East Bound and Down: North by Northeast

Nov 26, 2015
by Brice Shirbach  
East Bound and Down Header
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
bigquotesOver every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley. - John Muir

By late September in northern Vermont, the first signs of autumn are beginning to surface, with hints of orange, red and yellow peering out from the region's dense canopy of green. Peak foliage is still a few weeks away, but with average temperatures in the low 70's, plenty of daylight hours remaining, and in my estimation, some of the planet's oldest and best soil to lay your knobbies on, VT is primed for the best riding of the year right around this time. Any time (even during the winter) is a good time to ride your bike in Vermont, but autumn in the Green Mountain State is special. Most of my time spent in the region has either been bike park oriented, or on the Kingdom Trails, and I've long been keen to explore more of what I've heard by many to be some of the best trails anywhere on the east coast. There's no time like the present, especially when you're presently in the middle of a week with perfect September weather, while uncrowded trails beckon.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Reds and golds begin to eek their way into the green tunnel.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The Green Mountain State is loaded with wicked brown pow.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
New England's best breakfast? I'll say it: yup!

Earlier in the year, while in East Burke for NEMBA Fest, I discussed my desire to explore more of the area with Alex McAndrew and Ella Skalwold, who this past spring took over guiding duties for Kingdom-based tour and trail construction company, Ide Ride Tours. Both race downhill professionally, possess engineering degrees, and have a huge passion for sharing their love for Vermont trails. My parameters were pretty simple: fun trails and hopefully a chance to sip on some tasty brews while we're at it. Vermont is, after all, home to some of the most dialed-in breweries in the country, including the legendary Alchemist Brewery and it's wunder-can Heady Topper, Hill Farmstead, Harpoon, Magic Hat, Long Trail and Fiddlehead among others. As it turned out, Alex and Ella were keen to showcase some of their tour offerings, one of which was called Hoppy Trails, which celebrates some of Vermont's best trails, and the best places for beer within close to proximity them.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Ella and Alex are two of the nicest, fastest and most knowledgeable riders you'll ever meet.

"You finish a bike ride, and someone always has a cooler." Alex tells me during one of our many 'rehydration stops'. "For a while, it was always bad beers too that you’d sip on after a ride. But, Vermont has grown this culture of really strong breweries, and they’ve got the trails to match, so it’s become a challenge to come up with a new beer for after the ride. We’ve just enhanced that idea by spending time on trails that are right next to some great breweries."

Ella agrees. "It’s a great way to highlight Vermont too. We’re known for good beer and fun trails, so combining the two makes sense. We’re mainly focused on the northern part of the state, but we’ve got a pretty comprehensive idea of what breweries are found where. And we know where we can hop on a trail near any of these spots."

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Alex and Ella enjoying some quality time together at Cady Hill.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Ella getting turns on some steeps at Perry Hill.

We left NEMBA Fest with a plan in place, and I returned to East Burke in September for the Burke Enduro, with the intent to spend the days following the race driving across the state to sample its finest trails and beers. Fortunately, Vermont takes up roughly 10% of the land area compared to most of the states in the American West, so the drive was an easy undertaking. We spent three days exploring trails in Stowe, Waterbury and Victory State Forest. We also sampled some of Vermont's requisite beer offerings, which for the Hoppy Trails Tour, is an integral component to the experience. For the record, Ide Ride offers up a multitude of other tour options.

"We’ll offer 5 signature tours," Ella reminded me. "Which include Hoppy Trails, Downhill Adventure, Fall Foliage, the Backroad Foliage Tour and Ladies Only. It’s a chick party based out of the Kingdom Trails, and ladies can make the husband take care of the kids for the week."

Early each morning Alex and Ella would meet me at my cottage, we'd load bikes, bags and gear into a 14-passenger Ford Econoline (#VanLife), grab breakfast and some coffee at the Bagel Depot, and head out for some fun trails and quenching brews. On day number 1, we headed 60 miles east to the biggest mountains in the state.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
It's easy to see why cows are happy here. Happy cows make for happy ice cream eaters, just ask Ben. Or Jerry.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The Econoline may not be as sleek as the latest offerings from Mercedes or Dodge, but it gets the job done.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Mount Mansfield in plain sight across the valley from Cady Hill.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Stowe's got it right: More directional trails, please.



Day 1: Stowe, VT



East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Ella and Alex head up Cady Hill in Stowe for some flowy fun.

