Posted August 6th, 2010
Photo by Kirk Kardashian.
About five years ago, the whole world seemed to wake up to the miracle of mountain biking that is the Kingdom Trails. Mountain Bike magazine named the trail network one of the 50 best in America. The International Mountain Biking Association dubbed it “epic.” And the accolades just kept on coming. Yankee magazine, Boston, Bike—a media outlet couldn’t go near East Burke without catching the rapture. OK, we get it. Vermonters could just say, “I told you so.”
Other things we knew? That Darling Hill, the location of most of the trails, is an “esker,” a geologic feature created when a melting glacier leaves sand and gravel in its wake. The media heralded this medium of soft, shape-able dirt that must have been designed for the easy creation of mountain bike trails. We knew that Doug Kitchel, the former owner of Burke Mountain, and the namesake of one of the sweetest trails, started the Kingdom Trails organization, the non-profit that manages the trail network and works with the 50 landowners who give permission to build trails on their property. And, thanks to all the attention, we were told that the Kingdom Trails is the largest mapped mountain bike trail network in New England.
So when I sat down with Tim Tierney, the executive director of the Kingdom Trails, I asked him to tell me something Vermonters wouldn’t know about his esteemed organization. “Okay, how about this,” he said. “We’re partnering with Burke to build more trails on the mountain.”
Now that’s what I was talking about. “Continue,” I said.
When we spoke, Burke was still waiting for Act 250 approval to expand the mountain biking operation, but they’ve since gotten the green light. The plan is to offer lift-served mountain biking on the mountain on a variety of exciting terrain. The Kingdom Trails trail-builders will use their tried-and-true, labor-intensive methods to make flowing, sinuous singletrack that winds down the mountain. “It’s not just going to be a downhill park,” Tierney assures. One will be like Kitchel, with its berms and whoop-de-doos, but a mile long. Another will be a cross country-trail from the summit down to the base, which will probably make it one the longest off-road descents on the east coast. “We wanted to move forward without losing who we are,” Tierney explained. Good plan.
For those anxious to sample the goods, the Kingdom Trails will open some new terrain on Burke in the fall. Next year, if all goes well, the trails will be open permanently, and the lift to the summit will be spinning. Day passes to ride all the Kingdom Trails terrain, including on Burke, will increase in price to $15. If you want to ride the lift, you can buy a separate pass from Burke Mountain for another $15. Of course, there’s still the option of pedaling to the top. But Tierney predicts that “once people ride the new trails, they’re going to want the lift.”
That’s in the future, though, and I want to ride now. So Tierney sends me on a 1.5-hour loop that shows off some of the new sections and new trails. I start in town and pedal up the paved road to the Inn at Mountain View Farm, then take Loop and Bemis to Tap and Die, a black-diamond trail that offers a challenging alternative to the much-ridden Tody’s Tour.
But not too challenging. Judging by the name, you might think that if you “tap”—put your foot down—you “die.” Well, Tap and Die just happens to be the name of the local business that owns the property over which the trail passes. “The trail names aren’t always indicative of the difficulty of the trail,” Tierney explains. For instance, Coronary Bypass is just a bypass for the Coronary trail, not a heart-busting climb.
Tap and Die is tight and dark, with mini-half-pipes built into a sort of ravine. It has all the things you expect from the trails here: roots, rocks, off-camber sections, and endless twists and turns—all just hard enough to make it interesting, but not so hard that it scares you.
I continue on River Run, make a slight detour onto Old Webs and climb up to the chapel, a new stone church on a prominent clearing overlooking the green hills. Mountain bikers are lounging on the lawn in front of the edifice, worshipping the sun and the spectacular view. I go down the hill, across a paved road, and turn left onto Jaw, a double-black-diamond trail that’s been revamped this year with long sections of narrow bridges. They start out wide enough—maybe three or four feet—and then slim down and curve around obstacles, making it imperative to keep your tires centered. Since there’s not enough room on the boards to get off your bike, you must commit to riding or just walk—the other option involves falling off the bridge a few feet down to the ground. You won’t die if you tap, but you might sustain a contusion or two.
I ride a variety of singletrack back to town, including the super-fun Kitchel, which now resembles a BMX track. Then I go check out Burnham Down, a trail that’s open, but didn’t make the map this year. To get to it, you make a left off the Mountain Road onto Dashney Road. It’s mostly downhill, with lots of bridges, slick spots, and slow-speed turns. Cruising into East Burke I see riders cooling off in the East Branch of the Passumpsic River. After riding Burnham Down, you might want to do the same thing.
Kirk Kardashian writes and rides singletrack in Woodstock, VT. You can see more of his work at www.kirkkardashian.com.
Kingdom Trails is located in East Burke, VT. Go to their web site, kingdomtrails.com, for trail conditions, rates, and directions.