STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY STRATTON MOUNTAIN
Stratton Mountain’s mountain bike park first opened to the public in the summer of 2019 to much excitement. Years of preparation had culminated in the manifestation of the future of Stratton’s outdoor summer activities. According to Stratton Mountain Bike Park Manager Tony Bailey, that vision all started with a survey that was presented to Stratton guests a few years ago. “We asked what kind of summer activities the resort should have in the summertime, and mountain biking won by a long shot,” he says.
Carefully considering bike park design and construction firms, Stratton selected Sinuosity, a Morristown, Vermont trail-development company. Tony is an avid mountain biker himself and was familiar with some of the company’s past bike trail projects. “I really liked the way their trails rode. Working with them on this project has been a great experience—we couldn’t be happier with them,” he says.
Sinuosity’s planning for the park actually began in winter when there was snow cover. They skied the trails and through the woods, visually surveying the topography and contour lines of the mountain’s slopes. Designer Brooke Scatchard and his team are meticulous expert craftsmen familiar with what it takes to create dynamic bike runs. According to Tony, “They looked at the mountain and just knew where there would need to be more turns to slow people down and where there should be straightaways or other features. Once the snow melted, they spent a great deal of time walking through the woods and planting marker flags to get a sense of where the trails were going to go. After that, they used GPS to map everything out, and we submitted those maps to the state for permit approval.”
Then came the hard part: the process of carefully sculpting the park and its trails out of the mountainside. Brooke describes the steps: “We start by cutting down small trees and dragging them off the trail, then we use mini excavators to move the organic layer of dirt and expose the mineral soil that is used to build the trail. Next, we have one mini excavator start to remove the stumps and the organic material, and we put it neatly off to the side. Afterward, a second excavator comes through and does the dirt shaping and compacting. The final steps are root trimming, hand tool shaping, and packing the trails.” With so many elements, it all requires the tremendous forethought, planning, and vision for which Sinuosity is known.
Brooke is a native Vermonter and mountain biking enthusiast who got his start in the bike trail construction industry doing paid trail work for the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. In 2009, he was given the opportunity to design and build a mountain bike trail network at Norwich University. He built their six-mile trail network during the course of two years. Continuing to work with mountain bike clubs in the northern Vermont area, he made the transition to full-time bike park creation several years ago. The mountainside trails he has sculpted since are what caught the eye of Tony and the Stratton team.
Brooke takes pride in Sinuosity’s ability to build trails that are “simultaneously family-friendly and rider-centric.” He continues, “We want our trails to be a fun and creative experience for people at all ability levels. It works out pretty well with the target rider group that we’re going for here. Many riders may have some experience on a bike, but maybe not a ton of experience riding at a downhill bike park. We want trails that everyone can be comfortable on, where more experienced riders can still get some air and have a good time when they’re going faster. At Stratton, the whole family can ride the same trail and take different approaches. The kids can take one line and their mom
or dad can take another more challenging line and they can both enjoy the same trail in a different way.”
Sinuosity’s team includes trail builders and engineers who are truly passionate about mountain biking. Brooke describes the crewmembers as “Experienced mountain bike riders who have a good eye for what’s enjoyable and what works when it comes to trail building. Having accomplished riders on the crew means that all of the turns on the trail will link up well and it will feel smooth, safe, and fun.”
Phase 1 of Stratton’s mountain bike park was completed in 2019. It consists of five beginner and intermediate level bike trails, which are comparable to green-circle- and blue-square-level trails on a ski slope. Phases 2 and 3 include more challenging and technical trails, including a few black diamonds and an intermediate jump trail.
This summer, riders will be able to get in their runs with access to Phase 1 from the American Express chairlift. If you have never mountain biked before, no worries. Sign up for the Learn to Ride package, and the Stratton team will outfit you for the day and start you off with a guided lesson.
Local sports shops, First Run Ski Shop, and Equipe Sport have seen an increased interest in mountain bikes and gear since the opening of the bike park. With close access to the trails and the lift, First Run offers rental bikes from companies Trek, Kona, and Fuel for bikers of all ages and skill levels. For those who already own their own bikes, they provide repair services and sell trail-riding apparel such as jerseys, shorts, gloves, and goggles. First Run’s manager Tom Kajah is excited about the new mountain bike park at Stratton, saying that it has made Stratton a “fully-fledged four-season destination resort for outdoor activities.”
Geoff Murchie is a knowledgeable bike technician at Equipe Sport in the Stratton Village. When asked about what makes mountain bikes different from road bikes, he explains, “Mountain bikes are very technical and precise. They operate using more gears than road bikes, and the geometry of their seat placement is also different. With a downhill mountain bike, the angle of the frame will be pitched toward the rear of the bicycle to put you in a balanced position to better navigate a downhill course.” This is important as it helps riders keep their balance and counteracts the forward motion of the downhill descent.