Cady Hill is located right off of route 100 in one of the east coast's last true mountain towns, Stowe. Cady Hill Forest consists of 320 acres and roughly 11 miles of singletrack, much of it directional, and with a handful of trails designated for mountain bikes only; although the network as a whole is in fact multi-use. The Econoline rumbled into the parking lot about an hour after departing East Burke, and after a quick exchange of pleasantries with a couple who had just wrapped up a ride, we headed out to explore the network of flow trails.

Yellow Birch, Red Maple and Sugar Maples, Hemlock and White Pine combine to produce an aromatic canopy, and provide the forest floor with a soft blanket of pine needles that border either side of the well packed singletrack. The trails throughout Cady Hill offer us ample opportunities to rally: berms are trustworthy, doubles and triples abound, and the average overall speeds high are not far from what you might experience on the famously rapid trails surrounding East Burke.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Alex keeping 'er low over a double.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Alex and I sync up over a quick set of rollers. Keep your eyes peeled here, as the trail builders have done a nice job of implementing fun features throughout the network, allowing riders of all abilities to enjoy the same trails. Ella Skalwold behind the lens.

After a few hours of testing our cornering traction on the groomed trails of the Stowe's 3-year old conservation easement, we packed up our bikes and gear, and headed up Mountain and Luce Hill roads for some food and beverages at the Trapp Deli Bakery and Brew House. Owned by famous Austrian exports, the von Trapp family (if you haven't seen Rodgers and Hammerstein's Sound of Music, you should), the Brew House is part of a much larger resort complex situated on 2,500 pristine acres that overlook the town of Stowe several hundred feet below its hilly landscape.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Passes are required to ride on the trails on Trapp Family property.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The grass is quite green on either side of the fence in Stowe.

Alex, Ella and I grabbed some sandwiches and lagers at the Brew House, and discussed our options from there. Alex, a von Trapp descendent, was somewhat familiar with the trails on the property and was looking to connect them with Adam Camp trails, a neighboring network before circling back onto von Trapp land, and finishing down into town for dinner. The plan turned out to be rather brilliant, and somewhat sizable, as the three of us hammered the pedally system throughout the von Trapp property. The terrain may not have featured much in the way of steep gradients, but the scenery was stunning, the dirt top notch and the trails traffic-free.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
I'm a big fan of the dark and deep woods of the northeastern United States.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Von Trapp family lawn mowers.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The forests are quite old here, with a texture that's best experienced up close.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Alex's powerful style is well suited to the fast and rough trails around Stowe.

Eventually, we worked our way around the 3,000 foot tall summit that looks over the property and used Ranch Camp to connect to Kimmers; a mile-long descent that dropped us 600 feet down several switchbacks, roots, rocks, and small drops. By the time we finished the climb up Hardy Haul and worked our way back to the Brew House, the light would be fading quickly. Ella kindly offered to relieve me of my camera pack and would meet us with the van down in town, while Alex and I would take what would prove to be my favorite trail of the day, Pipeline. With dusk upon us, I did everything in my power to stay on Alex's wheel, and lent him my full trust as we worked our way through the near black forest; grazing trees with our bar ends, hooting and hollering anytime either of us managed to toss some dirt into the air, and generally hanging over the ragged edge more often than not.

We would eventually pop out of the forest, directly across the road from the high school, and pedaled into town to meet up with Ella at Sushi Yoshi for dinner and drinks. It was here that I was finally able to wrap my fingers around one of Vermont's most famous elixirs: Heady Topper. A product of the Alchemist Brewery, based out of Waterbury (and practically next door to another famous Vermont export: Ben & Jerry's), Heady Topper is without a doubt the most talked about American IPA on the market right now, and while that level of hyperbole is tough for any beer to live up to, the fact is that this beer is really, really tasty. It was a fitting end to a stellar day riding. With our bellies full, we headed back to East Burke, where the falling temperatures helped sleep come quickly (perhaps the Topper assisted there as well), which was good because we were going to need all of the rest we could muster for the next day.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Pink sky at night, shredder's delight.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Heady Topper at night, shredder's delight...also.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Ella leads Alex through some freshly cut singletrack just above the von Trapp Resort.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Ella is petite in stature, and as genuinely sweet as they come. But when it's time to ride, she goes big and she ain't scurred of getting dirty.



