I recently moved from New York to Maine, and after having been off the mountain bike for quite some time I decided to check out the trails at Sunday River Bike Park. Sunday River is nestled in the Mahoosuc Range (part of the larger White Mountains range) in the small town of Newry, which is about an hour and forty-five minute drive from Brunswick, where I’m currently living. Sunday River has a trail network consisting of 25 trails, serviced by the speedy Chondola lift, and has a variety of trails that will please most intermediate to advanced riders. Although there isn’t much in the way of “beginner” trails, Sunday River does offer a mountain bike school for those looking to get into the sport, and they do this for good reason: these trails are rough, in the best way possible.
What a view from the top of the lift.
Sunday River Bike Park gives you just exactly what one would expect from a New England bike park: both hand-built and machine-built trails that are absolutely riddled with rocks, roots, and that lovely layer of dirt that most mountain bikers call “loam,” but is really soft spongy topsoil. Soil semantics aside, Sunday River’s trails vary from tight, windy segments, to slickrock sections, to steep and gnarly chutes, wooden features and bridges, to jump lines, and everything in between. Mix that all up with a friendly staff, beautiful scenery, and more than compliant weather and you’ve got yourself a perfect day to go mountain biking.
Slickrock and this view, need I say more?
I came equipped with my trusty steed, Stella the Stumpjumper and was ready to pace myself through a full day of non-stop riding. As suggested by one of the bike mechanics, I decided to head down Backside, a slick rock trail, into Easy Tiger (one of the “beginner” trails) to get my legs warmed up for what was going to be a long, long day. Towards the bottom of Backside you can branch off into a few other trails, something that I would do later on in the day. After getting my body and bike acquainted to the trails I figured I’d stop fooling around and get straight to business. What soon followed would be me testing the limits of my 130mm (front and rear) travel trail bike on black diamond trails such as Rock Star, Crater, and Moose Tack.
Slickrock at the beginning of Moose Tack.
Now, it’s not very often that I specifically call out trails, but Moose Tack into Second Thoughts into Southway has got to be some of the most fun I’ve had on my bike in a long time. From slickrock, to steep and rooty coniferous forest, to sections where pedaling is preferred over carrying momentum, to open singletrack, then into a flowy section to finish off. The diversity split between those three trails alone is absurd, and I still had half a day to figure out the rest of the park. Honestly, I would’ve been satisfied just doing that for the rest of the day, but I had to seek new challenges elsewhere, so that’s exactly what I did.
Three line choices. “Easier” Way Down, and two to the right. Pick wisely.
I headed towards Tango & Crash and was pleasantly surprised by the smooth, machine-built jumps and berms, combined with the rawness and technicality of rocky and rooty singletrack. It was flowy, but not over-built and too smooth, with just enough edge to it that made it rather enjoyable to ride. Once Tango & Crash spat me out I opted for Route 229, which (surprise!!!) greeted me with more roots and rocks that at this point, I was already well acquainted with. When I say “acquainted with,” I’m talking about physically riding the trail, but also quite literally being acquainted with the rocks and the roots when I fell, which happens on the odd occasion.
Route 229, looking awfully and innocently enticing.
Not everything at Sunday River is all steep, rooty, rocky, gnarly, burly, etc. There are some more cross-country oriented trails that require a bit more pedaling and when they’re combined with the downhill trails, can be a lot of fun. Think enduro racing, Pauly D knows, he raced the Eastern States Cup Enduro held at Sunday River a few years ago. One of the designated cross country trails, Borealis, reminded me of the tight and twisty singletrack back home in New York, combined with North Shore-esque bridges, and what a lovely combination that turned out to be. Basically, everything that I rode at Sunday River, I enjoyed. This place is truly a mountain biker’s delight. The diversity of the trails makes them plenty of fun to ride, but also forces you to keep a focused mind, all while begging you to push yourself further and faster than before.
Having come into Sunday River without any prior knowledge of the trail system, I could not have been any more surprised or satisfied. When one thinks of an ideal place to go downhilling, this comes to mind. This takes nothing away from the east coast heavy-hitters such as Mountain Creek or Highland Mountain, and I don’t think that’s what Sunday River is trying to accomplish, either. Given the natural terrain they’ve been blessed with, the trail builders at Sunday River have simply built the best trails that they could’ve down the mountain. With the Village of Bethel nearby, a town that’s known for both its summer and winter outdoor recreation, a local watering hole/gastropub in the form of Sunday River Brewing Company, combined with the amazing trails and atmosphere at Sunday River Bike Park, this should be on your mountain biking to-do list for 2015.