Growing up in Mt Beauty
Coming from a tight knit Italian/Welsh family, Chris Panozzo is bred from quality racing stock. Growing up in Mount Beauty with cousins Adam, Joel and Liam, Chris’s parents would take older cousins Adam and Joel downhill racing. Chris and Liam raced BMX around the state until they were old enough to race downhill at 12. Equally loving and loathing Mount Beauty as a kid. “There wasn’t a lot going on when you’re 10”, Chris tells me. “But life was good and I was always riding and playing sport.”
The same age, Chris and Liam are like brothers and lived at each other’s houses when they were kids. “It was good because we felt like brothers but had that separation, we wouldn’t just be trying to kill each other.” Both racing overseas for teams when they were 16, despite doing well. An injury prone junior career led Chris to stop competing when he was 19, and he didn’t touch a bike. Studying Mechanical Engineering he worked as a Design Engineer for a few years in Albury doing robotic engineering.
Getting back into racing
Loving work, Chris never thought he would go back to racing until a couple of mates tempted him. Liam, who was still racing downhill in Australia, convinced him to do a downhill race at Beauty. “I borrowed a bike to race and had a bit of fun, then started getting back into it incrementally.”
Work was enjoyable but stressful and at 27, saving money and not doing much else Chris decided to take a sabbatical, travelling around Europe and the US for a year. “I bought a van with some mates and did the whole Canada thing, I also bought a bike and started riding a bunch. Entering events and doing well, it accelerated from there.” Offered to ride for a team, one thing led to another and Chris was back racing full-time again, for TREK. “It was good, but unless you’re the top two or three in the world you’re not making money. And that realisation soon led me to go out on my own, earning money as an ambassador versus part of a team. Riding again for Santa Cruz, which I did when I was young, and Cannondale.”
Tyring of travelling
After nearly six years traveling half the year living out of a suitcase, Chris was getting frustrated. “It’s a hard balance between competing and enjoying the atmosphere. Going to interesting places like Columbia, we raced on a remote island in Chile, which seemed more like an orienteering exercise. Those trips were really enjoyable, but when you had to race you couldn’t really enjoy it and had to remove yourself from it. It became pretty difficult.”
Racing smaller series in the US and Canada and small events in Europe with training in between, it was busy but good and Chris loved it. “Sometimes you don’t appreciate it when you’re doing it because it seems like work, or it seems like you could easily do this again at any point in time. But looking back I’m glad I did it, it’s actually quite difficult to do.”
Looking for a way out, Chris wasn’t enjoying it and COVID was a way to stay in one spot and get some perspective.
Breaking his neck at Thredbo
Riding a bit throughout Covid, Chris wanted to do a few races locally. Going to Cannonball at Thredbo in 2022, Chris broke his neck! He wasn’t racing, just catching up with friends and hanging out. “It was my second run and I was out riding on the slowest trails there. There were people everywhere so I wasn’t trying to go fast.” Avoiding someone who was standing on a rock, Chris hopped over the lip onto an unseen rock and straight over the handle bars. Landing on his head and back.
“It was a huge slam and I was like, ‘I’m in trouble’. I sat up and was like ‘I’ve gotten away with something here’, and crawled off the track. Bike patrol was quick and professional and had me on a back-board and off the hill. It was a scary moment because once you’re locked in that back-brace and back-board, everything starts to hurt because you can’t move. I’d also broken a couple of ribs and damaged my shoulder so it was hard to separate what was a severe problem. “
With eight weeks in a neck and chest brace, the use of a friend’s mobility bed was a lifesaver. “Every time a pressure point hurt I could move just a fraction. It wasn’t just isolated to the neck, there were quite a few somewhat undiagnosed broken bones in the shoulder and I couldn’t lift my arm above elbow height. Unable to focus or sleep, I just had to lie there taking drugs. It got much better after about four weeks and now there are no residual effects, other than mental.”
Getting back to riding
Not doing anything risky when it happened, Chris hasn’t become unnecessarily risk averse, and is happy to finally get back riding. “I probably rushed into it a little bit too much. Friends were worried that I would just give up so they were pushing me to do stuff. I was also pushing myself”.
“I’m always toying with racing, there’s been enough time now. Not trying to win anything, I’m just doing it for fun and enjoying going to a few races now. Before I just wanted to win, and if I wasn’t winning it would frustrate me. It would drive me. I was always looking for what I could do next to make sure I win. Is it training? Food? Equipment? Thinking everything through to make sure that next time I try and win. But none of that’s there anymore. I’ll turn up and I’m gonna try to win but I’m not going to analyse it or be too fussed if I don’t.”
Winning a few Enduro National Champs and some good US races. Chris was getting top three on stages regularly in the World Enduro Series. “I struggled to get good overall results because the fitness required is so hard. I was happy with top 10’s, top 20, because I’d stepped away from the bike and come back to it. The guys who were racing on pro teams did well but they weren’t getting paid anything, so it’s a balance. Should I have accepted not getting paid and try to get better results? I’m pretty happy with the choices I made at the time.”
Making custom furniture
Far from the robotic engineering of his early working life, Chris now makes custom furniture in a workshop behind his old man’s shed in Beauty. Doing a lot of custom work during the COVID Boom, making elaborate dining tables out of recycled timbers as well as some design engineering on the side. “Trying to carve out a niche in Bright has been interesting, there’s not a huge amount of industry other than tourism.” Chris also write regularly for AMB.
Snowboarding for just one season when he was young, Chris was too into biking and never interested in the snow just up the road at Falls Creek, until moving to Bright 5 years ago. “I’ve been camping in the snow a fair bit and really got into cross country skiing the last couple of years with fiancé Kath. Having done a lot in the summer on the bike it’s great to go out and explore the back of Falls Creek on skis.”
Living in Bright
“Bright is a fantastic place to live, It’s close enough to Mt Beauty so it feels like home, but it’s far enough away that it feels different. Growing up, Mt Beauty and Bright hated each other and I never went to Bright.” I now spend a lot of time on the road, there’s a great bunch ride before work which is social but also keeps my competitive urges at bay.”
You might also be interested in reading about Mandy Davis and DHaRCO here