First Impressions: Riding Northstar, California with Geoff Gulevich, Damon Iwanaga & Cam Zink

Sep 20, 2022
by Paul Kalifatidi  
There's a reason people have granted Northstar the nickname of "Gnarstar".

First Impressions: Northstar Bike Park
Riders and Video: Geoff Gulevich, Damon Iwanaga & Cam Zink // Photography and Writing: Paul Kalifatidi

When Pinkbike approached me about shooting photos for a First Impressions piece at Northstar bike park, needless to say, I was excited. I had never actually ridden a bike park. It would really be a true first impression and I’m glad to say that Northstar couldn’t have been a better intro into the world of lift access mountain biking.

I live in Bellingham, Washington, where the trails are wet, rooty, and soft… a far cry from the rocky, dusty, high speed trails I enjoyed at Northstar. The difference was exciting and I felt challenged by the change in traction and pace. The technical bits required different care and the berms and straights made for exhilarating speed that I’m not quite used to back home.

Going into the trip, my biggest fear was being unsuspectedly towed into a larger feature than I could chew. That fear was quickly set aside as the trail managers at Northstar do a good job of making sure that features are rollable at slow speeds but serve up plenty of air should you choose. That’s not to say there aren’t gnarly trails that will quickly humble you if you pick a bad line into a dusty rock as there are plenty of tech trails such as Tell No Tales that will deliver carnage. Made for the 2019 Enduro World Series, TNT is Northstar’s stand out tech trail featuring plenty of steep, loose, dusty shoots and rock rolls that beg skill from even the best rider. If you’re in search of more tech, head over to the other side of the park for Karpiel, one of the original hand-cut trails at Northstar.

If you’re looking for the iconic bike park jump lines and sweeping berms, check out Livewire and Gypsy. Livewire features plenty of airtime while Gypsy has some beautiful wooden features such as the wooden roller coasters. Gypsy was my favorite trail in the park as it is incredibly different from the trails I’m used to riding. I made sure to get in multiple laps. My only advice is to keep your speed up and enjoy the noise of rubber on wood. This is the kind of trail that makes a trip to Northstar memorable.

I came away from my Northstar experience feeling fulfilled. I had survived following three pros at the top of their game thanks to the beginner friendly trail building, but I didn’t feel as though they had missed out on the air and the rough stuff that they enjoy so much. I’d say that is my biggest take away from my trip: Northstar is a great place to bring a group even if the skill levels are quite diverse. No matter your experience level and sending preferences, Northstar bike park is worth the trip.

Join us for lots of dust and our first impressions.

Northstar... pretty zooming.

Views abound but try not to enjoy them too much while riding. That's what the lifts are for.

Gully taking air samples of that sweet Sierra air. Consensus: less wet than the Northshore.


The dust makes for some otherworldly riding, unless you're from California, then you just call that riding.

Easily the best wooden features I've ever ridden. Widies anyone?

They weren't kidding about the whole "Sunshine State" thing.

Three lifts serve the bike park. A gondola takes you to the mid-mountain lodge and from there two smaller lifts serve independent peaks, eventually funneling back to the lodge.

Party-trains upon party-trains, let the the good times roll.

Geoff "Gully" Gulevich
Cam Zink

Damon Iwanaga

Northstar California Resort mountain biking trails

Since filming, Northstar has opened the Gatorade Skills Zone at Mid-Mountain offering a dedicated space for progression including drops, berms and an airbag, as well as a re-done and re-vamped Toyota Jump Park built in conjunction with Sensus RAD Trails and the Northstar Bike Park Trail Crew.


