It’s a very good time to be a mountain biker. Scores of ski resorts are opening bike parks each summer, and in return bike manufacturers are producing more long-travel offerings accessible to riders of all budgets.
During this time of bike park expansion lets not overlook the “O.G.” of lift-access riding, Mammoth Mountain. In mountain bike lore, this sleepy volcano in Mammoth Lakes, California, is home to some of the most dynamic, famous (and infamous) terrain the sport has ever known. First open to riders in 1985, Mammoth has hosted numerous National Championship events, the Reebok Eliminator series, and the notorious Kamikaze downhill, where racers reach speeds over 60 miles per hour while descending over three miles of fire road. In recent years, Mammoth has reinvested and enhanced in their mountain bike terrain, and now have an extensive network of trails for bikes of all kinds and riders of all abilities.
The main lodge gondola and resident pachyderm.
I’ve been riding and racing at Mammoth since the late 1990s, and during my recent trip I took full advantage of the new spread by spending a day riding my 150-millimeter-travel trail bike on the flowing cross-country terrain, followed by two days on the big bike in the legendary downhill park. I hadn’t ridden Mammoth in the summertime since 2009, and the first thing I noticed about the park was how well trails like Recoil, Velocity and Twilight Zone flowed perfectly together. The terrain seamlessly joins up for full-blown, top-to-bottom runs with every park feature you can imagine. Those familiar with the Mammoth terrain will be happy to know favorites like Bullet and Techno Rock are still firing and keeping you on your toes.
Built For Fun. Built To Last.
Mammoth Mountain is incredibly vast. This view shows a fraction of the terrain.
As the original bike park, Mammoth Mountain was initially geared towards cross-country riding, and over time the trail crew has worked hard to advance the terrain to appeal to the progression of riders and bike technology. Recent trail enhancements include modern features, such as wall rides, wooden and metal jumps, and ladder bridges; yet, the most obvious of them all would be the numerous paver stones and recycled chairlift sheaves (rings that look like boxcar wheels) intentionally placed to give consistency and sustainability to the notoriously loose and unpredictable pumice landscape.
The entrance to Velocity gives riders a glimpse what is ahead. Specialized's Suspension and Product Developer Matt Cipes joined me on the Mammoth trip, and charges into view.
“We’ve put over $60,000 in trail improvements over the past two years,” says Mammoth Mountain Bike Park Manager Mark Hendrickson. “In that time we’ve put in 12 wooden features and 70 tons of paver stone. Plus, this summer alone we’ve put in an additional 140 tons of paver stone. We have the loosest dirt in the world, so the goal is to create sustainable terrain, so whether someone comes to ride in June or September they get the same feeling from the lips of jumps and berms.”
No lunar landing, rather the jump-filled Recoil trail.
A trail called Pipeline takes an out-of-the-box approach to bike park development. It boasts a 155-foot boardwalk to step-down jump, several tabletops, plus six metal, freestyle motocross-style kickers, each painted blue or black based on difficulty and size—with black jumps requiring mandatory flight. Pipeline was designed to push the limits of what riders are used to seeing in parks around the world, and some terrain features were installed with guidance of Red Bull Rampage and Crankworx Slopestyle champion, Cam Zink.
A glimpse into the immense cross-country terrain.
Dan Brisbin of San Luis Obispo, California, launches a ladder bridge before entering Jill's Jumps.
In a sport that’s evolving hand-over-fist with technology, Mammoth isn’t a wallflower on the sideline of progression. With every dollar invested, or pile of dirt shoveled, they’re improving the unbelievable vast terrain of the existing park, but also modernizing the trails to offer riders different riding experiences.
“It’s one thing to build trail features,” explains Hendrickson. “But, you have to incorporate and consider the feeling the trail is supposed to provide. How does a jump or berm work with the rest of the rail? Would a section be better with a hip or something different to create the roller coaster flow? That’s what we’re about, putting the effort in to make the concepts work together.”Send it.
The application of Hendrickson’s concept is no more evident than on Mammoth’s newest trail jewel - Twilight Zone. Built from dirt that can only be found in Mammoth Lakes, California, there may not be a trail quite like Twilight Zone anywhere in the world. The twisted volcanic lovechild of a skatepark and dual slalom track, Twilight Zone is chock-full of paver stones and sheaves, and winds through a section of woods too loose and deep with pumice to ever be developed for a trail before the implementation of the sustainability and consistency initiatives.
Notable New Terrain
Free shuttles run from Mammoth Village to the gondola.
When it comes to marquee trails in Mammoth Bike Park the classics like Bullet and Chain Smoke are must-rides, but several new trails like Twilight Zone, Recoil, and Jill’s Jumps truly capture the roller coaster effect Henderson and his crew worked to create.
Keeping speed and riding high.
For as dynamic as the Mammoth terrain is for experienced riders, beginners interested in trying mountain biking or families looking for some outdoor adventure don’t have much desire to enter the Twilight Zone. Therefore, this year the Mammoth trail crew enhanced their Down Town beginner trail, by making it wider and more newbie friendly and enjoyable for first-timers.
From downhill to cross-country, the Mammoth terrain is unlike anywhere in the world.
The Mammoth crew is working to host some mountain bike events in the summer of 2012. They’re looking to host a freeride and slopestyle contest, but also a cycling oriented festival that will incorporate both road and mountain biking to celebrate their long heritage of both disciplines. To keep up with Mammoth’s latest events look for them on Facebook.
Catch The Mammoth Drift
The pop from a high-speed berm.
“We look at our mountain like it’s this gorgeous, gigantic Victorian home,” said Hendrickson. “And, like an older mansion, we knew it was amazing, but could be even better if we put in a lot of hard work on new floors, windows and landscaping. We’ve invested a lot of time and money to make our house as good as we know it can be.
Paver stones help riders maintain speed and give jumps and berms consistency.
“In the past, we tried to make all of the trails great; now we’re enhancing them to make them cool and just more fun. Come on, anywhere you get to ride a chairlift up with your bike and ride down is basically the greatest thing in the world! There are a lot of awesome places to ride: Whistler has an amazing park with Velcro-like dirt, Moab has the famous slick rock; yet, come to Mammoth and experience the home of the two wheel drift!”Location
: Mammoth Lakes, California Get there
: Sixty minute flights are now available on United Airlines from L.A., San Jose, and San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes Airport. By car, Mammoth Mountain is about 320 miles from L.A. and San Francisco, and 310 miles from Las Vegas. Season
: July to OctoberNumber of trails
: 40Vertical drop
: 3,100 feetMust-ride trail
: Twilight ZoneCan’t-miss event
: Mammoth Festival of Beers and BluesBike and gear rental
: A full day aboard a Rocky Mountain Flatline and protective gear is $168.Website
: Mammoth Mountain Bike Park
Words and images by Ryan Cleek
Additional Press from Mammoth Resort
:Brian LopesAaron Gwin