Porcupine Rim is second only to Slickrock as the most popular bike trail in Moab, Utah. But just because it’s in the Disneyland of trail riding doesn’t mean anyone is watching over you. Once you leave the parking area, you're on your own for eight miles of jeep road and three miles of steep, techy singletrack. That’s a recipe for tired, dehydrated, and inexperienced cyclists to get into trouble, and they do. Over the years there have been over 65 rescues called for on the trail, from falls to unprepared bikers caught in freak blizzards. In 1995, two boys from Iowa plunged 150 to their death after veering off the trail, while in 2005 a 15-year-old girl on a family bike ride died of dehydration on the trail.
Keeping safe on the Porcupine means planning for the desert. Like any trip into the backcountry, check the weather, but be prepared for anything. Most of all, bring more water than you think necessary—the high desert has a way of wicking away moisture at an incredible rate. And if you’re rolling solo or in a small group, let someone know where you are. If you don’t show up at the bar that night, they’ll know to call search and rescue.
When it comes to skiing deaths, the Grim Reaper spreads the pain equitably across U.S. ski resorts and backcountry slopes. According the Ski Industries Association, roughly 40 people per year die while skiing and 40 more sustain life-threatening injuries on terrain ranging from backcountry bowls to bunny slopes. While it's hard to pick the place with the most danger, the Delirium Dive freeride zone at Sunshine Village in Banff makes our knees tremble. Just to enter the 50-degree drop zone you need to prove you have an avy transponder, a shovel, and a partner; the 1,600-foot double black chute is always primed for avalanches. Once you catch your breath and dip your tips over the initial 40-degree lip, you’re on your own.
Even though it’s in-bounds, surviving Delirium means having a backcountry mentality—no one is there marking corduroy lines for you, so scout your routes from below and don’t experiment. Large hidden bands of rock and unstable snow can turn an exhilarating run into a deadly one.
Ultramarathons are difficult by definition. But the Barkley Marathons, a 100-mile run through Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee dubbed “the race that eats its young,” seems to be designed to cause maximum pain. That’s because the masochistic loop with 59,000 feet of elevation gain tends to destroy its racers—since it began in 1986, only 11 out of 700 competitors have ever completed the race in the allotted 60 hours. The race consists of five, 20-mile loops through the steep Appalachian forest, much of it off road and off trail, requiring a map and compass to navigate. Finishing one loop in under 10 hours is considered an elite time.
But the real danger is in the terrain. The slick climbs and ledges that racers navigate in the dark mean sleep-deprived runners can take a nasty fall at any moment. In 2006, one racer became lost in the woods for over 30 hours after completing just three miles of the course. No one even noticed.
So how do you survive the Barkley? Don’t worry, you’ll probably never get the chance. The 25 to 35 spots are allotted to elite ultramarathoners and hardcore amateurs who learn the arcane registration process—which includes writing an essay and handing over your license plate—from Barkley’s crazed alumni.
In the November issue of Outside magazine, Scott Keneally reports on the bitter business warfare between America’s top obstacle racing brands: Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and the Spartan Race series. These startups have raked in enormous profits as the sport has exploded in popularity, from 41,000 participants in 2010 to 1.5 million participants this year. Warrior Dash, with 49 events, will bring in $50 million in revenue in 2012. The Spartan Series, with 28 events, will bring in $30 million. And Tough Mudder, with 35 events, will earn $70 million, making it the lead dog.
Will Dean, the 31-year-old Englishman who hatched his plan for Tough Mudder while getting his MBA at Harvard Business School, has been feted as a marketing genius. His company has a knack for developing dramatic obstacles—consider Electroshock Therapy, which sends runners through a curtain of dangling wires juiced with 10,000 volts—and Dean has shown a gift for harnessing the power of social media. But some of his adversaries have a different take on why he’s been so successful. To them, Will Dean is another Mark Zuckerberg, an unscrupulous Harvard brat who took someone else’s idea and is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
As Keneally reports, in 2007, while at Harvard, Dean began researching obstacle races that were popular in Europe, in particular Tough Guy, a 15-kilometer midwinter mud run founded by an eccentric former British Soldier and event promoter named Billy Wilson. Dean proposed doing a report for his Harvard studies focusing on “the feasibility and logistics of expanding Tough Guy internationally.” Wilson agreed to cooperate, sharing everything from company financials to the costs of setting up a course.
Fast forward to February 2010, when Dean launched the website for Tough Mudder and decorated it with photos and videos taken almost exclusively at Tough Guy. Wilson was furious when he found out about it, Keneally reports, and several months later he filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit against Tough Mudder in U.S. courts. The case was eventually settled, and an agreement between the parties forbids them from discussing it, but documents obtained by Outside detail an ugly fight that began with an internal Harvard investigation.
According to university records subpoenaed by the court, administrators contacted Dean in May 2010, shortly after the first Tough Mudder, to inform him that they were convening a Conduct Review Board to investigate complaints made by Wilson. Two months later, the review board concluded that “there was insufficient evidence that [Dean] inappropriately used confidential information ... provided by Tough Guy Limited in developing his own enterprise.” But the board also said that Dean had violated Harvard standards of “‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ and ‘accountability’ in several important respects.” The board placed Dean on probation for five years. Meanwhile, the legal case dragged on until the summer of 2011, when the parties reached a confidential settlement. According to court documents, Tough Mudder paid $725,000 to Tough Guy.
And that was just the start. In a year of reporting, Keneally unearthed a cutthroat battle behind the scenes of America’s fastest growing sport—complete with death threats, cyber-warfare, and some nasty name-calling. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the obstacle-racing phenomenon.