Bombs Away!

West Virginia�s Snowshoe Resort offers a dreamland staging ground for the modern revolution that is downhill mountain biking.
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snowshoe mountain bike
The West Virginia Roller Coaster: Snowshoe's Bike Park  (courtesy, Snowshoe Mountain Resort)
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CLICK HERE to get the lowdown on Snowshoe mountain biking, including info on rentals, downhill and cross-country options, lodging, and more.

First things first: Despite thoughts to the contrary, downhill mountain biking is NOT a lazy cyclist’s version of cross-country mountain biking. You may not be grinding up a 30-degree incline, your lungs and legs fighting for the right rest, but after a day of rigorous downhill bombing, you will be exhausted. Why? Imagine struggling to keep your balance on a pogo stick for a full 20 minutes, legs perpetually bent at the knee, hands clasped into fists, arms loose yet firm. Only that pogo stick is mounted on a pair of massive wheels and you’re barreling through a narrow, tree-lined rock garden at what feels like 70 miles per hour with only disc brakes, body armor, a full-face helmet, and your own cursing self to prevent a head-over-heels tumble. The anxiety of all this notwithstanding, your legs will soon be rubber—and your senses will be enlivened by the whole teeth-chattering experience.

Think of downhill as the new millennium of mountain biking. While cross-country evokes the liberating flexibility of trail running—you really don’t need a mountain for good singletrack—downhill necessitates altitude. And within the last five years, a scattering of ski resorts have capitalized on this basic need by creating a heretofore unimaginable realm of terrain. After all, everything you need—vertiginous slopes, lift service, resort infrastructure—pretty much lies dormant every month the mountain’s not covered in snow...

British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb Resort—already one of the continent’s highest-ranking ski destinations—is largely consider the pioneer of downhill mountain biking, and today it boasts 125 miles of lift-serviced trails with 4,800 feet of vertical, three skill centers where hucksters can hone their bag of tricks, and a Biker Cross Course with banked corners, table tops, and rhythm sections. Though it took a while to establish the momentum, other resorts soon followed suit, and of the dozen or so stellar mountain-bike resorts currently out there, one has become Whistler’s downhill crown prince: West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Admittedly, it helps that both Snowshoe and Whistler are owned by Intrawest, North America’s leading developer of mountain resorts. That association certainly opened the doors, but it didn’t make the job of Philip Duncan, Snowshoe’s graphic designer and downhill mountain bike guru any easier when he first decided that Snowshoe would be the ideal birthplace for Mid-Atlantic downhill. A few ambitious cyclists—Philip included—had already carved several downhill runs on the mountain, and the Ballhooter lift was already shuttling off-season tourists from the Village Center to Shavers Lake, the state’s highest body of water. "I saw how we could utilize the terrain, and I knew that we could transform the mountain into a destination for downhilling," Philip remembers. He’d been working as a designer in the resort’s marketing department—an ideal vantage point to seeing the full potential of Snowshoe downhilling, and in 2001 he presented a 17-page proposal to the Snowshoe execs, basing his plans on what had been done in Whistler.

Five years later, PhilipÂ’s dream became a reality. After quelling concerns about land erosion, trail maintenance, and a myriad of other management-speak questions, Snowshoe Mountain Resort has 18 lift-access trails; two National Off-Road Bicycling Association (NORBA) race courses; an extensive terrain park with drops, seesaws, and ladder bridges; a drop park; and a planned 1,500-foot-long jump trail. They also host a slew of annual events catering to the sport, from the NORBA Nationals to freeride festivals to the Monster Park Invitational. Thanks to Philip and a crew of dedicated riders who carve out new terrain each year, the resort has seen a 300 percent increase in mountain-bike ticket sales and as many as 360 cyclists a day over the summer high season.

But ask Philip and heÂ’ll tell you heÂ’s just getting started.

Published: 21 Oct 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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