgee Events and Madison County Tourism announced.

It’s a stop on a circuit in the International Downhill Federation World Qualifier Series, a 17-event tour of closed-road downhill wheeled-board racing. Qualifying in Munnsville is planned on the closed section of hilly road Saturday, with timed racing Sunday.

Emgee Events owner Mike Girard said he expects about 60 riders and 10 qualifiers to take part, joined by 10 more free riders who pay to register and skate non-competitively.

They’ll be joined by 15 to 20 additional staff, such as marshals on hay-bale-lined corners, shuttle drivers, and federation officials.

A 2012 Colgate University alumnus, Girard said he’s raced the event three years and enjoyed the track, described as “intermediate-plus.”

It also helps that the site also has a rider campground set up, a restaurant, bar and pavilion at the track, and a welcoming local community, he added.

“I’m very familiar and enamored with the region,” Girard said. “The pristine pavement, beautiful views and accessible spectator zone in an exciting corner are additional benefits.” 

Girard describes the course as fast enough to be exciting but safe enough to be fun. He noted riders are required to wear full-body leather protective suits, full-face helmets, and slide gloves. Spine protectors and knee, elbow and wrist padding are recommended, and 750 hay bales, EMTs and an ambulance on-site are among safety considerations, he added.

Madison County Tourism Executive Director Scott Flaherty said downhill board racing has a passionate following in person and on social media.

The event can help grow the county’s tourism industry, which in 2017 generated $12 million in state and local taxes and sustained 2,200 jobs, according to figures Flaherty cited from the industry research firm Tourism Economics.

“It’s a thrill to have this fast-paced event, along with athletes from as far away as Brazil and Spain, back in Madison County,” Flaherty said. “It’s not every day that we get to see, essentially, skateboarders riding 50mph through town.”

Gravity Fest is among 10 events known as World Cup qualifiers on the International Downhill Federation World Cup tour, according to Girardi.

Some riders get sponsor dollars and occasional prize money, but it’s more a passion than income source, he said.

Gravity Fest has about $1,000 in its total prize purse, supplemented by gear prizes, in addition to a free lunch each day and a T-shirt, all for less than the cost of a lift ticket at a major Northeast ski resort, he added.

Gravity Fest and similar events offer non-competitive categories so that registered riders can enjoy access to a controlled site, complete with hay bale protection, Girard said.

He also hopes to someday run a camp-style downhill event so beginners can try a reduced, protected version of a racetrack.

“This could be a possibility at Gravity Fest 2019 if there’s interest.”

Gravity Fest 11 schedule:

Racetrack and campground set-up start Thursday, with a fish fry 6-9 p.m. Friday at the Munnsville American Legion. East Hill Road closes at 9 a.m. and reopens at 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

The official promotional video is at https://bit.ly/GF18promo, and volunteers, who can get lunch and gear prizes, can sign up at https://bit.ly/GF18volunteer.