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Mad River Riders and the Valley Trails

Mad River Valley riding

A couple of geek facts – Vermont is the 2nd least populated State of the 50 United States. And it is also the 6th smallest in terms of area. Whilst they might not have the most square miles to play with, they certainly have more than enough, and it’s so sparsely populated that there is massive potential for awesome trails – there’s space for everyone!

Which brings us on to a major mountain bike trail network success story – the Mad River Riders. It seems we regularly hear about clashes between the local mountain bike population and state forestry services or local legislators. Horror stories of trails that took years to develop being bulldozed overnight by over-zealous rangers that misinterpret the intent or impact that bike trails have on the land. Well that’s happened here as well – that particular horror story bringing an end to several trails on state land and causing uproar amongst local riders and the general community, due to the damage caused by the “fix”. But since then, there has been huge progress, and bridges have been mended both literally and figuratively. Mountain biking has quickly been recognized as a viable resource for the area, breathing life in to small towns with increased visitor numbers and the positive knock-on effect on the local economy, in addition to making them great places to live.

Left to right - John Atkinson, MRR Board Member Joanie Kavanaugh, and Sugarbush Resort Chief Recreation Officer John Egan.

One man at the center of this movement is John Atkinson – Director of the Mad River Riders – the Vermont Mountain Bike Association chapter based in the Mad River Valley, which spans the towns of Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston, Moretown and Duxbury. A membership program, combined with an incredible volunteer pool, numerous grants and private donations, enables VMBA to build, develop and maintain over 600 miles of public trails in Vermont. And this is supported by the continual work of chapters around the state coordinating with local landowners to ensure sustainable multi-use trails that don’t negatively impact the environment.

David hooked up with John to run a couple of shuttles. There are numerous public roads, mostly gravel, giving access to the whole trail network. We started by heading up Number Nine Rd off RT17, just west of the small town of Waitsfield, where you can check out one of the most iconic Barn’s in Vermont!

Bragg Barn up Number Nine Road, with Sugarbush Resort in the background.

This leads up to Phen Basin, and the trailhead for East Loop and Chain Gang - tough, fun riding with lots of rock and plenty of roots thrown in as well. It’s more cross-country at the top, small and continual ups and downs, and you have to work hard. But it’s the kind of trail where you want to work hard, as every corner drags you deeper in to the flow, and you get sucked in to a relentless push to just get through the next section, and then the next, and so on. As the gradient steepens it becomes more of a typical enduro style trail. It’s not hard to ride, although it’s certainly hard to ride it fast, and at whatever speed, it will put a massive smile on your face! Whether it’s pro trail builders or the hundreds of volunteers that donate their time, it’s very clear that a lot of work goes in to building and maintaining the trails - just look at the rockwork to support the berm…

Big rocks for sustainable trails - a berm on the Chain Gang Trail.

The second shuttle took us up Tucker Hill Rd, to the Howe Block-Camels Hump State Forest parking lot. From there, you climb the Enchanted Forest trail; beginning in open meadows before winding your way up through maple woods, with sap-lines strung out between each tree harvesting the good stuff. Next up was Cyclone, which turned out to be aptly named; as its constantly undulating twists and turns have you tied in a knot pretty quickly. After which we hit one of the newer Mad River trails – Revolution. This is a fast trail, and the most freeride-oriented trail of the day, with a steady descent until it spits you out on the main valley road at the famous Lareau Farm, home of American Flatbread.

Although we came down Revolution, it’s worth pointing out that the trails are being designed and built for riding in both directions, so you don’t have to get a lift to the top! Yes, a few, like Cyclone have much more of a DH bias so one direction is preferable. But many are technical, undulating all-mountain trails that require you to work hard all the time, so the difference in direction is not much of a factor. And one of the big benefits of riding the Mad River Riders' trails is… the Mad River! After a demanding all-mountain ride, when you get back in to the valley, you are never far away from a swim hole on the river – and in the heat of the summer, jumping in the cold water of the Mad is a perfect way to cool off!

John Atkinson out on the Mad River Trails.

Meanwhile, after a few laps of Sugarbush, Trey was talked in to a quick ride on the trails close to the bike park… Mountain biking as an outdoor adventure sport often attracts people who are true characters with loads of personality, charisma, and likableness. From the moment we met Mike Skroski, a Sugarbush patroller, we knew he was one of those O.G.s that had the inside line on all that was good in the mountain bike scene at Sugarbush. Plus he looks like a cross between Bruce Willis and Ed Harris! So, when he invited us to check out the trails in the forest near his home, which was actually just steps way from the bike park, it was a no-brainer. He revealed a secret stash of awesome single track, which was a perfect combination of gnar & grunt, and with names like Jumanji, UFO, and Schweddy Balls, you know its gotta be good! Of course the ride ended right back at Mike’s house with a couple of tasty VT Long Trail Brewery IPAs.

The Mad River Valley trail hubs on the Sugarbush Bike Park map.

Having chatted with both Mike and John earlier in the day, the long term plan for the mountain bike community is to link the Sugarbush Bike Park trails with the Mad River network, so you can ride from one straight in to the other! The trails that Mike revealed are likely to be the missing links. Sugarbush already includes the Mad River trailheads on their bike park map, so it’s clear that the collaboration is in full swing. And it shows all the makings of an all-inclusive gravity / XC / freeride bike resort in the years to come!

To wrap up the day, and on the recommendation of pretty much everyone we met, we headed in to Waitsfield in the evening to fuel up at Mad Tacos – the local Mexican eatery with a great supply of IPA’s. Taking on the Big Daddy Fatty Burrito is well worth a shot. And after a beasting on the trail bike, Trey managed to see off 2 of them!

The Mad Taco beer options - almost as good as their food!

A team of volunteers building a bridge feature on the Revolution Trail.

And the finished product getting run-in!

Everyone gets involved - trail builders start learning the trade from a very young age in Vermont!!

Awesome view of the Mad River Valley from Sugarbush - great thinks to come.

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