My first weekend at the Bike Park isn’t even over yet, but I had to take a moment to stop in and tell you what you’re missing!
The Alyeska Bike Park is the first of its kind in Alaska. Mountain bike trails in general are kind of thin on the ground in this state, so the addition of any new mountain-bike specific trail systems are indicative of huge progress. I was really excited to hear that lift-served biking was coming to our state, and after a few days of riding the lifts, I’m even more stoked.
In talking to other riders around town, I get the feeling that many Alaskans have never been to a downhill mountain bike park and don’t know what to make of the idea. Some friends have been hesitant to come down and check it out, citing concerns about whether the trails are fun or whether their bikes are appropriate for the terrain. To report on those issues:
1. The trails are a blast. I’ve been riding all of the open Chair 3 and midway Chair 1 trails, with the top of Chair 1 scheduled to open to riding today, and have been having a great time. New trails are going in as we speak, and there’s going to be something for everyone—fast, flowy jump trails, super sketchy, steep, loose black diamond terrain, and a few easier, swoopy, get-to-know-you trails for those just trying out gravity-assisted mountain biking. The trails are new, and can be a little loose, but the more we ride them, the better they’ll get, right?
2. Is your bike appropriate? Let’s face it, DH bikes are new in Alaska stores. We haven’t really had the need for them before. Still, you can try out the trails at Alyeska without shelling out for a new bike. I’ve been riding on my 6×6 (6″ travel) all-mountain Ellsworth Moment and think it’s just perfect for the trails so far—but bear in mind I don’t do any huge drops or big features on it, and I’m a smaller rider so I don’t necessarily need as much suspension as a bigger dude might. Still, once the bigger terrain opens later in the season, I’m going to want a bit more bike underneath me, I suspect. I’ve seen a few riders out there on XC bikes, and even one rider on a hardtail, but I think you’ll get the most out of the terrain on what, in bike parlance, we call a “big bike”—one with a lot of suspension to soak up the rough terrain. If you don’t have a big bike and you want to try out the trails, don’t worry—there are a bunch of bikes for rent in the Daylodge, all of them appropriate for the terrain.
3. Is it worth it? Well, a lift ticket is only $20, and I’m pretty sure that comes with a hot dog at the Sitzmark. It’s well worth the money – seven hours of riding for less cash than taking a date to the movies. Don’t expect a day at the beach—the terrain is demanding—but if you want to improve your skills, take a break from climbing, and just have fun, come down for the day and check it out.
I guess I’ve come a long way from the time I got stranded with a flat tire on top of Whistler mountain on my XC bike and had to walk my bike down (it’s a long, long way) amidst the jeers of the Canadian DH crowd*, because I’m having a ton of fun at the Bike Park. And that’s another thing—the people riding down at Alyeska are the nicest group of DH riders I’ve ever been around. If you need help navigating the trails or adjusting your bike, or just want to chat a bit on the chairlift, you won’t have any trouble getting a hand. I think everyone’s just really happy to have a bike park in Alaska.
*No, people at Whistler weren’t nearly as nice as people at Alyeska, with the exception of the amazing Paulo Valle who stopped to help me fix my wheel. Maybe Paulo will come up and check out the Bike Park at Alyeska! He’s so nice, he’ll fit right in.