Bryce Bike Park’s summer race series welcomes riders of all ages and skill levels the second Saturday of each month throughout the season. / photo by Andrew DeVier-Scott
Lift-assisted MTB parks bring convenient, immersive thrills for riders of all ability levels. Here are five of the region’s best.
With thousands of miles of killer MTB trails crisscrossing the mountains of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, paying $35-plus to shred in a resort bike park can be perplexing for old school riders and neophytes alike. I was formerly of this camp. But a trip to Virginia’s Bryce Resort last year led to a conversion: I now consider myself an Apostle of Park Riding.
How did it happen?
Bike trips with my 13-year-old son had atrophied to an average of zero per month. Desperate for a solution, I turned to Bryce.
“It’ll be just like snowboarding,” I promised, confronted by his reluctance and suspicion. “We’ll take the lift up the mountain to the trailhead, drop in, ride a professionally manicured route with giant bank curves and more than 50 jumps to the bottom, then hit repeat.”
He remained dubious going into the first run. Then came a chute into a give-or-take 10-foot-high berm, followed by a tabletop that sent his Specialized gliding about two feet through the air and into a butter-smooth downhill landing. The raw joy of what could only have been an inadvertent “Yee-ha!” made my heart sing. The bottom found him pedaling hard to the lift.
By the end of the day he’d put in at least 25 miles of (comparatively) hardcore gravity riding. Better still, he said he couldn’t wait to come back and “work on getting better.”
For me, the takeaway was clear: In terms of immersion, convenience, skill-building and sheer downhill fun-factor, park riding is hard to beat.
Trails range in difficulty from beginner to pro-level hard, tend to be crafted by world-class professionals, and appear almost neurotically well-maintained. Amenities are close at hand. Jumps and nifty wooden features abound. Trails begin atop high peaks and typically deliver 1-2 miles of pedal-free riding. While a cross-country day at my go-to spot—i.e. Massanutten’s Western Slope—usually brings about 18-20 miles of riding, I spend 70 percent of my time pedaling up hills.
But parks streamline the process: A day pass brings all the gravity-fueled bliss my legs can stand.
Following the Bryce visit I looked for more great regional rides. What follows are five of the best the Blue Ridge and surrounding mountain ranges have to offer.
Blue Mountain, Pa.
This northern Pa. ski resort has been recognized by mountain biking website MTB Parks as one of the East Coast’s top-five resort bike parks for four of the past five years. Despite a diminutive summit height of 1,540 feet, Blue Mountain compensates for its lack of elevation with 25 top-notch trails that drop 1,100 vertical feet and make the most of the mountain. Beginner-friendly green runs segue progressive-style into steep, twisty, and rocky intermediate and advanced routes like Formula, Jambalaya, Moto, Miles of Smiles, and OCS that showcase the natural terrain. In addition to dual slalom runs and tons of wooden features, Ewok Village and the newly added El Camino bring jumps, berms and drops. Tip: The resort offers cheap campsites close to the lift. Day passes, $40. Bike rentals from $99.
Snowshoe Resort, W.Va.
The Beast of the East boasts more than 100 miles of world-class biking trails and will host the 2019 UCI Mountain Biking World Championships this September. The park offers a whopping 1,500 vertical feet of descent. Its 40 routes were designed by trail-building titan Gravity Logic and cater to everyone from first time riders to U.S. national downhill champions like Neko Mulally. High-speed quad lifts bring swift rides to trailheads. Try the smooth and flowy Skyline, which is 2.9 miles long and features massive berms and more than 50 jumps. Take note: Snowshoe is located in a very rural area, so those traveling from any distance will likely want to stay. Plenty of lodging is available atop the mountain or at the nearby Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Day passes, $45. Bike rentals from $40.
Bryce Resort, Va.
This small family-owned ski resort delivers an unexpected punch with its compact but powerhouse bike park. Situated around 35 miles northwest of Harrisonburg in the Alleghany Mountains, the park’s seven trails—which can be combined to form routes more than 2 miles long—are the result of a partnership between Trek and Gravity Logic. They are serviced by a quad lift and offer 500 feet of vertical drop. Trails were custom-designed to promote skill-building and progression. They are punctuated by an array of fantastic wooden bridges and features, tabletops, gaps, drops, and berms. If you’re looking for more smooth-riding flow than rooty, rocky, and technical, this is your jam. Day passes from $38. Pass with bike rental from $95.
Beech Mountain Resort, N.C.
Billed as the highest lift-assisted bike park east of the Mississippi, this northwestern N.C. ride center brings 5,500-foot summits and some of the best downhill runs in the Southeast. Accordingly, it hosted USA Cycling National Championships in 2011 and 2012. Ten trails of varying ability levels wind through forests alongside the resort’s ski slopes—the longest of which is about 1.5 miles. Routes offer everything from ultra-advanced technical sections with loads of rocks, drops and multiple lines, to a terrain park and buttery beginner course. Cross-country and enduro fans will enjoy the adjacent Emerald Outback area. Hosting collegiate national mountain biking championships in 2013 and 2014, Beech is home to a 7-mile loop of exquisite single- and double-track. Day passes from $38. Bike rentals from $135.
Windrock Bike Park, Tenn.
The only park on the list that doesn’t have a lift gets the nod for being one of the most interesting new operations on the East Coast. Co-owned by Neko Mulally, Windrock was purpose-built for enthusiasts by enthusiasts—and subsequently brings 16 of the rawest and gnarliest cross-country and downhill trails in the region. Made infamous by opening with difficulty levels that started at advanced and continued to extreme, the 550-acre park now offers two flowy, machine-built beginner routes, with another three for intermediates. Vertical drop clocks in at an impressive 2,150 feet from a 3,200-foot summit. Weekend van shuttles carry riders to mountaintop trailheads. Camping is available onsite. Weekend passes with unlimited shuttle: $35. Bike rentals: $130.