Super Mario Land
7 Aug 2014
After we’d recovered from the initial (positive) shock of first impressions, we set about our task of covering as much as we could in a short period of time. Having clearly identified a simple philosophy of “progression and trails”, just what exactly have the Highland Mountain team actually produced. In short, this is Super Mario Land for bikes, where you can shred, drop, jump, bounce, flip, spin, drift and so on, in pretty much any method you so choose. It’s a freeride playground with features for every standard of rider to achieve the progression that they seek. We’ll get to all the support services in due course, but lets start with the mountain and the trails.
Ever get that kid in a sweet shop feeling...? So many options!
First impression of the lift is that it looks a bit old, but of course that doesn’t matter one bit. It’s reliable, and gets you to the top – what more do you need. For those that complain at the speed, use the time to recover between laps, and remember that if it moves faster you’ll have a higher density of riders at the top starting runs at about the same time. It’s a 3-seater chairlift, with each alternating chair set up with a self-loading bike tray for 2 bikes, which you load yourself. At busier times, there’s a ‘singles’ line that you can opt for if you want to make friends on the lift, and the lift operators will load your bike for you, up on to a hook on the side of each bike tray. Don’t put your bike up there yourself! There are 80 chairs in total, 40 of each kind, with a capability of lifting 200 to 300 riders per to the top of the hill. And the current lift actually has room for expansion, with room for another 40 chairs.
McCaul's Pond at the base - named after Cam won the first Claymore Challenge and was thrown in!
It’s not a big mountain, with the lift giving you access to a vertical drop of 569 ft back to the base of the chair. But the design of the trails really maximizes the vertical, and first run down we were surprised at how long we were actually descending, thinking every corner of the bottom third would be the last. And then there are the trails themselves. Lets just break this down…
Perfect beginner trails… tick.
Balanced progression trails… tick.
Big hit jump trails… tick.
Flow trails… tick.
Hardcore technical trails… tick.
Huge slopestyle features… tick.
And on and on and on… And every trail is fun – even the beginner green line – Easy Rider, is a blast as long as you’re respectful to genuine beginners who are riding it.
Whitney drops Tombstone and nails it!
There are so many cool riders hanging out at Highland it wasn’t hard to find folks to ride with, and always better for filming, as they are so familiar with the trails. For many trails, that’s crucial, as there are big drops and gaps everywhere! Whitney Poulin got things going for us, one of the instructors for the Find Your Ride programs at Highland (more on those later). And Kyle, Ian, and her boyfriend Luke, joined her for a 4-rider train down Threshold, before we hopped over to check out the Tombstone drop. And it was the very first time she hit it – coming through the initial attempt unscathed to charge back up and send down a sweet one.
One of the many sweet berms on the Cats Paw trail.
Later we worked our way down the hugely popular Cats Paw trail with Mike Kirtley and others from the Green t-shirt gang known as the Amateur Cooperative – a group of riders formed locally, born out of Highland weekend warriors who didn’t really know anyone else and started putting the laps together and hanging out. And many come from some distance - Mike drives up every weekend from Boston – normal job during the week, Highland local on the weekend! And some of the older crowd has been here since Highland began, and helped build the original trails. Mike was joined by John “Storf”, Max Dreifuss, and Darren Johnson, and then later on by 2 younger rippers - Jake and Matthew. Cats Paw is a blue trail but popular as it’s one of the best progression trails on the hill. It’s mainly fast flow, with huge sweeping berms, rolling tabletops and doubles. But there are plenty of intermediate sized boosters and drops, so experienced riders have a blast, whilst others can use it for steady progression, gradually increasing speed and hitting the bigger features with each successive lap.
Chad launches one of the 2 huge Red Bull boosters at the bottom of Claymore.
Our final shoot was an evening session on the Claymore slopestyle course with Fly Racing Apparel sponsored rider Chad DeLuca – bike park instructor, and one of the Councilors for the Ayr Academy. The Claymore represents the highest level of skill requirement at Highland, although to be fair there is a super high density of massive features throughout the bike park. But with “progression” being one half of Highland’s philosophy, everything possible is provided to help you reach that level, no matter where you are at the start. There are multiple rental bike options for kids, with Commencal Supremes 20 and 24 inch, Specialized Grom-hit 24 inch, and Little Shredders – hand made from Oregon and re-stickered as Little Hellions especially for Highland! And they even have walk over bikes – Specialized Hot Walks, so can equip a 3 year old! The new kids zone in development will provide a dedicated area for these little rippers to learn at their own pace, and get comfortable with the basics of balance and handling bike on the dirt.
Learning a rock drop at aged 6 in the new kids zone currently in development.
And then there’s the Highland Ayr Academy – summer camps aimed at 12 to 18 year olds – all-inclusive 7 day shred sessions where you can progress in a safe and controlled environment. And this is with a pro-rider coaching staff that includes Dave Smutok, Greg Watts, Aaron Chase, Tyler McCaul, Kyle Strait, Geoff Gulevich, Mike Montgomery and Jamie Goldman! How freaking cool is that!? And it’s tailored to your standard – so you get to the level you want to get to no matter where you start from (within reason – beginner to superman seat grabs within a week is probably a stretch! There’s even a program agreed with the local boarding school – Tilton at Highland, where they offer a program “combining the passion of riding with the desire to learn!” Check out the application video… And bottom line - if you want your kid to learn to ride, or progress as quickly as possible, or if you want to progress way beyond your current level, then just come here. It’s a no-brainer.
The Ayr Academy - the perfect place to learn to back flip if that's what you want to do!
The kids are mad for it - pushing back up for more.
The Amateur Coooperative guys push back up during the long shoot.
Taking a well earned break with some essential Nature's Bakery bars for fuel.
Luke styling it over a road gap jump on Threshold.
Chad off the booster on the Claymore Course.
So much work has gone in to the kids zone - everyone will want to ride it!
Learn the skills in the Ayr Dome on the ramps, before taking it outside to the big stuff...
The big stuff! The Red Bull jumps again - just from the other side!