Day 2: Waterbury, VT



East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The Waterbury Bike Park is perhaps more commonly known as Perry Hill.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Adam Snyder and Tom Sampson joined us for another day of bikes and beers.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Adam, Tom, Ella and Alex enjoying just a snippet of Perry Hill's 8 miles of trail offerings.

Waterbury, Vermont is home to some of the state's most well-known commodities, including Rome Snowboards, Green Mountain Coffee, Ben & Jerry's, and the Waterbury Bike Park, also known as Perry Hill. This would be our destination for the second day of the Hoppy Trails sampler, and this time we would be joined by teammate and friend, Adam Snyder, as well as another good pal and ripper in Tom Sampson. Both hail from New England and had been in the area for the weekend's enduro festivities.

Perry Hill is located in Putnam State Forest, and is comprised of roughly 8 miles of singletrack that offer riders of all abilities the opportunity to have a good time. 8 miles of trail isn't much, but after spending a few hours familiarizing myself with this place, it's sitting somewhere near the top of my favorite places to ride on the east coast. The doubletrack climb up is surprisingly interesting, and it's not a particularly horrible chore as you're only ascending a touch over 800 feet. The great thing about this sort of design, which can be found in other places as well, such as Black Rock, OR and Beacon, NY among others; is that the network branches off of the doubletrack throughout the climbing route, allowing riders to cut the climb short at a number of spots. The trails work their way down the southwest facing aspect from the summit of Perry Hill, eventually spitting riders out on River Road, across from the Winooki River. We spent the day rinsing and repeating on trails such as Joe's, Rastaman, and Burning Spear before meandering down Campfire and calling it a day. This place presented us with a bevy of excuses for high fives and smiles. Berms, flat turns, rock rolls, doubles, triples, drops, wet loam, dry loam, roots and rocks were all provided in a steady stream of Green Mountain Grandeur.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Adam Snyder calls Durango home nowadays, but he's not shy about his affinity for riding bikes in Vermont. This is, after all, where the veteran pro enduro racer cut his teeth back in the day.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Wet or dry, loam is loam. Alex McAndrew behind the lens.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
To love Vermont mountain biking...
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
...is to love your roots.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
While Perry Hill does have some options for those getting into the sport, this place is more well known for it's burlier lines.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Perry Hill proved to be a perfect place for good vibes...and bringing friends closer than ever...

From the trailhead, we headed just a few minutes down the road and into town, where our first stop for libations would be at the Prohibition Pig; a barbecue and brewery offering a large number of beers from several breweries in addition to their own. There we grabbed some chips and a variety beers and sat outside, savoring the transitional weather as the early evening temperatures reminded us autumn was just around the corner. We finished our beers as the daylight waned, and headed across the street for some dinner and perhaps another round or two at The Reservoir, where we laughed about some of the day's antics, discussed our affinity for last season's record snowfall, and looked forward to one final day of riding ahead of us as a group. The 3rd and final leg of the week would feature some unfinished business on the other side of Burke Mountain.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Three cheers for bikes and beers!

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Crowlers are a great way to bring some beer home, especially when home is half a day's drive away.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
The tidal wave of craft breweries that has emerged over the past few years can make finding the truly worthwhile options a daunting task nowadays. Believe me when I say that Prohibition Pig is very much deserving of your attention if you find yourself in northern Vermont sometime.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Nothing beats a great dinner and beer combo before bed, and nothing beats an amazing breakfast with a perfect cup of coffee before a ride.



Day 3: Victory Hill, VT



East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Alex, Ella and Tom were eager to see if my "world's greatest blueberry pancakes" claim was going to hold up. It did.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Tom Sampson's bovine passion is renowned.

On our 3rd and final day of riding, Alex and Ella decided to give me a sneak peak at a project their boss and Vermont legend, Knight Ide, had been working on for some time. East Burke sits at the base of Burke Mountain, where the ski resort and bike park can be found on its northwest facing aspect. On the other side of the mountain, Victory State Forest can be found stretching 16,000 acres from the eastern slopes of Burke Mountain down into the valleys and across several smaller peaks. Here, Knight has been working on a new set of trails for over a year, alongside John McGill of Conservation Collaborative, a company dedicated to the protection of large tracts of land from being parcelized.

"I’ve built two descents," Knight tells me during our first shuttle. "One is a mile and a half, and the other is just about 2 miles. There’s still a lot more work to be done, though. Mainly what I’m doing is using a trail corridor, enhancing the parts that are good, and eliminating the parts that aren’t. By the end of next season, if I am able to put as much work into it as I did this year, we’ll have 8 miles of really good descending out here."

