Story by Dan Pigat
COLLINGWOOD, ONTARIO — I started at the top. I don’t mean of the hill, but on top one of the biggest and best spots in all of downhill biking: Whistler. I’d been mountain biking for years, but the acclaimed British Columbia resort village was the first place I put a bike on a lift and let gravity do all of the work.
It hooked me on downhill and I was spoiled. With the Alberta Rockies as my home range, I’ve morphed into a spoiled mountain-biking brat. I couldn’t possibly like anything less, could I?
So when on a recent trip to Collingwood, a town near Georgian Bay in Ontario, I hesitated when the possibility of downhill biking at Blue Mountain came up. First of all, it’s a mountain in name only, as it’s actually part of the Niagara Escarpment. While an impressive geological feature, is it a mountain? Really?
What’s-in-a-name aside, it was time to get over myself. A little biking is better than no biking. Not expecting to ride on this trip, I needed all of the gear, which the bike park had in convenient packages. I was eager to find out if the armour they had was for show.
The lift was short, but so were the lines — nothing like the waits to ski in winter. Not knowing the bike or the hill, I decided to pick a popular blue run called Minion Rush and follow the biking getting-to-know-you motto to pre-ride, re-ride and then free ride it.
Blue Mountain’s Bike Experience Surprises
It was a pleasant surprise. Actually, more than pleasant — it was simply fun from the first run. Winding down the hill, it was longer than I expected and I had it, and most runs, more or less to myself. Across the hill there is a decent variety of ramps, jumps and drops to keep things interesting.
I tagged along on a few lifts with Brett Kril, a semi-local, which I’ll loosely define as someone from the Greater Toronto Area. He likes the quick, two-hour drive access of Blue Mountain. If you’re from Ontario, access to a venue like this is access to the sport.
Blue Mountain gives everyone a safe place to learn to bike, with challenging features for all skill levels. It’s where beginners can safely learn to commit (a necessary character trait) and then let them build their skills as they learn what to commit to and what they’re not quite ready for yet.
Kril is also a little tired of Blue Mountain being the Rodney Dangerfield of biking — getting no respect. “It’s not just that it’s close, they’ve really built some good runs,” he says. “You can find whatever you’re looking for on one run or another.”
Blue Mountain has also thought a lot about the other side of access: limiting it. Each run has a feature at the start meant to filter out those not comfortable with what’s to come. Beyond their double-black runs, they actually require a secondary assessment on two black runs with “special features,” meaning you have to pass a short test to even get on them, saving some wannabe daredevils from themselves.
In total terrain Blue Mountain may not stack up to Whistler, but it can be stacked sideways with a lot of shorter runs spread along the escarpment. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in width. You may have to ride from the lift across to the trailhead to access its 16 downhill runs, but you’re on a bike after all, so a little cardio won’t kill you.
Blue Mountain is building a community to support the scene, even drawing people from the west coast who seem comfortable and content here. Riders adapt to the red clay, which is important, as it’s slippery when wet. There are other wild differences too as you’re more likely to surprise and chase the odd deer, which is less intimidating than the frequently sighted black bears in Whistler. But those are thrills I can do without.
It all boils down to working with what you got, and what they got is actually pretty good. When I get back home, I can hear now the reaction from my buddies when I tell them Blue Mountain is actually quite good.
“Really?” they’ll say.
“Yeah, really. …”
MORE ABOUT MOUNTAIN BIKING AT BLUE MOUNTAIN
Location: 108 Jozo Weider Boulevard, Blue Mountains, ON (see map below)
Cost: A one-day downhill pass costs $41. For more pricing information, visit the Blue Mountain tickets page.
Trail Map: www.bluemountain.ca/summer_trailmap.htm
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- Discover Blue Mountain before winter ends
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