By Linsday Warner
You roll up to the Cady Hill trailhead in Stowe harboring a slight twinge of doubt: Did you pack everything you need for a day shredding trails on your mountain bike? Your friends aren’t here yet, so you allow yourself a quick check: helmet. Shoes. Sunglasses. Gloves. Hydration pack. A quick dig around reveals a few on-the-trail fix-it tools; SPF; a spare tube. Plus snacks! You start to smile. It’s going to be a good day.
A few minutes later, your friends roll in, heckle you for being the first to the trailhead, then start pedaling up the Cady Hill Climb trail. A few switchbacks in, you’re already pulling lungfuls of pine-scented air into your chest, wishing you’d taken the lead so you could ease back the pack’s pace, which is speedier than you’d like. But then— mercifully!—the trail dips downward for a few pedal strokes, and you get enough momentum to swoop around one of Cady Hill’s signature berms, propelling you ever upward.
You know you’ve reached the top when that fast friend of yours (there’s always a fast friend!) lets out a loud whoop. Sure enough, you crest the top of the hill to see the still-unexpected—but always welcome—sight of a green double chairlift hanging from a tree that marks the highest point of the climb.
Embracing its oddity, you plop into it and peer through the trees, arguing with your friends over which green-covered runs are visible from your perch—is that Liftline or Gondolier? Isn’t that a little bit of Spruce? From here, it’s hard to tell. But the friendly banter provides respite to your burning lungs as your heart rate slows in preparation for the climb’s ultimate payoff: fast, fun, swoopy downhills, punctuated with hard packed, hard-railing berms. At Cady Hill, that payoff goes by the name of Florence—and she’s a real beaut.
First though, you decide to do a quick skills-check on Aryn’s Loop, which is less than half a mile long, but manages to sneak in a few attention-getting drops, roots, and rocks. Sufficiently tuned up, you hop on the Cady Hill Connector and pedal to the top of Florence.
Now this is where the fun begins. Florence (or just Flo’, if you’re in the know), is a machine-built, buffed-out playground of a flow trail that eats up about 300 feet of elevation in just over half a mile, sending you swooping through back-to-back-to-back-to-back berms, studded by rollable tabletops and a few punchy jumps.
You let out a whoop of joy as the G-force builds through your handlebars and pedals, sending you whipping over the next rise and screaming around the high-banked curves. Now this is mountain biking in Stowe. And when you get to the bottom of Florence (secretly hoping your buddy saw you totally
nail that last little jump) and someone suggests you climb back up Snake trail to hit it again, there’s only one right thing to say: yes.
Dirt for Everyone
Mountain biking used to be a sport for daredevils who were willing to risk a few broken bones—and broken bikes—just to carve a few hard lines down a gnarly mountain side. The trails were rough “rakeand- ride” affairs (if they existed at all), the gear was basic at best, and there just weren’t that many places to ride for cyclists who preferred not to end each day with a flat tire and bramble-scratched legs.
Times have changed. Today, 35 miles of singletrack mountain biking trails managed by the Stowe Trails Partnership wind through the hills of town (up from around 20 in 2012), with another 28 miles under the jurisdiction of Trapp Family Lodge. You don’t have to be an expert (or a fool-hardy kid) to enjoy a day spent carving berms through the sugarbush and evergreens, and any local bike shop can set you up on a bike with fast-acting, bump-dampening technology paired with aggressive tires to take a bite out of any terrain.
That doesn’t mean mountain biking has gone soft—far from it. But it has benefitted from a greater number of trails built to cater to a wider range of abilities, coupled with a quantum leap forward in bike technology. The bikes and the trails are just better—and more diverse. As a result, more people can get out there to enjoy them. Last year, more than 60,000 riders used the public trails.
With its rugged terrain and get-after-it attitude, Stowe is a natural destination for mountain bikers. Take it from Newton, Massachusetts native David Aronoff, a member of the Club at Spruce Peak. Aronoff has traveled around the world with his bike, yet continues to rank Stowe as one of his top destinations for trail diversity, scenic views, and mix of technical elements and sinuous flow trails. He’s not the only Club member who’s hooked; Spruce Peak’s lead adventure concierge and guide Amy DeBenedictis fields frequent requests for info ranging from people who just want to ride the Stowe bike path, to experts wanting a three-hour tour. Thanks to the wide array of available options, “I can point people toward local options suited for every ability,” DeBenedictis says.
Route variety and inclusive trail building efforts prompts diversity of the biking population as well. The fastest growing segment of Stowe’s mountain biking community is women and kids, according to Evan Chismark, former executive director of the Stowe Trails Partnership and owner of Ranch Camp, a local bike shop and restaurant.
“Public access trails are built with safe progression in mind, and bike technology is tracking in tandem with trail development,” Chismark says. “In addition, several companies are making kid-specific bikes
that are basically scaled-down versions of high-performance adult bikes, and the rising number of kid riders has been a catalyst for getting more parents on bikes, too.”—especially mothers.
“Here in Stowe we have a lot of talented female riders, and there never seems to be any shortage of willingness to share skills and expertise with developing riders,” says Chismark, who organizes a popular weekly local women’s ride. The local mountain biking community is tight-knit and supportive of new riders.
The Benefits of Biking
You know that exercise and time spent outdoors in general can both soothe your soul and tone your body. But mountain biking offers unique advantages. As Aronoff attests, getting out for a ride (while maintaining safe boundaries) is key to “staying healthy, sane, and keeping some semblance of a normal routine”— even in the face of a pandemic.
So long as it’s safe to exercise outdoors, research suggests that hopping on a bike is a terrific antidote to stress and anxiety. A 2018 study in Frontiers of Psychology revealed that 98 percent of mountain bikers agree riding helps them reduce stress, 90 percent say it makes them feel more connected to nature and the world around them, and 90 percent report that it makes them feel good about who they are. Further, 80 percent say mountain biking helps them deal with negative thoughts or feelings, 90 percent indicate that they bike to de-stress, and 93 percent agree that, “when I ride my everyday worries fade away.”
What’s more, biking also offers a scientifically proven perk for kids: A 2015 study published in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning found that girls reported significantly higher levels of resilience after participating in a five-day mountain bike program. Check out Stowe Mountain Bike Academy, which offers kid-specific lessons and camps.
The upshot? It’s family-friendly, lets you explore nature and connect with friends, boosts your mood, and offers a low-impact full-body workout (you’ll burn about 500- 900 calories per hour, depending on your speed and weight, according to Harvard University). Perhaps most importantly? It’s a ton of fun. Time to get pedaling!