Words & Illustration by Evan Chismark
Photos courtesy of Sunday River Resort
The Sunday River Bike Park is a hidden gem. These guys have it tough though; tucked up in a remote corner of Maine, just across the border and in the shadow of the mighty Mount Washington, The ‘River is all but hidden from the masses flocking to Killington and Highland to get their weekend shred on. Admittedly, SR is not for everyone. If you’re looking to show off your jeggings, ill fitting skate lid, and short travel slope bike, look elsewhere. But if you want to log some serious vert on some pretty heavy terrain, Sunday River is worth checking out.
There are two ways to attack Sunday River: the first is the obvious, lift-serviced route, which I highly recommend. The ‘River has a simple yet surprisingly effective bike carrying system to keep your rig from smashing into lift towers on the ascent. If you’ve yet to achieve MTB baller status and your quiver is lacking a DH sled, not to worry: these guys have a pretty sweet rental fleet of Specialized Status 1 bikes. At $90/day, their rates are pretty commensurate with other bike park rental rates.
Then, there’s option 2: full enduro. The part I loved about Sunday River is that they not only allowed but actually encouraged me to pedal up to the top in order to access the bike park trails. The adjoining XC trail network, which, when coupled with a few fire roads, grants you access to a ton of incredibly varied terrain, including several of SR’s summits. I strapped my full face and knee pads to my pack, clocked a 2,000 vertical foot climb, then dropped my saddle for a rowdy descent. Rad. If you’re new to the MTB game, the XC trails undulate about the bottom of North Peak, offering the ability to dip your toes into some of the rougher terrain should the inclination grab you.
Fair warning though: just because the bike park trail system includes a few XC trails doesn’t mean this is the place to test the limits of your 19 pound carbon hard tail. The trails here (both XC and DH) are rowdy and old school, but in a good way. Some of the DH trails require full commitment: point and shoot, caution be damned. But others are that sweet mix of tech and flow that only the northeast can offer—machine built berms mixed with rock gardens and tangled roots. If manicured Highland-esque berms are your cup of tea, there’s a bit of that, but don’t expect too much. You payed for 200 mm of travel, might as well use it all.
If you do decide to go full enduro, I’d say err on the side of a bike with more travel than less in order to maximize your experience. Remember, this place was designed with downhillers in mind. Personally, I enjoyed the hell out of the climb to the top of Barker Mountain and subsequent descent back down to South Ridge and went that route over the lift serviced alternative two out of the three days I was there. This option allowed me to sweat it out on the way up, sample some of the bike park goods on the way down, and finish off with some of the XC trails at the bottom. What’s not to love?
As far as post-ride beers and grub, check out the Millbrook Tavern at the Bethel Inn—half price beers and apps from 4 pm to 6 pm. And there’s always the Sunday River Brew Pub—they’re under new ownership so if you’ve been there in the past and had a sub-par experience, give it another shot. Great beer (brewed on premise), commendable pub food, and all pretty affordable.
If you’re thinking of making a full weekend out of your trip to SR, summer accommodations are stupid cheap—one guy I rode the lift with told me he rents a slope-side condo during the summer for $300/month!
Sunday River’s trails are an eclectic mix of rugged, fall line DH and lung busting climbs. Even if you’re a one bike quiver kind of dude or dudette, and need a place to find the limits of your all-mountain steed, SR is not to be overlooked. With an uber-helpful and friendly staff, tons of affordable accommodations, and plenty of opportunities to sample some local post-ride brews, Sunday River is definitely worth checking out.
– Thanks to Evan for his contribution to MTBVT (and our local riding community)
Check out more of Evan’s art at http://www.evanchismark.com