Ten years ago, as relative newbies to the
sport, we took a road trip to Killington, Vermont to ride down a real
mountain. We had rigid forks and seven-speed thumb shifters. Purple and
teal were in fashion and helmets were nothing more than a bulky Styrofoam
bucket with a Lycra cover on top. I still remember the pounding my arms
took that weekend from an unsuspended front-end and the ache in my hands
from squeezing those big three-finger brake levers.
Fast forward to 2001. The base of the old K1 chairlift has been
replaced with a skate park while nearby a new, high-speed gondola sits
waiting to take us to the summit. From our eight-passenger cabin the
mountains look eerily the same as they did ten years ago.
At the top, it’s a beautiful Vermont summer day. Temps around 80 and
blue sky everywhere. The view is as stunning as ever. While the
unenlightened may think riding a ski area is about blasting straight down
the slopes, we know better. Armed with a trail map and our modern, fully
suspended rigs, we set out for the twisty stuff. As I descend, I think
back to 1991 and that first ride down on my Rockhopper. I am faster
and more confident now. The 4-inch travel front and rear on my new sled
eats up the rocks and its disc brakes let me control my speed precisely.
We take an offshoot from the gravel work road and drop into a
single-track wonderland. The trail winds its way through the trees and
across Snowdon Mountain. I can feel my upper body working to maneuver the
bike while resisting gravity just enough to keep from going
head-over-heels. My adrenaline is building. Trail maintenance is evident
as we make our way across well-built wooded bridges and over foot high
water bars. The trail tests our abilities with a climbing right turn
between two trees and over their roots, followed by an immediate,
descending off-camber left. An hour later, we are back at the base lodge
and loading our bikes for the next trip up the mountain.
After a full day of riding, Sunday morning arrives with some aches and
pains but we are eager to get out again. Today, our plan is to descend
from the summit to trail #18, a classic Killington cross-country trail
that begins to the south of and below the base lodge. We begin strong and
stoked for a roller coaster of a ride. Halfway through, we are toast, but
far from disappointed. The climbs are short and steep, and just as you
complete one, another is only a quick descent away. I reach for some GU
and a gulp of Gatorade and continue on. This is the toughest and some of
the finest single-track we’ve ridden this weekend.
Driving back to New Jersey that evening, we realize that although our
ability is greater and our bikes more advanced, the mountains and the rush
of riding them is the same as it was ten years ago… and our hands still
hurt like hell.