Due to the nature of the unfinished trails and work to be done, I was convinced to leave the camera pack behind and to just enjoy some of the work that has been completed. While a bit of bushwhacking was required to connect various sections of trail, it was clear that Knight's team had been working hard, and doing a damn good job while they were at it. Throughout the morning, the forest echoed with a cacophony of riders enjoying the fruits of Ide Ride labor. The dark and deep old growth forest presents an enormous amount of potential, so much so that once finished, this place may very well find itself near the top of Vermont's trail offerings. The dirt alone is some of the best I'd ever ridden, and that's on just what amounts to two incomplete trails.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Vermont freeride legend Knight Ide is committed to bringing some top notch backcountry descents to northern Vermont.
East Bound and Down North by Northeast
John McGill may be the man behind the funding of the Victory Forest project, but he's also keenly aware of the value of some good old fashioned sweat equity.

The ceiling here is high, and Knight knows it. "What I’m here doing is trying to develop some stacked loops where each trail will fully descend before ascending, rather than going down and up throughout. Within reason, of course. Obviously, you can put a small climb in a downhill trail that will actually make it better. There’s so much room right here on this mountain, and we have a connection with Conservation Collaborative. The next step would be the getting state of Vermont involved so that this area becomes accessible for further trail development."

All things considered, three days simply isn't enough to get anywhere close to the full picture of what northern Vermont offers to mountain bikers. But three days of riding some amazing trails alongside the likes of Alex and Ella is more than enough to whet the pallet. I'm excited to see them develop their guiding services, and continue to cultivate some Green Mountain stoke. I'm just glad to have sampled a bit of their Hoppy Trails concept in moderation, like any reasonable person would be. I'm especially looking forward to going back for another round of riding...and brews.

East Bound and Down North by Northeast
Knight knows that there are possibilities here as far as the eye can see.




To book your own trip to Vermont with Alex and Ella, click here!
Thank-you to the Wildflower Inn for Vermont's best breakfast!
Thank-you to Roll A Fat One for the hospitality!




MENTIONS: @briceshirbach



Posted In:
Stories



54 Comments

  • 15 0
 Just did basically the same 3 day trip but included Millstone in Barre VT. Best 3 days of riding this year!!! Vermont has world class trails and are just killing it with the micro brews. Really looking forward to the next trip.
  • 1 0
 Loved this write-up, hits a mtber right in the heart...good trails, good beer, awesome.
  • 13 3
 "Roll a fat one" - sick t shirt aside from the fat bike haha
  • 10 0
 Lies, all lies. There's no good riding in VT. ????
  • 7 0
 Heady topper ... Mmmmmmmmmmm
  • 5 0
 That's what I'm saying!!! I got a 4pack ready to roll out for Turkey dindin today!!!
  • 4 1
 I'm lucky enough to drink Heady and/or Focal Banger any day of the year. Oh, and living in Stowe ain't bad either (despite the hoards of tourons, the area is pretty amazing).
  • 2 0
 Must be nice!
  • 3 0
 Next time you guys are in my back yard make sure you give me a call. I'll be there in 5 min. Perry is where I ride daily and Stowe is where I ride on the weekends. These trails are killer trails and deserve the recognition. Alex and Ella are great ambassadors for the area! keep it up and happy riding. Cheers
  • 3 0
 Nice writeup, Brice. @mayha49 I second the props for Millstone! As an Albany, NY native, I grew up making endless trips to VT.
  • 4 0
 "Bikes and beer" that's what I'm talking about, living the dream.Great article.
  • 2 0
 I'm surprised how ridiculous the climb right at the beginning of Perry Hill wasn't mentioned. First time I rode this this summer after moving close by I almost regretted it. That is, until I went back down.
  • 4 0
 You learn to love it. Just kidding, it sucks every time.
  • 2 0
 I was ready to admit I was a pussy for hating this climb but thanks for making me feel better! The trails certainly warrant the ride (or walk) up but my legs and my asthma were really hating Perry Hill. Luckily, after the first trip down I can see why it's all so worth it!
  • 1 0
 hah at least its over really quickly! Just a short burst up to the more mellow bits.
  • 4 0
 Best write up in a while.. Trails look awesome
  • 1 0
 Come back and tour more of Vermont's technical riding! Check out Millstone, and the epic linked network of trails through Sleepy Hollow, Hinesburg Town Forest and Carse Hills.
  • 2 0
 Best riding in New England hands down. Props to Alex and Ella for following there passion
  • 3 0
 In Vermont you can either afford a nice bike or good beer
  • 1 0
 I'll take the OK bike and drink the good beer.
  • 1 0
 I love these trails I ride them all the time. The season is coming to an end, with most of the trails closed, and I am already pumped for next season!
  • 1 0
 Vermont is where it's at for great mountain biking and the best beer you can buy. Truly lucky to live so close to such an awesome area!
  • 2 0
 You can't top 'er heady...
  • 2 0
 When will West bound and up: South by Southwest be coming out?
  • 2 0
 Great Pics, great story! We love VT in all seasons!
  • 1 0
 probably best 3 days of the year!
  • 2 0
 Wicked Awesome
  • 6 9
 Great write-up and pictures. Been to the Van Trapp Lodge, but not with my bike...yet.

