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Give Me a Lift

Downhill Mountain Biking

Downhill mountain biking grows up.

Think downhill mountain biking at ski resorts is only for hucksters wearing full body armor and jacked up on Red Bull? Think again. Lift-assisted mountain biking is making a comeback, with more Southern resorts cranking their lifts during the warmer months for bikers. And this time around, they have beginners and families in mind with new flow trails that run top to bottom.

“What we want is for a beginner to get on the same lift as Aaron Gwyn, ride a separate trail, then meet back up at the bottom of the hill,” says Talia Freeman, spokesperson for Beech Mountain Resort, which hosted the National Downhill Championships this year on its new bike trail system designed for experts. Next summer, they’ll run the lifts for the general public and unveil a new beginner-friendly system. It’s a pattern that’s playing out across the country as resorts rethink their mountain bike programs, looking to offer more than just big hits and gnarly terrain.

“You have to crawl before you can walk. People need to be able to progress through downhill biking at resorts, and until recently, they haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do that,” says Geoff Allen, owner of Bergrad Trails, the company building a new beginner trail at Wisp Resort in Maryland. “There’s typically a steep learning curve in downhill biking. You show up at a resort and see bikers in full-faced helmets and pads. It’s intimidating. But these new trails will be different.”

Here’s a look at three lift-served downhill trails in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic with beginners in mind.

Rock and Roll, Seven Springs Resort, Pa.

This double-track drops gently through open glades and meadows offering countless banked turns and rollers that the whole family can tackle. The occasional rock garden is thrown in to keep things interesting. Beginners will enjoy a mellow cruise, but more advanced riders will be able to dig in and enjoy the flow at higher speeds. On this trail, you’re pedaling to build speed, not because you have to.

Resort Overview: Seven Springs runs one lift from Spring through Fall servicing nine downhill trails. Rock and Roll is on one end of the spectrum, but there are 20-foot jumps on the other end for those looking to test gravity. After styling Rock and Roll, step up to the mountain’s signature trail, 007, an intermediate piece of singletrack with moderate tabletops and banked turns. Lifts run through October 28 on weekends.  ($37 lift ticket;

Yew Pine, Snowshoe Mountain, W.Va. 

This manicured beginner trail runs from top to bottom in Snowshoe’s Basin Area, serviced by the Ball Hooter lift. Optional wooden drops kick off the entrance of the trail, with more optional jumps built into the ride throughout. You’ll also hit some fun, but wide wood bridges as you drop more than 1,000 feet of elevation.

Resort Overview: The largest and most well-regarded downhill system in our region, Snowshoe maintains 40 trails covering 1,500 vertical feet of drop, all serviced by two high speed quads. The mountain has plenty of manmade structures, but Snowshoe is expanding its beginner trail portfolio this summer with the help of Gravity Logic, the trail masterminds behind Whistler’s uber successful bike park. They’ve also begun offering a Family Introductory Clinic, five hours of downhill skills and guided trail riding ($99). Snowshoe’s bike season runs through October 7, Fridays through Sundays ($39 lift ticket;

Possum, Wisp Resort, Md.  

Wisp has always had a single beginner trail that basically followed a green ski slope down the mountain, but this summer, they’ve reinvented their easy terrain with a purpose built flow trail that runs top to bottom with a beginner-friendly grade and small features like berms, rollers, and wide wooden bridges. It’s a super-flowy, super-smooth piece of singletrack designed to give mothers, fathers, and kids the downhill experience without the downhill risk.

Resort Overview: Wisp is known for its rock gardens and natural rock drops. Rodeo/Rocket is a double black with big, burly rock gardens on steep terrain, but there are a few wooden ramps and bridges thrown in for good measure. Expert terrain abounds, but there’s also plenty for intermediate riders. Wisp also offers an Intro to Downhill clinic that focuses on how to create that symbiotic relationship between bike and body that’s key to downhill success ($119). One high-speed lift services 13 downhill trails. Lifts run seven days a week until mid-September, then on weekends through October. ($35 lift ticket;

Looking Ahead: Beech Mountain, N.C.

No resort in the South is putting more energy into their downhill mountain bike trail system than Beech Mountain. The resort started building new downhill trails in 2009 and has been beefing up their portfolio of dirt ever since winning the bid to host the 2012 and 2013 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships. The resort’s terrain is only open for races this year (the last race is Sept. 14-15), but next year, look for the lifts to run during weekends, giving bikers access to the downhill terrain, including new beginner trails being built now. The lifts will also give you quicker access to several miles of cross country terrain at Emerald Outback.

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