Mount Snow With Bryan!
10 Jul 2018
The bike park at Mount Snow began operating in 1986, which makes it one of the oldest in the United States. I have had some trouble finding historical details on bike parks, but it seems that Mammoth opened the same year. This is a handy reference point because this is where most the focus was on U.S. downhill at this time. In the 80’s, what we know as DH was conducted on treacherous work and fire roads with rigid or semi-rigid bikes at purported speeds in excess of 50 mph. Since then, Mount Snow has gradually become modernized and is set to gain pace with its excellent snow parks. It is one of the smaller bike parks, but it plays no small role in the exploding bike culture of the Vermont. And like much of the best riding in Vermont, Mount Snow has that special flavor only found from being deeply seated in the Green Mountain National Forest.
(Chairlift view of Gateway.)
Riding Mount Snow
As of this year, lift tickets start at $44 for adults and $30 for kids. There are no bike trays yet on their sole lift, but these are on order and may arrive by the end of this season. Even without trays one can ride directly to the lift instead of walking your bike at the base area, which means you can get in a lot of laps in a short period of time. Bike trays could make this the fastest bike lifts in New England.
The park has some unique constraints that dictate how it is constructed. First, the trails are served by one high-speed lift that does not quite go to the top. This is because the upper part of the resort is on U.S. Forest land. Second, Mount Snow has a lot of open slope, which means that many of the trail features need to be painstakingly re-created each season (features are removed for ski season). This and the relatively smaller size of the resort combined with land use restrictions also means that Mount Snow has to be creative and make the most of their space, which they appear to have accomplished quite well. You can see this with the green trail called Gateway, which is arguably the most fun green trail in the east. It has good flow at any speed with an ample amount of jibbing as you traverse the resort.
I had the pleasure of setting some of the first tracks on the newly reconstructed blue jump trail called Bullwhip, which whips the rider back and forth over an open slope into glades with a seemingly equal number each of satisfying step ups and downs. I was fortunate enough to arrive as the trail crew was finishing up the ladder drop and several other features, which include a shark fin, massive hip, and large berms. Have no fear; the trail is not a full-commit affair. It has ride-arounds and slow rolls available.
More blue flow trail can be found on Evolver, which as the name suggests is a good place for a beginner to intermediate rider to evolve those pumping and turning skills. Evolver will also give a small taste of what double black diamonds are like if you link up with Rock Garden. This is a good thing because many advanced trails can be long commitments that can be overly intimidating for many beginners.
My personal favorite is Swamp Donkey, which is a double black through the woods over rocks, roots, ladders, and a couple of drops. The trail embodies that rugged northeastern type of riding that is found in few other places with wheel-sized root holes and multiple line choices. It is definitely a trail that intermediate and advanced riders can spend at least several runs honing their downhill skills and discovering more interesting lines.
More double black pleasure over natural slabs of rock can be found by linking up Slick Rock to O.G. It makes for a fun and quirky route that begins with a boost out of a berm on Bullwhip. The technical aspect of the rock slabs keeps you coming back to find the perfect line choice. On Slick Rock there are slight natural doubles that take a few runs to notice, unless of course you have the pleasure of chasing a local rider.
(Paul boosting the hip on Bullwhip.)
The chief trail and park builder, Ben McGinnis, was stoked to show me his new home. Ben was hired two years ago as Mount Snow’s new Freestyle Terrain Manager from out of Sierra at Tahoe where he gained substantial experience as a builder (17 years) and hotshot (10 years). The hotshots are the people who work in the hottest portions of forest fires. They have a military-like discipline and deep knowledge of the backcountry. Ben knows the mountains and seems to have transferred his hotshot experience into a sort of a creative and disciplined dedication to making Mount Snow a fun place to play. He also understands flow and rides everything he builds, which became clear as I struggled to keep pace with him on a tour of the mountain.
I was later paired up with local shredder Paul Bergeron who works in the park crew. They were putting the finishing touches on what was obviously going to be a wicked drop coming out of an s-turn of big berms in the woods on Bullwhip. It was good to see that the feature was being milled with a chainsaw from the trees that were on site. This was done as a nod to one of their popular snow parks. I followed Paul out onto Bullwhip where he showed his prowess by hitting these new features like he has been riding them for years. You could also see that Paul literally had his hands in each feature as he boosted everything with flawless style.
The local off-slope riding can be found at the Crosstown Trails, which is also owned by Mount Snow. Ben manages these trails and has begun discussions with local officials to expand the network.
(Paul on Bull Whip's shark fin.)
Mount Snow has a nearly full service bike shop where everything is serviced except for rear shocks. Rick is the man who will take care of you and will give you some good trail beta for there and elsewhere in the northeast. They also have a full range of rentals with guide and instructing packages. Dover, VT lacks nearby modern camping facilities, but primitive camping can be found for the more adventurous. I had a pleasant stay at Grand Summit hotel where Gavin the valet kept my bike locked up and safe. I found the food and beverage on the mountain to be relatively reasonably priced compared to other resorts.
It is worth the effort to park your bike and ride the Bluebird Express up to the summit for lunch and Vermont craft beers at the Bullwheel. Your bike park pass will get you there. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful alpine view of Somerset Reservoir surrounded by Green Mountain National Forest. From here you can also get in a pleasant and easy hike around the Summit Loop.
Park riders these days increasingly come in family units, so it was very good see that they have a well-staffed and vibrant daycare program. I got a kick out of seeing toddlers being herded like cats for outdoor excursions. Mount Snow also has the requisite pump/skills track at the base for kids and beginners. There are plenty of other activities for the family and even for the disturbing number of riders who like to golf.
Off the resort for dinner I was directed to visit the Williamsville Eatery, which is a 30-minute drive but totally worth it if you want to eat locally sourced food, fine beverages, and mingle with the local Vermonters.
(Paul launching the hip on Bull Whip.)
Mount Snow is a smaller bike park that packs a legitimate downhill riding experience within the setting of Green Mountain National Forest. It is telling enough that the Eastern States Cup Downhill Finals are held here. You should ride here if you are a beginner to intermediate rider that wants to up your game. Riders who like bigger hits should keep an eye out for the ongoing and future developments that modernize the trail system. This is ensured as Mount Snow has hired Ben, a professional terrain park builder who has already set to making the riding as best as it can be. Stay tuned and expect to see more good things happening.
(Paul navigating the new berms on Bull Whip.)