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The spirit of mountain biker Kelly McGarry is very much alive on the tracks around Queenstown.

Hundreds of mountain bikers rode, jumped and partied in Queenstown at the weekend to remember the former professional mountain biker, who died riding a Fernhill trail on February 1 last year.

Organisers of Queenstown’s McGazzaFest were amazed by the turnout.

Kelly McGarry Foundation chairman Fraser Gordon says riders came from all over New Zealand and some had taken holidays to coincide with the festival.

Crowds of several hundred people were common at the five events, starting with Friday’s McGazza memorial “megatrain”, a ride into town from the top of Skyline’s gondola, and finishing with yesterday’s Gorge Road jam.

“We had an idea it was going to be a pretty big event, but didn’t really know exactly, numbers-wise,” Gordon told the Otago Daily Times.

“But seeing that queue of people on Friday night for the megatrain stretching all the way down the carpark of Skyline, we realised just how big it was going to be.”

Tribute ride: Wakefield's Matt Goodall, an ex-neighbour of Kelly McGarry, after riding McGarry's old bike down Queenstown's Skyline on Friday night for the McGazza memorial megatrain, part of McGazzaFest 2017.
Tribute ride: Wakefield’s Matt Goodall, an ex-neighbour of Kelly McGarry, after riding McGarry’s old bike down Queenstown’s Skyline on Friday night for the McGazza memorial megatrain

McGarry’s former neighbour, Matt Goodall, who lives in the pro rider’s home town of Wakefield, near Nelson, rode one of McGarry’s old pro bikes down Skyline.

“It’s good to be here and enjoy the atmosphere and remember good times,” he said.

Skyline mountain bike operations manager Justin Matthews counted 280 people by 8.15pm on Friday night – dwarfing numbers on the usual end-of-season megatrain.

Matthews lived next to McGarry in Queenstown.

“For everyone it’s an opportunity to remember what a good guy he was.

“That goes to show [with] how many are here tonight – they all knew him one way or another, it’s their way of showing he was a part of their lives.”

How many?: Skyline mountain bike operations boss Justin Matthews shows his counter at Friday night's McGazza memorial megatrain, part of McGazzaFest 2017.
How many?: Skyline mountain bike operations boss Justin Matthews shows his counter at Friday night’s McGazza memorial megatrain

Walking to Wynyard Bike Park on Saturday, Christchurch’s Sam Minnell, who rode BMX bikes with McGarry when he was younger, said he came to Queenstown to pay his respects.

“He was just a fun-loving, awesome, gregarious guy.

Anytime he was in the room it was just awesome, he just lit the place up, man.”

McGarry’s eponymous foundation, which will donate money to mountain bike clubs and community groups, was officially launched on Saturday night.

About $30,000 has already been raised.

“It’s crazy,” Gordon says. “Every time we get more T-shirts printed or get these McGazza stickers done the demand’s still there, it just blows us away.”

Megatrain: Mountain bikers pour down Queenstown's Skyline on Friday night for the first event of McGazzaFest.
Megatrain: Mountain bikers pour down Queenstown’s Skyline on Friday night for the first event of McGazzaFest.

Donations were taken at a couple of McGazzaFest rides but he said organisers wanted the first festival to be about remembering and celebrating McGarry “and less about nagging people and pushing for donations”.

For many the festival was also a chance to ride some new features – a new trail to a table on the Fernhill Loop, near where McGarry died, and some huge jumps built over the last month at the Wynyard Bike Park.

Queenstowner rider Reon Boe said on Saturday the jumps were perfect and it was great to see so many riders remembering McGarry.

“It’s good to try to celebrate – but it does still feel quite fresh, so it’s hard to celebrate.”

An ambulance tended to some injured local riders in the afternoon, who Gordon says probably got “too excited”.

“That’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately, we’re not playing tiddlywinks.”

Gordon says a festival highlight was the Fernhill Loop ride to the McGazza memorial table.

“From Kelly’s table up on that knoll, that view, looking sou’-east over the Remarkables and the lake, is amazing.”

One of the foundation’s fundraising ideas is to build and operate a backcountry hut.

Otago Daily Times