The Great Snowmass Timing Snafu of 2007

From a timing and results standpoint, last weekend’s Snowmass MSC was terrible: timing chips unavailable at registration, names missing from start sheets, major delays, screwed up times, no times for several days, and on and on. Events ran late. People waited for hours. Late Sunday evening, downhillers went home without their results. Bad news. Extremely irritating.

To get the official scoop I called Mike McCormack, the man in charge at Bigfoot Production, which promotes the Mountain States Cup. Mike sounded wrung out, and he was heading out for a therapeutic XC ride, so I kept the interview short:

Hi Mike, what went wrong with the timing system?

It was a bizarre combination of timing inadequacy, inadequate preparation and random but concentrated equipment failure [Mike actually talks like this.]. Things just seemed to go wrong. There was a gremlin in the system. A lot of equipment chose this moment to completely fry. Computers, printers, etc. We made the fixes fast, but a 20-minute fix is a 20-minute wait. Things worked against each other. That adds up to a stressed operations crew and timing crew, and it’s hard to succeed under that condition.

What is Bigfoot going to do about it?

At a MSC, you pay for a time and a good time. The first is a given. That’s the expectation of the customer, and of us.

I’m very proud of the Bigfoot crew. They were very prepared and put a whole lot into the ground to make this happen; they’ve stepped up to a new level of operational excellence — a fact that is totally lost on the customer because of what happened this weekend.

We can’t continue as is, but right now we need the racers to help. Contact the timing company and tell them in a nice way that their results are 30 seconds off, or they’re missing from the results, or whatever. If we work together, we’ll get so close to the truth it’ll be indistinguishable.

CJ Timing seemed to be doing a fine job last year. Why did you switch to Red Rock Company?

CJ’s price went up so significantly, we decided to explore other options.

We believe Red Rock has the capability to do a great job. They’re feeling the pain; they know they they came up short. Hopefully this will help them figure out what they need to do, and they could be our timing company for years.

For what we’re doing there’s a 10-year learning curve. It’s hard — it’s so freaking stressful, nobody stays in it for 10 years.

It’s all new. Until we get everything dialed, we need everyone’s support and flexibility.

Hmm. I understand that, but this is a business. Your customers pay fees, and they expect professionalism. Should we pay our money and just accept this is a hobby, accept that we’ll miss dinner reservations and come home late to our families. still without results?

No. Not with the MSC crew.

We’ve been around the block. We know the expectation. Anything less than perfect sends us home asking why it wasn’t perfect and what we can do better. We start every event planning the best possible way to put it on, and how to make that happen.

So, basically, you need this timing company to step up, or you’ll find one who will?


What about the next race, at Telluride?

We’re going to have a frank discussion with Red Rock about capabilities, hardware, etc. We see the potential in them. They get it, and it hurts them too. To bring them back to Telluride we need to know they’re up to the task.

Dude — if needed I’ll be out there with a stopwatch. We’ll go completely analog, but we’ll get it right.

14 replies
  1. CB Mike says:

    If CJ Timing prices went up so much how come CB could afford them? Obviously some promoters understand what is important.

  2. anthony says:

    I’ve been frustrated by poorly run races in the past, so allow me to vent:
    I can never understand timing mishaps at races. The principle of timing is incredibly simple. Take care of this and make sure your methods are bomb-proof before taking on anything else. I am baffled when I see no timing system redundancy, no backup plan if the $10K timing system fails. This is part of being professional, having a contingency plan in case of disaster, all the racers are relying on this. Electronic timing is great, but have it in place, running, and verified DAYS before the race, not on race day. Taking the time to do this is what makes a professional race promoter/or timer a “professional” and as such warrants charging $60 to race. Making the investment to purchase or rent this service costs a hell of alot, which gets passed onto the racers, so it’s even more disappointing when the timing fails in this case. Take the time to have a manual timing backup plan and proper protocol for reverting to it WHEN (not IF) electronic timing fails, practice the plan. If you outsource the timing make sure the timing company has a backup plan in case of failure and that the backup plan can be followed seamlessly. This is what I would expect if I were outsourcing the timing, that is their only objective to focus on, all they need to do is deliver a time so they better be able to pull it off no matter what even with system failure, if there is no backup plan, then move on find another timing company. There’s always truth in the saying “you get what you pay for”

    Don’t ever leave anything open to “we’ll figure it out when it happens” that’s just unprofessional in my opinion. Race entry better be 15 bucks for a race run like that.

