Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, practices Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, practices Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Snohomish grad, 19, among world’s elite mountain bikers

Alden Pate competes in enduro, which consists of high-speed cycling down steep man-made trails on rugged mountainous terrain.

The first time Alden Pate entered a mountain biking competition it did not go well.

It was 2018, Pate was 13, and he was trying it out despite having no real instruction in the sport.

“I was super nervous the entire weekend,” Pate recalled. “I went for the final race run, and I think 30 seconds into the race I flatted my back tire. I had to walk down the entire trail.”

But it didn’t matter. Pate was hooked, and five years later he finds himself traversing the globe for his sport.

The 2023 Snohomish High School graduate has developed into one of the top men’s under-21 enduro mountain bikers in the world, and after a breakout 2023 season he has his sights aimed at a professional career.

Pate, 19, competes in enduro, a discipline that consists of time trials as riders pedal down steep man-made trails through rugged mountainous terrain, reaching speeds as fast as 45 mph. A race typically consists of six stages, each lasting somewhere between two and 12 minutes, with the riders departing the starting gates of each stage at 30-second intervals. Race days last up to eight hours, with riders covering about 35 miles — part riding, part carrying their bikes from the end of one stage to the start of the next — with around 5,500 feet of elevation drop. Riders’ times from the stages are added up, and the racer who finishes with the fastest overall time is the winner.

This year Pate found himself at the top of the standings on a regular basis. In the North America-based Big Mountain Enduro series, Pate won each of the final three events in the U21 Men division: at Purgatory in Colorado on July 9, at Brian Head in Utah on July 23, and at Big Sky in Montana on Aug. 6. Pate finished second in the overall points standings, and that’s only because he didn’t compete in the first two races because of scheduling conflicts.

Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, practices Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, practices Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Meanwhile, Pate also made headway on the international stage. He competed in the UCI Enduro World Cup’s Men U21 division, racing at events in Tasmania, Italy, Austria and France. In September he traveled to two races in France, finishing ninth out of of 52 finishers in Loudenvielle, then 20th out of 62 finishers in Chatel after experiencing mechanical issues with his bike. Pate ended up placing 12th in the overall points standings, which was second among Americans.

“I’m really happy with my season, honestly” Pate said. “I set some pretty high goals for myself, given how much work I put in during the offseason, and while I wouldn’t say I exceeded my goals I felt good about how I raced at most of the races. There were a few in Europe where mechanical things didn’t go my way — there are a lot of uncontrollable things in racing. But overall I’m really happy.”

Pate’s story isn’t one of an individual destined for mountain biking success, of the kid who grew up riding the slopes from the time his feet could reach the pedals. Pate’s family has no background in mountain biking, and although Pate began riding bikes at the age of 3, his primary sport was soccer as he spent nine years playing at the select level.

But what Pate’s family does do is ski, and one summer his family was at Stevens Pass when Pate saw mountain bikers riding down the ski area’s bare slopes. His interest was piqued. Pate rented a mountain bike the following weekend, and he’s been riding ever since. In 2020 he quit soccer to focus on riding.

“As soon as I did that first bike rental I just loved it,” Pate said. “Every time I’m out on my bike riding trails, there’s no place I’d rather be.

“I love every aspect of it, honestly,” Pate added. “It’s very different from any conventional sport. There’s a lot more creativity. It’s not just going out and riding bikes. You can go out and film, you can go out and build trails, you can coach. It’s super diverse as a sport.”

Though Pate has been competing seriously for nearly four years, including some World Cup races in 2022, the last 12 months are when he elevated himself to his current position. Prior to last season Pate has never had a coach, but last winter he started working with Joel Harwood of Blueprint Athlete Development, a program in Squamish, B.C., that trains mountain bikers. Pate got stronger in the gym and improved his technical skills on the bike.

Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, trains Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Alden Pate, 19, an international class mountain biker, trains Oct. 15 in Bellingham. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Then the light-bulb moment came during a World Cup race on June 2 in Pietra Ligure on Italy’s northwest coast.

“Going into race day I’d taken a fall in practice and fractured my pinkie,” Pate said. “A lot of your grip strength is in your pinkie, and going into a race with a hand that can’t really hold onto the bars is not ideal. I was debating not racing, but at the end I decided, ‘I’m all the way out here, I’ll just try my best.’ After the first stage I was eighth, so I knew that even though I had a small injury I could still do it. I ended up finishing 10th, which at the time was my best result at the World Cup level.”

With the season now concluded, Pate is back in Squamish full-time for more offseason training. He’ll stay there until the snow arrives in December, at which point he’ll switch to California or Tennessee in January and February for further training.

And the goal is to keep climbing up the rankings and eventually join the professional ranks.

“It’s becoming more and more of a career path, that’s my end goal,” Pate said. “There are a lot of things happening in the bike industry as a whole right now, it’s quite unpredictable. There are people who race pro and are top 10 in the world who are struggling to find support. But for now I’m just racing and having fun with it.”

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