Switching Gears

Building a bike park

Killington Resort’s terrain park supervisor and head excavator gives an insight into the process

By Polly Lynn

Killington Resort is in its second year of a five-year build-out of its mountain bike park, which it is building in partnership with Gravity Logic, a design/build company specializing in new flow track trails, making the experience accessible to all levels.

“It’s been really great working with Gravity Logic,” said Will Conroy, Trail Crew Machine Operator at Killington Resort. “We’ve learned from them, and have done a lot of the designing and flagging trails ourselves. But we also felt that it was really important to always maintain the Killington feel… I think the product that we’ve built together is pretty awesome.”

Gravity Logic, based out of Vancouver, Canada, became one of the most sought-after mountain bike trail design/build companies in the world after the growth of Whistler Mountain’s bike park.

In just one decade, Whistler’s bike park grew from infancy to an attraction that brought in more money than its three golf courses combined! Estimates indicate that over 200,000 tickets are now sold each summer at Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

Killington Resort has invested in the industry’s best to bring world-class downhill mountain biking to Central Vermont.

“There is nowhere in the east that has the potential that Killington has,” said Dave Kelly, co-founder of Gravity Logic in an interview last year. “We have done many feasibility studies and we’re honest with folks, if they don’t have the right components we tell them not to bother… but Killington has all the right components in place.”

While Killington Resort has offered downhill mountain biking for decades, the new expansion is focused primarily on making the sport accessible to everyone. Before opening lower trails and retrofitting the Snowshed quad for bikes last summer, downhill riders at Killington faced a 1,700-foot vertical to get from the top of K1 to the base.

“Before this project, Killington mountain biking was pretty gnarly,” said Conroy, who is an accomplished mountain bike racer. “Even in the mountain biking community it was regarded as being one of the burlier mountains, so a lot of beginner and intermediate riders were not as stoked a few years ago, but now everybody has a smile on their face because of what we’ve been doing.”

With a bike park team of five full-time workers, plus part-time help, Terrain Park Supervisor Jay “Rosey” Rosenbaum says the crew can build up to one hundred feet of new terrain per day.

In total, Killington Resort now has about 34 mountain bike trails open for riding and boasts the longest amount of terrain from top to bottom, Rosenbaum said.

Running two lifts is also a unique feature, he explains. “We opened up Snowshed lift seven days a week this summer.” This has opened up significantly more beginner and intermediate terrain which in addition to the advanced trails accessible from the K1 Gondola. “Even though we did have a green trail from the top, it was basically the fire trail/our work road, which was certainly not friendly at all with loose gravel that caused you to slide all over the place… the beauty of being down at Snowshed is there is actually dirt and material that we can use. Up at the top of the mountain, it’s all rock. There’s really not much you can do but to scrape around and look for it.”

“We used to send never-ever mountain bikers up there,” Conroy added. “That’s mountain biking, you can’t lie. The sport is an action sport, it’s pretty extreme, but you don’t want to be turning people away from it because you don’t have anything to suit their ability level.”

With the addition of Snowshed’s beginner and intermediate trails, Killington’s bike park now offers the variety necessary for all levels and types of riders to have fun any day of the week, Conroy and Rosenbaum said.

“With the planned expansion, we’re hoping to become the premiere mountain bike destination in the east,” Rosenbaum said, adding, “People want to see new stuff and they want more of it… We are trying to give people what they want.”

When building new trails, the bike park team enjoys playing with natural features in the terrain.

“We use the natural landscape as much as we can when we build our new flow ride/free ride trails,” said Rosenbaum, explaining that the trails are designed with banked turns, rollers and jumps to help riders advance their skills without being intimidated.

Conroy also looks for opportunities to build-in easier or harder options on the same feature. By way of example, he said,  “I try to make it so if you hit a feature on the left-hand side it’s straight, easy to clear, shorter, but as you go to the right, the lip starts to slant out a bit and so does the landing. So, if you’re an advanced rider you can move out to the right, hit the jump in a different spot and it will feel bigger and be more matched to your speed… it adds a bit of flavor,” he said. “Also, for those beginners and intermediate riders who start on the left, they get comfortable then slowly move right for the next level of progression. Once they find they are overshooting the landing they can move to the right and that landing will be there. Even on the same trail there are levels of progression.”

Beginner terrain starts with a 5 to 6 percent grade, Rosenbaum explained of the progression built into the Killington park. “It’s basically a sidewalk in the woods. Next we have jump trails which will be at the same grade, but now we’re introducing small table tops that can all be rollable and you can pick how aggressive you want to be with it and then that advances up to much bigger jump trails,” he added.

In addition to the riding experience, the mountain bike trail crew spends a lot of time thinking about the environmental impact and erosion.

“Erosion is at least half of what we consider when building a trail,” said Conroy. “Water is everything. If you don’t prepare for it, you’re going to be coming back to rebuild it.”

June was a good test with over 10 inches of rainfall recorded at the resort, according to Conroy. “The trails held up pretty well and we were able to repair the washouts quickly,” he said.

State regulations are fairly strict when it comes to erosion mitigation and drainage control, Rosenbaum added, but those regulations are good for the trails, too. In fact, the Killington parks crew follows the state standards even when the trails are on resort land, he said.

“We further our relationship with the State when we are good stewards of the land,” Rosenbaum added. “We really take the time and care to do things right… We build all trails well so we don’t have to keep redoing them year after year. It’s much less expensive to do it right the first time.”

The Killington crew is also careful to make the trails blend in with the natural landscape, aesthetically.

“You don’t want it to look like it’s a sore thumb sticking out. You want it to look natural,” said Conroy. “Rosey is all about making sure trails are buttoned up nicely and put to bed, meaning what it’s going to look like afterwards… We throw down grass seed, mulch with hay, rake it really good, pull all the rocks out of the trail… It’s also much less intimidating when there is nice furry grass bed for 5- to 6-feet on either side of the trail rather than rocks and sticks and brush,” he added.

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