Pump tracks and backyard jumps are sprouting like mushrooms around the state. Are these the new playgrounds?
It was May 26, 2011, and riders were gathered at the Johnson pump track for the Jump Jam, an event organized by Stowe’s IRIDE Bike Shop. Dylan Conte, then 17, had been anticipating the event all summer. “It was the chance to ride with the guys I only saw in videos,” recalls Conte. “I remember being completely wowed at the back flips and other cool stuff they were doing, and the fact that they were trying to make a living doing it.”
Although Conte was a regular at his local pump track (defined as a small, looping trail system of dirt berms and smooth mounds), it was the first time he had ridden at the iconic Johnson pump track, which was originally built in 2007 and rebuilt since then. “It was one of those moments where I realized that mountain biking was one of my favorite things to do, and that I could do this professionally.”
That experience set in motion a racing trajectory that has led Conte to the most rugged downhill courses in the country. This summer he’s set his sights on competing in the Crankworx Ultimate Pump Track Challenge in Whistler, B.C.
Despite his taste for world-class trails, Conte still prefers the pump tracks here in Vermont, and he is not alone. Pump tracks are springing up from St. Albans to Bennington, from East Burke to Putney, at trailheads, schools and recreation parks. Tracks (loops) and jump features are also growing in backyards. This past spring, the Rochester Area Sport Trails Alliance (RASTA) completed work on a track in Randolph, and this summer a track and a new ow trail are being built in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, near Middlebury.
Conte believes the popularity of these tracks is largely due to their accessibility for all ages and abilities. And you only need to see the growing number of kids on strider bikes and groups gathered on landings, poised on every bike type—from dirt jumpers to full suspension bikes—to agree.
“Pump tracks are the number one skill builder,” Conte says. “They lay the groundwork for all the riding you can do in the woods. If you can ride a pump track, you can ride a rock garden.”
Pump tracks also offer a true peer-to-peer learning experience, Conte believes. “When mountain biking in the woods, you can only see the line choices of the rider in front of you. At a pump track, you can sit and watch how other riders interpret the trail differently and get better at it with each round. It’s an expression of how one likes to ride a bike.”
Zac Freeman of RASTA has observed another appeal of pump tracks: they are social and fun. “On any given evening at the new Randolph pump track, there are ten kids excited to ride, some of whom might not otherwise have been exposed to mountain biking,” he says. “And when summer camp is in session, 50-60 riders are swarming the features.”
The Randolph project was a collaboration between RASTA and the Randolph Town Recreation Department and involved donations from businesses and volunteer work days. Locating the pump track in the recreation hub of town— adjacent to the playground, little league ball field, pool, and river—has added to its family-friendly vibe. “Doing projects together has strengthened relationships between the town and club,” acknowledged Freeman. “Our success bodes well for more projects together in the future.”
Featured photo by Ben Haulenbeek