    I’ve done plenty of races run on manual timing where they always have accurate, timely results (try Southridge series races in SoCal, they never mess up timing). Again, electronic is great, but be prepared when the batteries die or the generator runs out of gas.

    I’ve also done plenty of races where times were just wrong, not delivered, etc. When that happens, I chalk it up as a loss (my entry fee) and I simply don’t return the next time they have a race. I’ll take a hit on the “course quality” or location if it means I’ll get reliable, accurate results in a timely manner.

  3. mtnxgirl says:

    While Red Rocks timing had major problems that we’ve all covered already…even if none of this had happened, I think most of us would have felt a little sub par about their timing efforts. They don’t (currently) have the capability of having our times when we cross the finish line. (notice there wasn’t a board with your time on it when you crossed the finish line?) While this isn’t the end of the world, it does take a lot away from both the racers and the spectators at the end of the race. A “hot seat” isn’t an option with their timing capabilities. They have to compile the start times (on a jump drive coming down the chairlift after the last racer) with the finish times at the bottom before they can generate a time for each racer.

    We want to encourage spectators and racers that this is a fun and exciting sport to watch and participate in. Guessing who did well by whether or not they are completely covered in powdery fine dust or not doesn’t make for an exciting event to watch or race!

  4. MKP says:

    Let’s see…..timing companies that have been around for more than 10 years….

    I did a little research, via Google

    Team Big Bear

    Timberline Timing

    Medalist Sports

    Granny Gear

    Phoenix Sports Technologies

    Kat from CJ Timing timed the Summit Mtn challenge before she started with the MSC, so that’s gotta be about 10.

    Westie from Mav Sports has been in the biz for about that long too.

    It seems that with experience, comes price which the MSC is NO LONGER WILLING TO SHELL OUT – for whatever reason that might be.

    Come on Mike, if I didn’t care about my time, then I would do a group ride. And while I apprecieate the new and improved level of swag, it is no longer taking the sting out of results issues.

  5. MKP says:

    Let’s see…..timing companies that have been around for more than 10 years….

    I did a little research, via Google

    Team Big Bear

    Timberline Timing

    Medalist Sports

    Granny Gear

    Phoenix Sports Technologies

    Kat from CJ Timing timed the Summit Mtn challenge before she started with the MSC, so that’s gotta be about 10.

    Westie from Mav Sports has been in the biz for about that long too.

    It seems that with experience, comes price which the MSC is NO LONGER WILLING TO SHELL OUT – for whatever reason that might be.

    Come on Mike, if I didn’t care about my time, then I would do a group ride. And while I apprecieate the new and improved level of swag as well as the great venues and support that you and your staff provide, it is no longer taking the sting out of results issues.

  6. leelikesbikes says:

    Well said. Name your endeavor — running, triathlon, hare scrambles, other mtb races — they all have a time board at the finish.

  7. Raf says:

    This is my first season racing the MSC and the mountains have been great. But the organization sucks. Straight up, no excuses. I raced 2 seasons on the east coast and there has never been so many problems as there are out here. Everytime I go to a race expecting the organization will get better than the last time. So when is that time gonna come? Was this how racing was in 2006?

  8. MKP says:

    Oh! And here are some more timing companies to check out with more than 10 years of experience:

    Finish Line Sports

    White River Timing

    The big thing that all of these companies seem to have while RR does NOT is any sort of bicycle timing experience. Speed, precision, and attention to detail are not high priorities for a breast cancer run.

    Jumpin’ jiminy! Was that even a consideration??? How much longer do we have to be freakin’ guinea pigs for this crap????

