Ambassador Highlight - Sarah Rawley

Sarah Rawley - The Mechanics and Evolution of the Gathering

Yeti Cycles Ambassador, Sarah Rawley, has a long history with Yeti and is a critical piece of the Gathering's history. In addition to being an Ambassador for the sport of Mountain Biking and Yeti Cycles, she also works as a Brand Content Specialist for RockShox.

Written by: Sarah Rawley

When I started working at Yeti Cycles in 2008, there was no playbook for organizing the Gathering. The event had already visited four locations—Snowmass for the first few years, Salida, Steamboat, and Crested Butte—but I had never attended one. I had heard fabled stories of groups getting caught in lighting on Monarch Crest, beer can chicken from Dale’s Pale Ale, Big Joe’s Muffler, and the bike toss contest.

I was told, “Make the ride epic, the food and beer plentiful, plan for a big party on Saturday, and find a spot where everyone could camp out together within riding distance of trails. Oh, and you have four months to figure it all out. Good luck, kid!”

It was a good thing that my 21-year-old optimism felt like I could take on the world. It also depended on a little luck. If it hadn’t been for Big Joe knowing someone whose house was tucked into the rocks behind Rustler’s Loop, I would have never made the handshake deal to rent out a piece of their property for the 7th Annual Yeti Gathering in Fruita, CO.

I took the assignment of “make the ride epic” to heart and lined up shuttles and permits for 150 people to ride down “The Ribbon” in Grand Junction and have full access to the Kokopelli Loops. I crafted a PDF packet with all of the weekend's details—schedule, menu, riding routes, and links to local businesses and the trail advocacy organization—and packed each attendee’s schwag bag under the canopy tent on Thursday night.

As the Gathering outpaced my ability to hand-label schwag bags, my perspective grew on how to keep evolving the event. Not purely in numbers, but the experience delivered to Yeti riders who travel the distance for world-class riding alongside like-minded individuals who share the same priorities and happen to ride the same bikes.

I quickly learned that the challenge resided within finding angles to make the event feel fresh, exciting, and different while maintaining the elements that make it feel like a family reunion each year. I began to build a repertoire of what that looked like: (Editors note: many of these ideas Sarah brought to the Gathering are now annual traditions)

  • New locations
  • Demo bikes
  • Early arrival
  • Mini bike racing
  • Riding segments of the Colorado Trail
  • Bike park lift access
  • Custom name stickers and wearable wristbands
  • 100% off the grid
  • Big Delicious
  • MO epic riding (raise your hand if you rode Molas Pass to Purgatory in 2014 or 409 to Teo in 2017)
  • Trails that no one has ever heard of (Montrose, anyone?)
  • Vaudeville performance in the dinner line
  • Zero Waste event
  • Whiskey Wagon and Hoogarita Station
  • Colorado Search & Rescue Fund
  • Mini expo with Industry and Race Team Partners, Trail Advocacy, and Youth Development Programs
  • Aid Stations with Tequila Shots
  • On-ride EMS support
  • Yeti Merch and Sample Sale
  • Larger than-life Yetiman greeting everyone at the top of the gondola

None of this would have been possible without the relationships forged over the years with USFS and BLM Land Managers, Resorts, local businesses, trail advocacy organizations, and key community members who believe in mountain biking as the driving force in their economic, environmental, and community development. The Gathering needs to be an amazing experience for the attendees, but it also needs to benefit the communities that it visits. This has been the silent growth factor behind each and every Gathering that has made it possible to go into its 23rd anniversary this year.

While every Gathering became an opportunity to evolve what it offered, it was also a learning experience in how to handle any situation that the playbook did not contain. Like the time 400 sheep arrived on the event site exactly 48 hours before setting up on the Uncompaghre Plateau. Or the time I unintentionally spent the night in the woods in a lightning storm above treeline (also 48 hours before the event) and had La Plata County Search & Rescue looking for me.

Wisdom extracted from every experience only made the mechanics behind the Gathering more turnkey, the schedule of events dance to a predictable beat, and added a page to my playbook. No matter how intricate the event became behind the scenes, I never wanted to lose the magic that lies within the present moment of attending it. So no matter how busy or exhausted I was from running the event, I never skipped the big ride (well… except in 2019 when a re-dislocated elbow sidelined me the week prior), Saturday’s festivities, mini bike races, or getting the dance party started.

This is also part of the magic behind attending a Gathering. You ride and hang with the very freaks who designed your bike, built your frame, tested the fabric of the jersey you’re wearing, and sent the newsletter that urged you to sign up. This event would not run without each and every Yeti employee pitching in all weekend long to make the experience personable, exceptional, and the Hoogaritas extra strong.

So there you have it. That’s my playbook on the Yeti Gathering. There will always be new trails to ride, and the excitement of exploring new destinations that keep you coming back for more. But at the root of it all is the people, the relationships, the rides you’ve shared, and the anticipation of the rides to come. As long as you come back for those, you, too, will never lose the magic that is the Gathering.

Sarah’s Pro Tips for the Gathering

  1. Don’t go too big on Friday, whether that’s riding all day or partying too late. Saturday is a big day. Eat (not just drink) your carbs.
  2. One Hoogarita is a lot of fun! You probably should second-guess the second one. Three means trouble.
  3. Find a mini-bike before you come to the Gathering and ride it. That is if you want to podium in the mini-bike race.
  4. Bring Extra, Be Extra! Snacks, water, tubes, batteries, tools. Saving someone’s day out on the trail will be a story for the night. Not everyone gets to be a hero, but you can!
  5. Strike up a conversation with a Yeti employee you haven’t met before (they all wear a different color t-shirt for a reason). Chances are you’ll learn something new and your inner bike nerd will rejoice.
  6. If your schedule can swing it, come early and stay late! Soak up every minute you have to ditch adult responsibilities and ride your bike with rad people.
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2024 Yeti Gathering - Salida, CO Event Info