A lot of Summit residents “living the dream” would probably trade their version for Leland Turner’s. Turner, a 38-year-old cycling renaissance man—pro racer, international guide, and crack mechanic at Avalanche Sports—spends six months in Breckenridge and six months on Maui, interspersed with “work trips” to locales like Croatia, Vietnam, and Tahiti to lead road-bike tours based on boats. His devotion to life on two wheels grew from a New England upbringing, where he raced against future Olympic mountain bikers and Tour de France riders. He turned pro in cross-country, then later in downhill, and he’s podiumed on the national enduro circuit. He is also tied—down to the second—with local pro Taylor Shelden for the fastest time on the Peaks Trail (27:16 over seven miles from Breck to Frisco). Here, Turner talks about why Breck is a fat-tire mecca, the satisfaction of solving a squeaky mystery, and how to achieve work-life balance when it all involves riding bikes.
"I grew up in Mystic, Connecticut, which is kind of a hub for cyclocross and cross-country mountain-bike racing. I started racing in seventh or eighth grade and started wrenching at a bike shop when I was 15—kind of living the same life then that I’m living now.
I went to the University of Massachusetts, and while I was in college I started spending summers in Breck for altitude training. I really appreciate that the local government supports biking so much. We have the town trail crew, and the town is always buying land to build new trails. We’re also just naturally blessed with all these mountains that connect.
Breck is unique just for the fact that you can loop all over the place on gorgeous singletrack. Whereas some other meccas that I’ve been to—Moab or Crested Butte, for example—you can’t help but use miles and miles of dirt road to connect the big singletrack loops.
My favorite trail in Summit is Miners Creek. You have to appreciate the altitude here; that’s what makes the place so special. But the Peaks Trail is cool in that it connects Breck and Frisco, the two main towns in Summit. So I think of it as the Summit County trail, the one everybody’s ridden and everybody knows.
I’ve always taken a very cerebral approach to racing. I’ve never been the most skilled rider, and I’ve never trained hard enough to be the fittest, so I try to be the best rider strategically and make up time there.
Every year as the Peaks Trail race [the only time trial in the Summit Mountain Challenge series] is approaching, I try to ride the trail a handful of times to see what’s changed from the previous year. If Taylor Shelden and I were racing side by side, I bet we would pass each other two dozen times. I’d maybe pick up time on a tech section, then he’d pass me on a power section.
Work-life balance always depends on how much you need to work. Not having kids and having a girlfriend who’s on the same page as me—in terms of living on a budget and having a lot of fun in our free time—certainly helps. We have such a low budget for our lifestyle that it doesn’t require us to work too much.
When we’re on the road leading bike tours, I literally will go a month and a half without spending a penny. Everything is covered, and we’re getting paid pretty well. But then I’ll come home and won’t work for four or five weeks, and that starts tearing through the funds pretty quickly. At the end of the year, I can’t say I have much in savings.
Most mechanics these days are probably just parts installers. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of diagnosing and digging deep into problems, which is partly a credit to the industry. Bikes and parts have just gotten better. Stuff tends to work if you set it up the way they ask.
But I still love tackling a weird issue, when a bike’s just not working right. There’s a sense of satisfaction when you get something working again. The owner’s all happy, and in the end, biking’s about enjoying the ride. We try to make it so you don’t even notice the bike and you can just enjoy the ride."