    I saw the apology on the MSC website, and to me, it’s just another mound of PR poop that we have to swallow in order for Big Foot to figure things out. I am outta here.

    I really feel for Pamela and Eric. They put their hearts and souls and work into creating this series that even pushed the Nationals to a higher level and now it’s going straight down the crapper. I remember the first few years when there were challenges, and maybe time heals all wounds, but I don’t remember anything being this major of an issue.

    WInter Park has my attention and soon they will have my dollars.

  9. Disgruntled says:

    This may sound like ranting just for the sake of ranting, which it sort of is, but I’m going to do it anyway. The more responses the MSC hears I feel the more they will be concerned and fix this problem.
    First off, this is not just a problem of Snowmass’s event. EVERY Mountain States Cup this year has been bad in my opinion.
    Starting with Nathrop, that was a joke. Same crap courses, with a few modifications, but basically the same thing (Darner, make a 4X that isn’t a BMX track. I ride a mountain bike. Courses aside, the timing was ok for 4X, but for the slalom racing it was a joke. I paid to race and qualify on two courses, but because of the timing issues, I paid the same price to get an inferior product, which was just qualifying on one course. Take this example, if I went to a go kart track to drive in two courses, paid money to drive on two courses, then they only let me go on one, what would make any regular person do? I think they might ask for a portion of their money back. What the Mountain States Cup did is the equivalent of telling me that I do not need the other course, one is just fine. That’s not the point of DUAL slalom. That was terrible, and people seemed to just ignore it.
    Second MSC, Angel Fire. Weather was a bit of an issue, which just happens sometimes, so I’ll excuse delays and issues due to that. During qualifying and racing on Monday, stuff was all up in the air. I can’t even say what was exactly wrong, because I just gave up on trying to get start times and figure out what was causing the problems. When I’m racing in a professional event, and want to do the unthinkable and warm up, start times are important. Employees were yelling into the pits that people needed to get up to the start, but that was fairly useless because when riders actually listened they were waiting up at the top for over 45 minutes in some cases. The pro and semi pro race was basically f’d as far as being on time and orderly.
    Crested Butte… Already know those issues, I wish people would listen to Mike Mac more at that place, it could have been good aside from the same poor gravity course on a potentially great mountain.
    Snowmass… Barf. Also, change that terrible 4X. The course is straight up dangerous, jumps are tiny for pro’s, too hard but too tempting for beginners, and it’s been that way for a while. I know I’m right on this, just look at all the holds, injuries and knock outs that course delivered. A simple solution, jump landings could be extended and made more gradual, or something like a jump to table-top instead of the other way around.

    Overall not the best start for the MSC, but I’m really exited for Telluride, I really am. Course is great, town is great and friendly people. I hope timing works. I want the MSC to succeed, I believe in the people behind it and am supportive, but this stuff I mentioned should be changed in my opinion. I’ll gladly volunteer my time on some courses.

    End of the rant.

  10. CB Mike says:

    Display board… for sure a must have for DH. I remember last year they offered to give a wireless timing feed to anyone with a laptop. I checked the MSC site to find the post but it looks like big brother burned it down to save face. While I was there I tried to find the SD and MX results from snowmass… Still nothing there a week later.

    Mike Mac for President!!

  11. tedster says:

    CB mike is right, msc needs to have the times at the finish on an electrical board. NO excuses. that will make it more possible to change things if they are wrong, for example, if the start list is changed but the timing system isn’t synced then the rider can simply protest and switch their time with whoever has the correct time for that rider. simple. we need a time board. it works for ski racing and other sports, why not our sport.

  12. Mike says:

    Yeah the problem is there are a few people that pour everything they have into MSC. However, it needs a whole teamwork of people. I personally dont care about the other events at MSC, Im a XC rider and if having all these other events hurts and has a negative impact on my XC racing, well guess what, Im done. And thats the beauty with Winter Park, one discipline, extremelly well run and a well rewarding experience.

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