Going downhill, fast

So you’ve ridden all the trails within 50 square miles of your house. You may have explored other states too. But you’re not a true mountain biker until you’ve ridden downhill. Not just down the hill, but downhill. Fast.

This is a big year for improvements: Killington has expanded its trail system, Okemo has brought trail-building pros from Crested Butte to construct the resort’s first trails and Sugarbush is hosting a series of clinics with local hero Alison Zimmer.

To make the most of the experience, your average mountain bike won’t do. Fortunately, the resorts rent downhill bikes designed to handle everything the mountain throws your way with full suspension, wide tires and special downhill handlebars. Most carry the newest models from Norco, Scott, Kona and other top brands so no need to shell out $6,000 for a ride of your own right away. You can also get knee and elbow pads, body armor and full-face helmets to protect you. And if that sounds intimidating, newer riders can build confidence with classes designed to learn the techniques. For info on lift tickets, rentals and lessons, visit each resort’s website.


Mount Snow  

Since opening its trails to biking 29 years ago, Mount Snow has been a destination for riders from around New England. The site of multiple NORBA races, Mount Snow has been adding more features to the 12-mile system of trails every year including most recently, Trail 7, a learner’s trail for novice downhillers. Expert riders are drawn to Trail 9, also known as the Jump Trail, with several large jumps and steep berms.

This spring, Mount Snow has expanded its fleet of rentals with new bikes from Canfield Brothers and Scott. Mount Snow will also host the second stop of the Vittoria Eastern States Cup with enduro and downhill races over the first weekend in August.

In addition to guided tours, Mount Snow offers two unique learning experiences designed to introduce new riders to the sport and to advance their skills. First Lift is a learn-to-ride program that familiarizes participants with a downhill mountain bike and teaches proper body position and technique. The more advanced level, First Drop, is for riders ready for more advanced terrain.

The area surrounding Mount Snow is home to the Cross Town Trail, a cooperative effort between the ski resort and town of Dover. The Cross Town Trail features over 35 miles of terrain including singletrack, dirt town roads and even old ski trails that run through forests and roads.

The trails at Mount Snow opened over Memorial Day Weekend.



This summer, Okemo breaks onto the mountain bike scene with four miles of downhill trails constructed by Christian Robertson, Evolution Bike Park Manager for Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado. For the first time, Okemo’s A and B quads in the base area will access two miles of flowing descents over 400 vertical feet through open terrain and pockets of forest. Robertson and partner Alyosha Paden have designed two trails that cater to beginner and intermediate riders. While this is Okemo’s first foray into downhill mountain biking, Robertson says the goal for this first season is to establish a base to expand upon in the future, hopefully using Okemo’s Sunburst Six chairlift as a means of accessing top-to-bottom terrain across the entire mountain. The Evolution Bike Park at Okemo is slated to open the weekend of July 4. Pricing is still being determined, with package pricing options that include bike rentals and Adventure Zone access at Jackson Gore, as well as trail-access-only tickets for riders with their own bikes.


Killington Mountain Resort

The Beast’s K-1 Express Gondola and the Snowshed Express Quad provide access to nearly 40 miles of trails on five peaks and the chance to do 2,200 vertical feet of riding. The higher you go on the mountain, the more advanced the trails, with beginner and intermediate development areas on the lower Snowshed areas. Trails have been designed by Gravity Logic, a Whistler, British Columbia-based trail building company with experience designing and building trails in Europe, South America and all over the United States.

This summer, as a part of a $3.5 million investment in summer infrastructure, Killington expands its rental fleet with over 50 bikes from Scott and Kona and begins a two- to five-year expansion of five new beginner and intermediate trails in the Snowshed area. This summer, the Snowshed Express lift will run all week. The Peak Lodge and K-1 Express Gondola will continue to serve guests daily, along with new services in the Snowshed Lodge including an expanded retail and bike shop, the new BOGS Hiking Center and food court.


