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Eagle mountain bike racer killed in Crested Butte crash

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Vail Valley resident Will Olson died in a mountain bike racing accident during a stage of the Enduro World Series in Mount Crested Butte.
Bonnie McDonald|Special to the Daily |

Celebration of Life

A celebration of Will Olson’s life is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, at Eagle’s Nest atop Vail Mountain. The gondola ride is free.

MOUNT CRESTED BUTTE — Crested Butte’s enduro mountain bike race was to be Will Olson’s last of the season, and for a very good reason: true love. There’s no better reason than that.

Instead, it was the last race of Olson’s life. A crash during a Saturday race stage killed him, and organizers canceled Sunday’s final day of competition. Racers instead took a ride in tribute to Olson.

Olson, 40, of Edwards, apparently died of blunt force trauma to the chest during the Crested Butte stop in the Enduro World Series. Olson was close to the finish line when he crashed, race organizers said.

Will the Thrill

He was humble and grateful to be living the life he was, friends said in an outpouring of emotion and support.

“He had so much gratitude. He was so grateful to be doing what he was doing,” said Bonnie McDonald, Olson’s fiancee.

Crested Butte was to be his last Enduro World Series race this season. He was going to miss the end of the series because he was moving to Burlington, Vermont, later this month for an outstanding reason — that’s where he and McDonald would live. They had kept their long-distance relationship strong and wanted to shorten that distance.

In fact, they met in Crested Butte on a mountain bike trip with a bunch of friends.

One of Olson’s close friends, Mike Pastore, called McDonald yesterday to see how she was doing and ask if she knew what Olson had for her. She thought maybe it was an engagement ring because that’s what they’d been considering. It was a brand new mountain bike they built her … and you can’t love a woman more than that.

“The outpouring of love for him has been incredible,” McDonald said.

He lacerated his liver twice, once while snowboarding and once while mountain biking uphill.

“That’s how hard he rode,” McDonald said.

As close as they were, McDonald said she was only part of his life. Olson is originally from Scappoose, Oregon. He is survived two brothers, John and Fred Olson. His mother, Carolyn Olson, still lives in Oregon. His dad, Gary, lives in Edwards.

“He had the best brothers a guy could ask for (which he stated all the time); a mom as loving, proud and supportive as could be; and a dad he loved to spend time with and considered a close friend,” McDonald said.

Olson moved here 19 years ago with Jack Ridenour and a host of others from Oregon. John Bailey hired Olson to work at Trails End, a bar in Lionshead.

“We called him Will the Thrill. If he wasn’t going off cliffs in East Vail, he was going hard on his bike,” Bailey said.

How hard? Strava is a phone app that measures your time on various bike rides. Olson had the best time on lots and lots of stuff.

Eventually, he became director of purchasing for the Vail Cascade. When the Cascade folks learned he was leaving, they started lobbying with a sister hotel in the Burlington area to keep Olson in the company.

When someone asked him how he was doing at work he’d always say, “Awesome!”

Enduro ambassador

Enduro racing is fairly new and has been gaining popularity the last few years, thanks partially to rapid improvements in bicycle technology. Olson was one of its most beloved ambassadors. Olson just started enduro racing last year, but before that he was a “stealth badass,” said Bo Pihl, one of Olson’s friends.

He won the Enduro World Series season opener in Snowmass earlier this summer and was one of the favorites to win in Crested Butte, where he had won before.

“He was feeling good and looking forward to riding in Crested Butte. It was his favorite mountain,” McDonald said.

He rode fast, and could because he was so skilled, friends said.

“He was so fast but so unassuming and quiet about it that nobody really knew, and he was fine with that. He was just as happy pedaling along on a group ride shooting the breeze as he was mobbing a trail like Doctors Park unbelievably fast, as long as he got to do some of both,” Pihl said.

“I hope there is singletrack in heaven and these two can ride again,” Kevin Anderson said on Olson’s Facebook page under a photo of Olson and his dog.

“It’s so hard when a community loses one of its own. Will Olson, you were a beautiful rider and a wonderful soul. You will be missed dearly and ridden for often,” Jeannine Anders said, also on Olson’s Facebook page.

“Will loved to ride his bike more than anyone I’ve ever known, and that is really saying something,” Pihl said.

Beyond his incredible skill and athleticism, though, he was a genuinely good person. He was utterly devoted to his friends and family and, of course, to Bonnie, Pihl said.

“He was a good guy in a world that needs more of them,” Pihl said. “He was always up for a ride, to go skiing or on a hut trip in the winter, or a cook out, or even to help out with a project. He was a guy who would actually come help if you had to move or something. We all miss him terribly.”

What happened

The Mt. Crested Butte Police Department said two other racers found Olson lying face down and immediately performed CPR for approximately 30 minutes. Race officials arrived and performed CPR for at least another 30 minutes.

A paramedic arrived by helicopter and pronounced Olson dead.

Olson crashed close to the finish line, but that finish line was on a four-wheel drive road a long way from town and anywhere else, Bailey said.

“The site looks like something he’d ridden through thousands of times,” Bailey said.

Racer Adam Craig told Velo News that in the wake of the tragedy, canceling Sunday’s stages was the right decision.

“Racing is no longer relevant,” Craig said. “Canceling was the only thing they possibly could have done.”

The Enduro World Series now moves to Whistler, British Columbia.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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