If you’re an avid biker—or ready to jump in to your new favorite hobby—in order to make the most of your investment in a bike, proper care and maintenance is essential. Chains, gears, and derailleurs (the mechanism that moves the chains from gear to gear) need to be kept clean in order for the bike to operate smoothly and safely. Geoff insists that “Keeping a bike’s parts clean and lubricated is very important. The chains need to be washed. The brake pads and rotors need to be clean. The cables need to be clear, and the derailleurs need to be free of debris.” Although lubrication and cleaning products are available through some online stores, Geoff recommends stopping in at a local shop where “You can always talk to the techs to get an idea of what you need and what you’re looking for. When you shop online, unless you are very well informed, you’ll just be guessing what the right product is. It’s always good to talk to your local tech.”
The mountain bike park at Stratton is a welcome addition to Vermont’s growing network of mountain bike trails and bike parks. In addition to downhill parks, the Slate Valley trail network in Wells offers great biking, the Manchester chapter of the Vermont Mountain Biking Association has developed trails in Dorset, and the Bennington Area Trail System is also expanding.
Joe Miles is the president of the Northshire Area Trail Systems, which has helped to develop and shape the trails in the Northshire region of southwestern Vermont. When developing a trail, Joe says that it is important to “Look at the land you have to work with. You look at what you can do with it. There are all different types of terrain here. When I consider what makes a good biking trail, it’s similar to looking at it from a perspective of what makes a good ski trail. While a particularly steep trail might be terrific, it’s also about enjoying the scenery. Going through the woods is a lot of fun.”
Many of the trails on Vermont’s systems are ancient paths that date back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Erosion and topographical shifts change the layout of the land fairly frequently. With so much land to cover, it can be hard to know which paths and roads to take for an ideal cross-country biking excursion.
Southern Vermont-based mountain bike tour guide Kris Dennan founded Gravel Tours to help passionate cyclists of all skill levels navigate the best trails and back roads that Vermont has to offer. Before founding Gravel Tours, Kris spent years working as an estate manager, bike mechanic, and private ski and bike guide for a family who owned property in the Southern Vermont mountains. Over time, outdoor adventures took him all over the state, giving him the opportunity to familiarize himself with every corner of Southern Vermont’s roads and mountains.
Today, Kris runs tours for groups of up to 10 people. He provides a custom-tailored, exciting, and engaging biking experience for clients with a wide range of interests as well as gravel and mountain biking skill sets. For some tours, he integrates essential Vermont activities such as swimming at state parks and stops at country stores and eateries.
Other clients enlist Kris’s services in helping to plan “bike-packing” trips in which traditional camping and backpacking meet cross-country biking. For these excursions, Kris accompanies “bike-packers” on their journeys and guides them in making sure they pack all the essential gear needed for a successful outing. Clients will sometimes choose to stay the duration of the trip in the wilderness, pitching tents and enjoying peaceful and restorative time in nature. Alternatively, some choose to spend the night at a charming rural inn or bed and breakfast in the Vermont countryside.
For Kris, it’s all about creating personalized, memorable, and fun experiences for his clients that allow them to reach their fitness goals and to push themselves to whatever limits they feel comfortable. As Kris puts it, a good bike trip in Vermont isn’t just about “the one facet of riding the bike, it’s about everything that comes with it. It’s about everything that’s great about Vermont and the outdoors. A good bike trip will have amazing trails and biking, but it’s more than just the ride.”
It’s no secret that the access to the outdoors in Vermont means that it is home to numerous top-level, hardworking athletes, including Olympic cross-country mountain biking silver medalist Lea Davison. Born and raised in Vermont, Lea says that the best thing about learning to mountain bike in the Green Mountain State was that it gave her a great start.
She has biked around the world, and around again, and thinks “Vermont has amazing mountain biking. It’s a great place to learn because it has some of the most technical riding out there.” She also explains that once you decide to take up mountain biking, “It is important to work with a skills clinic or a skills coach early on so that you can learn some helpful techniques and start with good habits.” Lea says that her favorite thing about mountain biking is “You get out what you put in. If you work hard and apply yourself, you will see success.”
Just as Lea’s hard work resulted in global success for her mountain biking career, the dedicated and determined effort of the bike park team at Stratton and the designers at Sinuosity has resulted in a beautiful new park. As it continues to expand, it means that summertime at Stratton has never been better. Vacationers and Vermonters of all skill levels are flocking to the sunny slopes for an exhilarating ride on the bike park’s trails and fantastic views of the surrounding scenery.
ALL THE DETAILS
Stratton Mountain Bike Park