Sugarbush Mountain Resort

Sugarbush’s 25 mountain bike trails stretch over 18 miles. Accessed by the Super Bravo Express Quad, trails of every difficulty level cross the lower Lincoln Peak area, ducking in and out of the woods on narrow singletrack with names like Over The Ledge, Turkey Tumble and Rocks & Roll. Lift accessed terrain also includes pitches on some of popular ski trails including Snowball, Murphy’s Glade and Domino.

Sugarbush also offers lessons and clinics for youth and adult riders as well as summer camps for the even younger crowd. Campers 8-to 17 in the Mountain Bike Adventure Camp experience all forms of mountain biking and even get to try their hand at trail building.

New this summer, Sugarbush hosts the Discovery Mountain Bike Clinics for women with rider Alison Zimmer, a seasoned professional rider from Lincoln, Vt. with experience competing all over the United States and abroad with team MTBVT. The Wednesday evening clinics start on July 1 and cover downhill riding at Lincoln Peak and the surrounding Mad River Valley.

For those looking to compete or just spectate, Sugarbush hosts the third stop of the Vittoria Eastern States Cup, Aug. 22-23. If you also want to ride cross country, Sugarbush is within easy reach of trails at Blueberry Lake which has been designated an IMBA Model Trail Gateway network for younger or newer riders, while nearby Phenn Basin and Tucker Hill are renowned for their mix of flowing and technical features popular among more advanced riders. Summer activities are scheduled to begin June 27.


Smugglers’ Notch

In northern Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch expands its mountain biking this summer with a two-acre downhill mountain biking skills park with 350 feet of vertical drop. Two flow trails, a rock garden and jump line are built into a hillside close to the village center and accessed by magic carpet. Leading the design and construction of these trails is Kyle Ebbett, a professional trail builder whose design portfolio includes building for trails for competitions such as the Colorado Freeride Festival, Teva Mountain Games and the Red Bull Bike Battle. The center houses work shops, a staff of 16 coaches (clinics take students as young as three years old on strider bikes) and a fleet of 60 rentals including road bikes, cruisers, hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes. In addition to the existing ten miles of beginner and intermediate double track, trail builders are restoring advanced downhill trails that became overgrown and plan to have 2.5 miles finished by the end of this season. The expansions are part of a three-year plan that includes working with the local Brewster River Mountain Bike Club to connect the resort with the town of Jeffersonville.


Q Burke Resort

In the Northeast Kingdom, Q Burke Resort and Mountain Bike Park keeps riders on Burke Mountain all through the summer on 19 trails including downhill trails maintained through a cooperative partnership between Kingdom Trails and Burke Mountain. On weekends, you can access a 12-mile downhill trail system accessed via the Sherburne Express High Speed Quad. Starting at 3,271 feet, these trails descend through flowing banks and berms designed by professional trail designers like Knight Ide and Kyle Ebbett as well as tight and technical singletrack developed by Kingdom Trails Manager CJ Scott and the rest of the maintenance crew at neighboring Kingdom Trails.

Dead Moose Alley and J-bar, two of the park’s first trails, are fun cross-country options. Be sure to look up the Knightslayer trail, a mile-long, man-made jump trail for advanced riders; Enchanted Forest, an advanced mile-long downhill singletrack with natural and man-made features; and the Black Forest trail, another advanced trail with benches and berms.

Q Burke Bike Park is a two-time Top Five winner in the MTBparks.com Riders’ Choice Best Bike Parks Awards for the Northeast.

This spring, in addition to expanding their fleet with 20 downhill bikes from Norco, Q Burke filed an application to begin construction of an additional 11 mountain biking trails including three or four advanced trails at the summit and seven beginner and intermediate trails at the bottom. These trails won’t be ready to ride until later this season.

For riders looking to improve their skills, Q Burke also offers the Gravity School with clinics covering the fundamentals for beginners and advanced tips for more experienced riders. With a day pass ($15 for adults on Fridays, $35 on weekends) you can access the trails by chairlift or the shuttle bus. Q Burke welcomes its cyclists with a soft opening over Memorial Day Weekend and holds a kick-off party on June 6 with live music and barbeque. The park stays open until October.  

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.