Downhiller's Delight

Mountain Biking the Ski Slopes
  |  Gorp.com
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Mountain biker riding down Mammoth Mountain
Tackling the slopes on two wheels (Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain)

It's what you'd expect peering from a ski gondola at 10,000 feet, with one thing amiss. Through the glass comes a press of Novocain cool, below lie islands of pine tops, and overhead black-bottomed clouds throw dark, fast-moving shadows down Mammoth Mountain's slope.

Three-hundred-and-twenty miles southeast of San Francisco, 307 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and smack dab in the Sierra Nevadas, Mammoth Mountain is one of California's premier ski resorts; 15,000 skiers might swarm the slopes on a weekend, and anyone who has ever strapped on skis knows that all of them will be standing ahead of you in line.

Not today. Ahead empty gondolas swing up to Mammoth's 11,053-foot summit. Below the slopes are bereft of skiers, this being mid-July.

I share the gondola with a goateed, 20-something fellow who doesn't say a word until we roll our mountain bikes out onto the summit. A cool wind whops in our ears. Distant mountain ridges ring us, many of the caps still topped with snow; on their slopes you can see individual pines and the detritus of rock slides, every rounded, bowed, and fractured detail brought forward in startling clarity by the kind of blue sky you could fall into.

Now my fellow adventurer speaks.

"Insane," he says.

Had you approached ski-resort owners 15 years ago and suggested they open their slopes to mountain bikers in summer you might have received the same assessment. Not anymore. Back in 1980, few people knew about mountain biking. Twenty years later it is one of the country's favorite off-road sports. There were other prods to this natural marriage. Lifts were already in place to ferry bikers to various summits. Cross-country ski trails and access roads already ribboned the slopes, and acres of wilderness provided space for more. And so ski resorts came to discover that summer has meaning too—which is why there are currently some 150 resorts, including Mammoth, that entertain mountain bikers (see More Destinations).


Published: 3 May 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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