Active Outdoors: Loon opens new downhill mountain bike park

  • Take a moment to savor the view from the top of the Seven Brother chairlift at Loon before you start your ride all the way back down. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Special trays carry your bike up the hill while you ride on a chair behind. At the top, lifties will retrieve you bike and hold it until you arrive. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 9/16/2019 6:23:15 PM

The world of active outdoors sports divides pretty neatly into two major categories: adrenaline sports and endorphin sports. Of course there’s significant overlap in some sports, but generally speaking, adrenaline sports have shorter bursts of intense, exciting activity while endorphin sports require longer, more sustained effort. Both are fun, the rewards are different.

If you think about it, the difference is really all about gravity. At the heart of most adrenaline sport – Alpine skiing, surfing, whitewater kayaking – is gravity’s pull accelerating you, while most endorphin sports (hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, road biking) have you using your muscles to overcome the force of gravity over a prolonged period.

One of the noticeable trends in active outdoor sports here in the northeast is that many Alpine ski areas are becoming year-round centers for adrenaline lovers. It’s that gravity thing – they are already set up to move you uphill so gravity can accelerate you back down.

Go to almost any ski area when there’s no snow on the ground and you’ll find ziplines and aerial adventure courses, mountain coasters (not really active but fun anyway) and, lately lift-serviced downhill mountain biking (DHMB).

Like skis, mountain bikes can both climb hills and glide down them. Cross-country skiing and mountain biking are about as close as you can come to perfectly balancing endorphins and adrenaline. You get your endorphin highs climbing the hills, and your adrenaline rushes coming back down. Ski lifts taking you to the top of the hill simply tips the balance heavily to the adrenaline side.

While there are a number of lift-serviced DHMB parks in New England (more on these in a moment), Loon Mountain in Lincoln just opened a new park this past weekend, and it’s a gem. DHMB significantly adds to Loon’s adrenaline offerings, which already included ziplines, an aerial adventure park and, of course, superb downhill skiing in the winter.

They already had the summer endorphin crowd covered with hiking trails and a lovely network of cross-country biking trails on the hills above the Pemigewasset River.

As far as I’m concerned, Loon did exactly the right thing with this new DHMB park by opening their easier trails first, so first timers, families, and more cautious souls (like me; maybe you?) can enjoy the adrenaline rush without worrying about ending up in the emergency room. The trails Loon opened first are rated “green circle” (easier); they are wide, smooth, machine-groomed and designed to flow you down the mountain. The big, swooping turns have high berms to keep you on track.

Serious downhill mountain bikers are probably waiting impatiently for the good stuff – intermediate and expert trails with bumps, jumps and tighter turns – but the new trails are just right for trying DHMB for the first time, or practicing your skills if you aren’t an expert.

Like most adrenaline sports, downhill mountain biking skews toward the extreme, especially on social media. If you do an online search for it, you’ll probably scare yourself silly watching superheroes do stuff you’d never want to do even if you could.

Trust me, the experience of DHMB on the new trails at Loon is both exciting and fun without being scary. I’m far from an expert at it, and I had a ball. It’s easy to control your speed and flow down the hill, grinning from ear to ear all the way. (Hint, just as in tree skiing or whitewater kayaking, the secret is to look where you want to go, not at what’s immediately in front of you).

Loon’s new DHMB park will be open weekends until Oct. 14, except for Sept. 21 and 22, when the mountain is taken over by the annual Highland Games. This would be a perfect add-on to a foliage viewing excursion. If you don’t own a full-suspension mountain bike, they rent good ones, and if you’ve never tried DHMB, consider taking a lesson. Then get out on the mountain and ride.

Other DHMB options

Since I haven’t ridden them, I can’t say that the experience for novice riders will be as good as the new trails at Loon, but several other DHMB venues are scattered across New England. Most offer rentals and lessons.

The biggest DHMB venue around is Highland Mountain in Northfield. This is DHMB central and the beginners guide on their website is well worth reading if you are thinking about trying DHMB.

In fact, these are the folks who helped design and construct the Loon facility.

They are open Wednesday through Sunday through October and weekends into November.

In Connecticut, Powder Ridge has lots of trails, rentals and lessons.

In Massachusetts, Jiminy Peak and Berkshire East’s Thunder Mountain Bike Park can get you on a bike and up a mountain.

In Vermont, Mount Snow, Stratton, Okemo, Suicide Six, Killington, Burke and Sugarbush all offer full-service DHMB parks.

Elsewhere in the Granite State, Pats Peak, Sunapee, Waterville Valley, Bretton Woods and Attitash can give you an adrenaline high as you flow down the mountain on a bike.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones603@gmail.com.)




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