So after a lot of planning and waiting, I managed to finally take a trip out to Mountain Creek bike park in Vernon, NJ. Living in Toronto (that’s Canada) it would be a 500 mile road trip for me. We left Toronto at 4am which meant a quick and easy border crossing.
Once we arrived in New Jersey the drive got interesting and close to Mountain Creek I started to smell my car brakes–not a good sign considering it’s just about brake change time. And to top it off, just a mile or two away from Mountain Creek there was a law enforcement officer on the road dealing with a black bear that wandered too close to traffic (more on bears later).
Arriving at Mountain Creek we were welcomed with warm smiles and great service. Now if you can afford it, reserve a town house in the Black Creek Sanctuary. Marketing and sales manager Hugh Reynolds set us up in one of their three bedroom townhouses and I gotta say we were all very impressed. Besides a full master suite, there are two spacious rooms and a cavernous living room / dining area. A full kitchen and even laundry was included in our unit.
We were all pretty tuckered out from the drive but we still had just enough energy to get in a few runs that day. Mountain Creek has a 1,040ft peak with 44 individual runs, many of which can be combined for some awesome descents. A day pass will cost you $39 and you can rent a bike (GT Fury or Devinci Wilson) and full equipment if you need it.
We were stoked to hit the runs so we jumped on the gondola. My buddy Chris, being tired, forgot to move his front wheel which was hanging out from the gondola. The wheel got snagged on a ladder which derailed his gondola, stopping the entire lift. Thanks to some quick thinking, we got the gondola back on track and to everyone’s amazement the SunRingle ADD rim on his wheel survived without any damage.
The first runs we did (Ego-boost, Breakout and Green Horn) were flowy with a mix of berms and easy rock gardens. This was a good start, giving us a chance to tweak the bikes a bit before getting down to business. On a later run we hit up Slayer, a black diamond run which really should be a double diamond, and it was really gnarly and rough. All your instincts tell you hit both your chicken switches but doing that is a bad move. With massive rock gardens lacking obvious lines and heavily rooted areas, we found ourselves on again, off again as we got acquainted with the terrain. Needless to say the very first run we did involved a lot of walking. When the trail finally opened up I was trailing Jay and didn’t see a narrow bridge where I really ate sh$%. I was a bit winded but my THE T2 helmet and Leatt neck brace kept everything up top ok. I ended up with a bit of a strain on my thumb and an abrasion on my chest but that was about the extent of it.
Meeting up with John, a member of the trail crew, he filled us in all the improvements at the park so far and hinted at what is to come. John was also nice enough to join us on the slopes for our second day.
Day 2: Catching up on some light reading before the lifts open at 11am.
On the way up the lift I took a few shots of some of the trails and features at Mountain Creek. The wall rides shown below are 8ft. tall, not including the berm that adds another 2ft.
We started off with a few warm up runs on Breakout – Alpine, followed by Bushwack – Asylum. Breakout is pretty fun once you get used to it; the table top jumps tend to buck you forward if you’re not paying attention. There are a few double jumps mixed in as well where you really need to be moving or you will case it (you can also roll the doubles if necessary). Once you get into the Alpine section you have some monster berms that are really fun. As my buddy Glen reminded me, DON’T hit your brakes when you’re on the berms.
Bushwack to Asylum is a bit more intense with bigger roller drops and ruts that will toss you off if your speed is not up. The photo below shows Glen dropping off a boulder in full form. Below that a shot of Glen and Jay hitting the same boulders from a different angle to give you an idea of what you are in for. This section is tons of fun when you’re doing it in a train! The guys and I regularly ran with about 15 – 20 ft from bike to bike. Any closer and you will quickly find yourself eating your buddy’s tire (I admit I was close Jay, sorry).
Flat tires are to be expected riding rocks like these and unfortunately Chris was the one who flatted out on Asylum. Lucky for him in the Red Tail Lodge there is a large bike shop with plenty of spare tubes, pads, cables, hoses, etc.
Later John (park trail builder and guide) took us to the right side of the mountain where most all the runs are either single or double black diamond rated. One fun and technical run on this side links up Exodus – Lower Exodus to Asylum – Crap Chute – Indy. This was a totally gnarly run that was steep, tight, and full of square edged rocks with little room for error.
On one trail John said, “Yeah it’s a hard run where if you go off line, the run rips your front wheel off and spits it out, it’s so awesome.” And he wasn’t exaggerating. Don’t get me wrong, I have a sick sense of what I think is fun on the bike. But damn, some of those trails were nuts. Mountain Creek has a total of 44 runs so there is plenty of variety available. If you have the skills I think this place will tame just about anyone!
We took run after run, hitting the gnar with John (the guide) up front showing us the “line” and pacing us on more technical runs like Utah, Stigmata, and Lower Exodus. We rode some really crazy terrain for sure.
After a full day of riding we headed to Taco Hombre (where we were told we had to go), just across the road in the little village with other shops and restaurants. And yes, if you go to Mountain Creek, you must hit up Taco Hombre–what a way to finish up a day of riding. The 2 minute walk back to the townhouse was pleasant and gave me just enough time to think about the day and admire the gear and how it survived so well.
Other than a flat, the wheels, shifters, bars, and other items you would think might be all bashed up came through in one piece. Oh, and Santa Cruz Carbon v10 bikes rule. These bikes are fast and maneuver very well in the rocks. Mavic Deemax and Easton Havoc 150′s are stronger than they look and don’t pinch flat as often as other wheels. Out of all the tires our group was running, the Muddy Mary did the best job; the new Maxxis High Roller II’s were good but a bit sketchy on the dry, sandy stuff. Expensive carbon cranks are cool and light… but expensive.
That evening I checked over all the bikes, cleaning the chains, going over the bolts and tire pressures for our last day out. After a well-deserved clean-up I was ready for bed. But just before I hit the sack, it started raining like crazy outside. It was cool to watch the storm and I couldn’t wait to see what the trail would be like the next morning.
Stay tuned for part II of my Mountain Creek trip report.