  • 22 1
 These are some awesome trails, but we need a part 2! They didn't even show the trails off of the Vista lift and those are some of the best trails IMHO. Glad to see Northstar get some pub though!
  • 22 4
 It's a paid advertisement, they get as much pub as they buy.
  • 2 0
 There is so much more gnar to N* but great to see it here in any form.
  • 2 0
 Also a lot of awesome trails just outside of northstar. Big Chief!
  • 13 0
 Northstar was my first time at a bike park too. I went by myself and rode nonstop all day. I pushed the boundaries of my Stumpjumper Evo (mostly the Code RS brakes), but it held up great. I'm very glad I installed cush core the day before. I did a few laps to adjust suspension settings and once dialed I just went for it. I've never ridden berms that big, wood features like that, and hit so many jumps. I had a total blast as I tried to hit as many of the trails as I could. It's hard to navigate without stopping as a first timer to these meandering trails, and I ended up on some super fun steep tech bits. I was toast after 14 laps.
  • 11 2
 A seriously underrated park. If you like raw, go to northstar! Was blessed to grow up riding around there
  • 8 0
 Good stuff, but missing arguably the best runs on the mountain - Boondocks, Sticks and Stones > Speed Control, and Flameout > Woods
  • 9 0
 Need more edits from Damon Iwanaga!
  • 10 1
 not affectionately called "DustStar" for nothing...
  • 2 0
 Not this week !
  • 9 0
 Widies > Skinnies
  • 5 0
 I love the top part of gypsy, but the bottoms part is just punishing with out the fun. Pho Dog and Sticks are my two favorites. They nerfed Karpiel a few years back, but it’s still decent.
  • 7 0
 Whose idea was it to promote the last 2 open weekends of N* this late in the season?
  • 4 0
 I rode Northstar a few years ago while on vacation. Having only ever ridden the northeast, I got a serious education in dust. But man, what an awesome park!
  • 5 0
 They actually were kidding about the whole “Sunshine State” thing, that is FL. CA is the “Golden State”.
  • 1 1
 Good point, I guess I've heard California referred to as "the sunshine state" as well. But yes, it's Florida's official nickname.
  • 3 0
 @paulkalifatidi: Coastal residents don’t call it the sunshine state
  • 2 0
 @rider001: 2pac did though....
  • 6 0
 @TooManyBikess: always defer to 2Pac
  • 1 0
 @TooManyBikess: technically it was Dre I believe, first verse
  • 2 0
 @jgoldfield: you’re right about that. Pac wrote it though, for sure.
  • 1 0
 @TooManyBikess: Fair enough!
  • 2 0
 I ran into Geoff riding Northstar earlier this season and wondered what he was up to. It's a great fun place to ride, but it often gets pretty beat up by the end of the season. I've been riding there for like 20 years at this point and it's always a treat. I used to ride it on my Yeti 575, and on my Spire now it's like a whole different experience.
  • 19 0
 To be fair it's beat up at the beginning, middle, and end of season.
  • 7 1
 Pretty much sums up the trails in CA.. loose over soft-unpacked. lmao
  • 2 2
 Wtf is loose over soft? Wouldn’t it just loose? Or soft?
  • 4 2
 @TEAM-ROBOT: well it’s a shitty joke. lol.
  • 4 1
 @mmarkey21: it's just to express the lack of grip. Normally you would describe it as "loose over hard packed". But CA surface is beyond that. It's beach sand, kitty litter.
  • 2 1
 @mmarkey21: It’s a very special blend of topsoil and silt. But mostly silt. It pretends to be hard pack for a bit but just turns into ruts of silt
  • 3 1
 @iLuveKetchup: guys, I live in Reno and ride all over the Sierra, I know what the dirt is like. Just hadn’t heard anyone jokingly refer to it as loose over soft. Good stuff.
  • 1 0
 Come to Bend, I thought Sierra's were loose then I came to central oregon. I heard our dirt isn't even technically soil.
  • 1 0
 @Kevindhansen: I was in Bend a couple months ago, that place is like Velcro compared to this.
  • 1 0
 @Kevindhansen: I've ridden Bend and Mammoth (the sierra) quite a bit. Sorry, have to say the Sierra is as dusty and loose as it gets.
  • 1 0
 @Kevindhansen: it’s not soil, it’s aerated dust!

Bend is king of the moon dust Smile
  • 6 2
 Cool ad but I wish they used that money to maintain the trails more so theyre not blown out every weekend. Havent been in years for that reason alone
  • 1 0
 For those who have been to Mammoth:

Is it worth driving PAST Mammoth from SoCal (5+ hours to Mammoth), other than just riding somewhere different?

I will go someday, just not sure how much priority I should give it vs just riding in Tahoe in general.
  • 2 0
 Yes. Just so you've done it and can now enjoy Mammoth knowing you don't need to go there again. Mammoth is more than just riding alone, it's about being on that mountain and having endless views around. Northstar is dust in the woods, but sick riding.
  • 1 0
 If you like to climb and ride epic trails, then I wouldn’t even stop at Mammoth. Tahoe is amazing, sadly, this was discovered long ago by hordes from the “golden state”.
  • 3 0
 Outside: "the paid subscription content idea didn't go over well on PB; what if we just do long commercials instead"?
  • 5 3
 after being spoiled with east coast bike parks ive found that northstar is just blown tf out. not worth the drive from the bay.
  • 1 0
 This is precisely the reason why N* is blown out all the time. I kid.
  • 4 0
 Dear UCI: XCO here please Smile
  • 2 0
 My first instinct was to downvote, but that's just me being shitty. Instead I'm upvoting in the spirit that if N* ran an XCO they might as well run a DHI Big Grin

PS: Someone else will likely jump in this thread to tell you that it's not up to the UCI.
  • 2 0
 Still have my license, I would show up for that (can I make it for two laps before getting pulled?)
  • 2 0
 Man, I wonder how much Vail paid these guys or at least Gulevich for the embellished content. "Good berms, good rocks, it's always loose". The last statement is mostly true
  • 5 2
 I feel that Northstar is highly over priced. It would rather donate my money to the local Tahoe trail builder organizations.
  • 2 0
 Cam and the gang took me down Tell no Tales for the first run when I was there, on someone elses bike wearing Howies shoes.......this video doesnt show just how knarly it is!
  • 4 0
 Dust is deeeep out there
  • 3 0
 Video did not do the place justice at all!
  • 2 0
 The dirt here looks better than Snoqualmie Bike Park in Washington...
  • 3 0
  • 2 0
 Looks more like a Golden State thing
  • 2 1
 My first impression was shocking that they do not work during mid-week, only weekends +1 day during summer time.
  • 3 2
 Northstar is by far my favorite bike park.
  • 4 7
 Now THATS a bike park lol. I mostly ride Trestle because I live close and find it to be mediocre. Definitely lucky to have a park so close but none of the tech is really that techy and it seems like they focus more on catering to intermediate riders, instead of advanced. That is most of their audience though so makes sense.
  • 11 1
 Trestle is mediocre? Where the hell do you ride man
  • 1 0
 @wburnes: maybe it’s just bc I’ve ridden it so many times lol
  • 1 0
 Trail wise nice place to ride
  • 1 0
 Duststar never disappoints!
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