WBP Review: Northstar
11 Oct 2015
Northstar Bike Park: Last Stop On The Wild West Road Tripping Tour.
It has been another awesome summer touring only the best bike parks in North America. So much was on tap for us this summer, and we are happy to say that it was, for the most part, injury free! During the 2015 season, we had the opportunity to visit 11 lift-accessed bike parks and 3 trail centers in all. Our trail center write-ups, with accompanying report cards, are to follow later this fall. We had been to Northstar a couple of times in past years while working for BIKE MAG and remembered the fun we experienced on iconic trails like LiveWire, Boondocks, and Gypsy. This time, we couldn’t wait to see what was new and waiting for us on the mountain. But, with ultra-dry conditions plaguing the western states, we were a bit nervous about what we might find. With a locals race happening while we were there, we knew that our plates would be full, and we couldn’t wait to pull out the bikes and ride park.
Our host and local resident Bob Indig guided us to the best trails and features while riding at Northstar Bike Park!
One thing that we noticed as our tour moved on towards the end of summer were the difficult trail conditions that existed at many of the bike parks. The West was drying up like never before, with wildfires consuming millions of acres, and the hero-dirt that we all desire most, was but a distant dream. Berms start to fall away, rocks become loose, and trail crews everywhere are fighting a loosing battle against Mother Nature. It’s like trying to build a card castle on a shaky table. Northstar was no exception to this reality and seemed to be one of the worst ‘silt bombs’ that we visited. We will try not to focus too much on that, but it should be noted that Northstar does have a built in watering system for a couple of their trails. LiveWire is one of the lucky trails to receive a daily watering, however, it was still struggling with missile-sized boulders sticking out of berms and jump takeoffs and landings. We couldn’t help but wonder if their trail crew had just thrown in the towel? “Duststar” becomes Northstar’s nickname when it gets dry. We thought that was pretty funny and joined in the banter by encouraging our buddy Bob to wear his all-black kit, so we could call him “Dust-Vader”!
Well known rock drop on the "Boondocks" trail. Pavers stabilize the landing zone. (Rider: Davis Hecker)
For the Intermediate rider there are a couple of new (to us) trails called Coaster and Big Tree. Coaster is an intermediate flow line with small sized jumps and wide berms. This was a much-needed addition for the ‘blue’ rider coming off the Tahoe Zephyr Express chairlift. The other notable blue trail, called Big Tree, is accessed from the Vista Express chair. This trail had a little bit of tech and flow, and it seemed like a good step up from Coaster. The only issue for a true ‘intermediate’ rider is that once this trail ends, your choices are, bump up to black or hop on a multi-use access road to get back to the bottom. However, we did like Big Tree because it made for a good warm-up lap. We would ride Big Tree-to-Flameout-to-Manure Pile, and end on Pho Dogg for a good top-to-bottom run.
Davis Hecker takes the fast line through this mine field section of the "Boondocks" trail. Can you spot 'Dust-Vader' in the background?
Ask almost any season pass holder at Northstar what their favorite trails are, and you’ll most likely hear the words Sticks & Stones, Gypsy, Live Wire, and Boondocks. No surprise that these are all black and doubleblack diamond rated trails. Having time to take a good look at all the features and line options on these trails is a good idea as there can be a bit of consequence for those that choose wrong. Sticks & Stones is doubleblack with a good variety of jumps and gnar. While Gypsy treats the rider to an abundance of wood features and rockwork that’ll put a smile on the face of any advanced mountain biker. From the chairlift, we spotted some fresh digging going on near the end of Gypsy. Hopefully this recent dirt work will provide an extension of Gypsy all the way to the base! Live Wire typically needs no introduction because it is probably THE most well-known and ridden trail at Northstar. It’s the 1st trail at a bike park (that we know of) to receive a daily watering by way of a top-to-bottom irrigation system. All those jumps on Live Wire would probably just crumble into a big heap of silt under the California sun if it weren’t for the daily watering. Finally, Boondocks is another standout expert track with numerous iconic (mostly natural) features of the tech-gnar variety. Lots of giant boulders along this trail help to create depth and opportunity for multiple line choice. Choose your poison carefully on Boondocks…especially when ‘silt-season’ is in full effect. However, if your nickname happens to be something like “silt-surfer”, then feel free to seek out the expert only, fall line, rock garden trail from hell, named Karpiel. You’ve been warned!
Northstar makes good use of natural features to add variety and depth to the trails. (Rider: Davis Hecker)
Our last day at the bike park delivered a large crowd of mostly local racers and spectators of all ages to charge down Live Wire. Live Wire is a black-rated, flow & jump trail that’s loaded with features. It’s the go-to trail for many riders at Northstar, so it only makes sense to see how the local rippers stack up against each other on this race day finale.
Crowd favorite trail "Sticks & Stones" serves up some flow and jumps from the top and mixes it up with steep tech-gnar lower down the mountain. Davis Hecker takes full advantage of the solid wooden takeoff on this jump to get sideways for our cameras.
This has been an action packed summer filled with 11 lift-accessed bike parks and a handful of local trail center explorations. Not sure what we will have up sleeves for next summer, but we can always dream! Maybe a trans Canadian tour or a EU extravaganza!
Amazing rock-work on "Gypsy"! Hopefully Northstar will extend "Gypsy" all the way to the base of the mountain in 2016. (Rider: Trey Clay)
"Gypsy" is feature packed! Northstar's judicious use of wood for drops, wall rides and jumps makes total sense when considering the silty nature of the terrain. (Rider: Bob Indig)