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‘It’s a really cool scene’

SANTA FE, N.M. — When it comes to sports, Juniper Cortopassi performs a bit off the beaten trail. And that’s just the way she likes it.

A sophomore at Taos High School, Cortopassi also is one of the riders on the Taos Area Composite High School mountain bike team.

A competitive skier, she joined the biking team as a freshman at the urging of team coach/manager Susie Fiore, executive director of the Field Institute of Taos, which provides active, hands-on, nature-based outdoor education and promotes healthy, active lifestyles.

“Last year, I joined the team as a freshman because Susie, my coach, kept asking me to join because there was only one other girl on the team and she thought there ought to be more girls …,” said Cortopassi. “Joining made me fall in love with the sport and it’s been really, really great.”

The team, which comprises students from Taos, Moreno Valley, Taos Academy and even Pojoaque Valley, is winding up its third season, Fiore said. Because there is no high school league in New Mexico, the team competes in Colorado, with the final regular-season race coming up Sunday, followed by the state championship Oct. 22.

“We had an after-school mountain biking club that grew and expanded, and then I heard that a national organization had state leagues,” said Fiore, who used to race mountain bikes in her younger days. “It’s been awesome. The kids have really progressed in the last three years.”

The courses are challenging for the riders, but not so much that it precludes even newcomers to the sport from participating, she said. For instance, in the last race at Granby Ranch, Colo., riders faced about a 900-foot elevation gain across the six-mile loop.

“It’s a really cool scene,” Fiore said. “It’s inclusive, so any ability of rider can actually race. We’re encouraging kids to go one step beyond. You have to have something a little deeper driving you. This year, the team has taken a big step in quality training, and showing up to practice and doing their best.”

The team has 14 members, with usually nine or 10 making the races because the newer riders are still a little reluctant to compete.

With all of the races in Colorado, the team travels together in vans from the FiTaos program, then finds a spot to camp to save money.

As it is, it costs about $1,000 for the team to travel to each race, Fiore said, so they rely on various businesses within the greater Taos areas to sponsor the trips.

“It’s a constant juggle of funding it and keeping it accessible,” she said, adding the business community has stepped up immensely to help keep the team going. “It’s huge that we’re able to have all those supporters.”

As for Cortopassi, she’s happy for the opportunity to get out into nature and compete.

“Joining the team has helped me take it to the next level,” she said. “I really just like spending my time in the outdoors and to be able to use my bike to access places that are farther out there. It just really makes me happy.”

It’s also nice that there are five girls on the team.

“It’s pretty hard to girls to join because a lot of people do soccer,” Cortopassi said. “But these are all my good friends. It’s really fun to have them.”

Although she finished 10th in the sophomore race in the past outing, Cortopassi said she just takes each result as it comes.

“I definitely don’t have any expectations going into a race because, with mountain biking, there are many variables and so many things beyond your control,” she said. “All I can do is ride my bike.”

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‘It’s a really cool scene’

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14-member Taos Area Composite High School mountain bike team races in Colorado