EVANSTON — Mason Jacketta is a bit of a Lone Ranger in a sport which saw a steady growth in popularity a decade or so ago. The Evanston Cycling Club sponsored both a tour bike race, the High Uintas Classic, and the Wolverine Ridge Mountain Bike Race, both of which experienced increased participation of local athletes. But for the 17-year-old Evanston High School junior, most of the competition venues are in nearby Utah.
Jacketta competes in two disciplines of mountain bike racing, cross-country and enduro.
Jacketta has had a bike for as long as he can remember but began competing competitively about three years ago. It was Jacketta’s father, Mike, who introduced his son to riding.
“He liked to ride,” the younger Jacketta told the Herald. “And once I rode more and more, I just discovered I loved it.”
Jacketta primarily competes in the Wasatch Front areas of Salt Lake and Ogden and especially in Park City. He is a member of the Park City High School mountain bike racing team and competes in a NICA league. NICA is an acronym for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
The primary season is May through November with the enduro and cross-country seasons overlapping at times, though the pursuit can be year-round, with races staged in locales such as St. George and Moab.
With the season which recently ended, Jacketta stated there were close to 2,000 competitors for the state race in Utah.
Jacketta explained that cross-country racing is conducted on a course of single or multiple loops, with the fastest time for completing the loop or loops of the course used for placing.
“Cross-country is mostly uphill with real easy downhill,” Jacketta said.
He then went on to distinguish enduro racing from cross-country.
“In enduro, you pedal to the top of the mountain untimed and then you start in a gate, where they have a buzzer with a countdown and you basically race down a pretty gnarly downhill, and the courses differ. They can be super rocky, super droppy or super tight and the fastest times of multiple stages — usually seven or eight — over a few days period, determine the winners,” Jacketta stated.
Cross-country has divisions split by age group and a varsity designation when Jacketta is racing for PCHS.
“In enduro-downhill, I usually race cat II or cat III, depending on how big the race is,” Jacketta shared, referring to the different categories used to separate racers by ability and posted times from past races. In Evanston’s High Uintas Classic, categories consisted of cat I and pros down through cat Vs (fives), as an example.
“My coaches in both cross-country and enduro are just super chill guys and girls that are so fun to ride with and are really so good about helping you out,” Jacketta said when asked about influences and role models, but declared his parents as his idols and greatest supporters. Jacketta is grateful to his parents for allowing him the opportunities to compete and more often than not, accompanying him to races.
Jacketta is also an avid snowboarder and a member of the Robotics team at EHS.
As far as short-term goals, Jacketta understands the competition will become stiffer in his senior season of mountain bike racing, beginning in the early spring of 2019, though he will cross-train year-round with time on bikes, along with cardio and weight training.
“Next year I’ll be racing varsity. It’s a really tough field and you have to qualify for it,” Jacketta affirmed.
“I’m aiming to shoot for the top 20 percent and just clear a few jump lines on some trails,” he added.
The enduro season will begin in April and run through early August and the cross-country season will have a mid-summer start and will end in November, according to Jacketta.
Utah has three divisions at the high school level and Jacketta competes in the North division, which includes approximately 12 teams and 700 racers, with only 50 of the total comprising the varsity field.
The sport does not come without risk and peril as Jacketta has experienced his share of road rash and a broken bone or two.
Still, he fully intends to compete well beyond his high school career.
“I just love being out there, riding with friends and competing. The starts are intense, but once the race is underway, you’re free to do whatever you want out on the course and it’s just fun,” Jacketta said.