Mark Hayes is passionate about mountain biking — so much so that in 2003 he bought the old winter ski lodge on Highland Mountain in Northfield, and three years later re-opened it as a full-fledged mountain bike park.
Hayes considers Highland Mountain Bike Park a sporting spot that all ages can enjoy.
“The transformation here is amazing, from the first-timers to the guy who really looks the part of a mountain biker,” he said.
Richard Patty has been riding at the park since it opened in 2006. For the last three years, he’s been working there, too.
“I was coming here every weekend with my buddies to ride and I finally just moved here,” Patty said.
The park has over 20 trails ranging in difficulty from “easier” to “extremely difficult.”
“We have some of the gnarliest stuff here, but we also have green circles and blue squares. You see guys here that are hardcore downhill bikers but you also see 4- and 5-year-olds in the learn-to-ride zones,” Patty said.
There are basic camps for every age and level and camps taught by elite mountain biking professionals. There are single-day and week-long camps. Kids participating in certain camps can stay at the Tilton School.
“It’s a pretty cool setup for them. They’re able to stay there and use their facilities as well,” Patty said. “We have all sorts of summer camps here. We have the [Find Your Ride] program. You learn to check it out first, how to brake, your body positioning, and you get a lesson. They teach you the basics, and it makes for a safe experience here.”
All of the jumps in the park are made so you can roll over them without catching air if you don’t want to but can eventually progress to jumping. There’s also a bike shop where people can rent bikes.
Mountain bikes are built differently than most would think, Patty said. A downhill mountain bike is built with tiny gears and it’s more set back than a normal bike.
“It’s laid back, and it’s meant to be ridden downhill,” he said.
When learning to ride, Patty said, “the key would be to start with the right gear and the right instruction.”
After that, Hayes wants you to remember that it’s all about having fun.
“There’s a fitness to it when you learn. But when you get on a bike downhill, you’re exhilarated with it. I like to use the analogy of saying you’re on a roller coaster but in control of it,” he said. “You feel that exhilaration. Some people are wired to want that. It’s easy for little guys to get hooked.”
The mountain has races during the summer and spring training for elite mountain bikers to get ready for competitions.
The park also has cross-country biking trails off to the side of the mountain that anyone can access if they aren’t ready to brave the mountain.
“I would like people to know that anyone can learn to ride. We cater to the first-time rider and the best rider in the world,” Hayes said. “Programs like Learn to Ride introduce the sport in the right way.”
As seen in the June 5, 2014 issue of the Hippo.