Pro mountain biker Scott Countryman could call anywhere home, but he’s put down roots in Flagstaff, Arizona for one main reason: the area’s incredible network of mountain bike trails and broad community of fellow riders. With miles and miles of premium singletrack right out his front door, and lots of people to ride with, Flagstaff is the ideal training spot for this enduro circuit up-and-comer. “Our trails have lots of big climbs and big descents, with a lot of high speed,” Countryman says. “To ride fast over raw, rocky terrain for long periods is pretty awesome training for enduro.”
Flagstaff native Alex Pavon, one of Countryman’s training partners, agrees. “There’s incredible trails, and it’s way quieter than more popular places like Moab and Crested Butte,” she says. “There’s a lot of cross-training you can do here, and so many athletes, coaches, and trainers that make up a great community.”
If you’re not familiar with enduro, it’s a cool—and spectator-friendly—way to race mountain bikes. Riders are timed on technical downhill rides that are separated by flat or uphill connector stages. Pro-level enduro routes can be 40 miles long, with 6,000 or 8,000 feet of uphill climbing, coupled with screaming downhill runs that whiz past cheering fans.
This year Countryman was just nine points out of first place on the grueling, six-stop IMBA National Enduro Series. That too-close-for-comfort finish is something the 25-year-old has thought a lot about during the past couple months of his off-season. But instead of wallowing, he’s now determined to come back even stronger next year.
Countryman—who’s sponsored by MRP, Ride Fast, Shimano, and Flagstaff Bike Revolution, the local bike shop where he works full-time—also trains like a madman on Flagstaff’s trail network, constantly going bigger, faster, and farther. If all goes well, he’s considering joining the Enduro World Series, an elite international circuit with events held in South America, the U.S., Canada, and across Europe, the sport’s epicenter.
Pavon, who has competed in the annual Enduro World Series event in Whistler, B.C., is already familiar with the international racing scene. From her perspective, Flagstaff has the ideal infrastructure for training elite athletes, including the HYPO2, a private incarnation of the legendary High Altitude Training Center at Northern Arizona University. “Flagstaff is pretty great to train for any kind of athletic endeavor,” she says. “We’re at 7,000 feet, and we’ve had tons of Olympic athletes come here to train.”
Of course, you don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy Flagstaff’s hundreds of miles of trails. The town and the surrounding area have something for everyone, from family-friendly rides that leave right from town to epic all-day rides in and out of aspen groves in the San Francisco Peaks north of town.
Countryman, for his part, rides it all. In his spare time, when he isn’t training or wrenching bikes, he’s helping raise the next crop of rippers as a volunteer with the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League. “There’s always someone coming up the pipeline, and it’s awesome to see and be part of that community,” he says. “Coaching is something I’m passionate about.”
Before he turns to coaching, however, he’s still got a few more hills to climb, and then rip down.