#ECRT 2017 Highland Mountain
13 Oct 2017
It’s a bit overwhelming, there are so many iconic features at Highland, and they’re all so photogenic! Expertly made and blending into the surroundings, the big drops are standout features that deserve respect for their aesthetics and consequences if things don’t go as planned. That’s why we love to follow friends that are better riders than us and have intimate knowledge of the trails. ‘Look before you leap’ is a good idiom to follow at any bike park. Look at the feature, watch someone do it, even make a practice run-in if you have to, and then, follow that trusted friend off of it your first time. We put this strategy to the test on a number of features at Highland with great success following our buddy Justin McDowell around the mountain. With only a few minor crashes, no bikes or bodies were hurt during our time spent at America’s Bike Park.
Lower Threshold trail - the "ninja line" on the"Thorton Drop" (named after trail builder, Jeffrey R. Thorton) [RiderCred: Justin McDowell]
Our 1st visit to Highland happened back in 2014, on our tour of bike parks in the northeast, and in those few years, bike parks have been sprouting up all over New England, from Thunder Mountain in Massachusetts, to Mount Sunapee and Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, and Okemo Bike Park in Vermont. Even some ‘mom-and-pop’ resorts are attempting to get in on the bike park action in the northeast. Highland Mountain is a shining example of how to succeed in the world of bike park operations, marketing, and business practices. New England’s geography and its close proximity of resorts (9 bike parks are located 130 miles or less from Highland), offers a special blend of variety and convenience to those riders lucky enough to live in this ‘zone of shred.’ You might be asking, “What does Highland do, to make it such a popular and successful bike park?” From our perspective, as traveling nomads who love to ride, Highland offers an amazing trail network that covers the entire spectrum of terrain that mountain bikers crave. Progression is the key. As your skills improve, there’s always another trail or feature to set your sights on, and if that’s not enough, Highland has a pro-level slopestyle course, an airbag jump, dirt jump area, and an indoor training center.
Rider: Justin McDowell on the infamous "Reef Drop". The approach is rocky and rough, and it's important to hold your line and carry some speed.
Sitting at the bar and drinking a beer, or standing on the deck outside of the lodge, you feel like you’re a part of the action at Highland. Watching riders hit the final features on the trails and getting spit out at the base, or catching a glimpse of a Pro on the slopestyle course, the vibe is electric. This bike park, more than any other that we visited this summer, operates so smoothly and professionally. There are so many small things that Highland does right, and those things add up to provide an exceptionally good experience. We certainly appreciate the ability to camp in the parking lot after a long day of riding, hanging out, drinking beer, and socializing with other riders at the lodge bar. There’s definitely an advantage to being able to focus on one sport, Highland operates only as a bike park (no skiing or snowboarding), and they have one of the longest seasons in North America.
MEOW! [Rider: Natty G] on "Cat's Paw" trail.
Encouraging beginner riders and riders that have never been to a bike park is one of the keys to future success of bike parks everywhere. Highland has been building new beginner trails and they have a beginner skills area, but more importantly, their trademarked “Find Your Ride” program is paramount for guaranteeing a rewarding first experience. So successful is Highland’s brand, which they are now offering to serve as consultants for other bike parks for trail building, trail maintenance, and helping to grow the industry. Besides the annual race events, Highland actively supports the desire of some riders who like to occasionally pedal their bikes up the beginner trail at the mountain, and then bomb down any trail they so choose. It’s called “Wednes-duro”, and it has become quite the popular thing to do...sometimes drawing a group of 50 or more riders every Wednesday. No bike park pass is required, and “Wednes-duro” riders can start pedaling up right after the lifts stop running for the day. A lot of the riders will finish up with a cold brew, slice of pizza, or sandwich at the base lodge, and that’s where we met up with a bunch of great guys from Team Granite Mtb, making a visit for their weekly beer league Wednesdays gathering.
"Hellion" is one of the most popular jump trails at Highland, but here, rider Jesse Cormier gets low on this optional rock slab line.
In our opinion, riding at bike parks, especially bike parks that have things dialed like Highland, is such a rewarding experience. We came away from our visit this year having made lots of new friends, improved our riding skills on some of the formidable features, and have a better appreciation for why Highland is still worthy of its status as America’s Bike Park.
It's good to follow a friend on "NE Style". Justin McDowell leads Trey Clay on this feature packed trail.
"NE Style" snakes down the mountain within direct view of those on the lift...time to boost and show your style!