Personally I don't see the point of "Ella is petite in stature and genuinely as sweet as they come...and ain't scurred of getting dirty" unless there are similar assessments of stature, genuineness and irrational fears for the guys as well. I know this sounds a bit like trolling, but it really did sound a bit condescending. "Ella drops in" would have been sufficient.
  • 11 0
 Understood. It wasn't intended to be condescending at all; I was just pointing out the contrast between a perception of her off the bike versus on the bike. I wouldn't read anymore into that, but I can see how someone can come to that same conclusion...no harm intended!
  • 6 1
 That's cool. I shouldn't have used term 'condescending', that was too much. Thanks for clarifying Brice.
  • 5 3
 PC police. wheeee-oooooo or weeee-errrrrrrrr-weeeeee-errrrrrrr
  • 3 2
 Not PC, probably just feeling a bit grumpy from not riding for too long, my bad. I have a daughter and sometimes read things from what I think might be her perspective. Brice was making a completely different point and I jumped the gun. That drop looks like something I would think long and hard about, and then ride around it...
  • 6 0
 That's actually a refreshing perspective, @eggsandb. I'm a new dad, and it totally changes the way I react to different behaviors...good lookin' out! Ella is a beast on a bike, and someone who boys and girls really should look up to!
  • 3 0
 Treat women like riders worthy of respect and more might take an interest in the sport. Congrats, eggsandb, and thanks to Brice for taking it to heart.
  • 2 1
 I have a daughter. Personally I just saw it as a compliment. Like don't judge a book by its cover. IDK, I guess you could see it as a put down but most women like to be petite and sweet. Remember the opposite is LARGE and a B**CH....generally not a compliment. Maybe the words could have been better, but I got his point I think.

BTW, I love the article. I soooo want to ride these trails now and its with-in road trip distance.
  • 5 0
 When Alex and Ella were living in California, Ella would swing by and take my Daughter Ryan riding for the afternoon and those trips turned her from an 11 year old who liked to ride XC to an 11 year old girl who now rides trails that grown men get off and walk. Alex and Ella are two of the best people I know and if you have the chance it's worth it to book one of their tours!
  • 3 1
 It's duff... not loam.
  • 1 0
 Too true friend. Too true.
  • 1 0
 Gotta love that Vermont scene, great beer and great riding Smile
  • 1 0
 Hill Farmstead? #Craftbeer
  • 2 0
 We wanted to, but they weren't open while I was in town
  • 2 0
 heartbreaking.
  • 1 0
 ride bikes drink beer
  • 3 3
 Why is no one wearing knee pads?
  • 3 1
 Why would you?
  • 1 0
 Probably not planning on going down. Literally or figuratively.
  • 1 1
 Where was the first photo taken (the natural rock descent)?
  • 2 0
 rastaman on perry hill I do believe.
  • 1 0
 sorry burning spear.
  • 2 0
 right the 1st time rastaman
  • 1 0
 yep, Rastaman, sick trail, know it well
  • 2 0
 Thanks! Going to have to get down there next summer. Maybe I'll have better luck finding some Heady Topper (my Holy Grail). Can never seems to get it anywhere around Kingdom Trails...
  • 2 0
 check the alchemist's website for delivery dates, plus i dont believe it makes it out to the burke area. I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure it's more local to the stowe/waterbury area.
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