Last week I traveled to Northstar Resort near Lake Tahoe to check out the mountain bike scene and – surprise, surprise – I had a blast! Mudhunny actually rode the DH trails at Northstar almost 7 years ago on her hardtail so it was my turn to hit the slopes, though I chose a bike with a bit more travel for my trip.
The Bikes & Gear
One of the great things about Northstar is you don’t need to bring any of your own equipment – just choose the bike that fits your riding style and hit the lifts. Northstar has partnered with Giant bikes to offer a rental fleet stocked with the Glory DH bike (8″ travel), the Faith FR (7″) and the Reign SX for XC / light FR. Our group chose the Faith which is great for riders who are new to DH riding and aren’t looking for a super aggressive bike. I was amazed at how light the bike felt compared to other DH bikes I’ve ridden and on the trail it felt as smooth and refreshing as soft serve ice cream.
Northstar also rents protective equipment and most of the stuff looked brand new. I got set up with a POC full face helmet and POC Bone VPD shin guards featuring Visco-Elastic Polymer Dough. Everyone I talked to really liked the POC shin guards because the “dough” is supple and comfortable when you’re riding but becomes super rigid upon impact. Riders can also rent gloves and full body armor suits.
This year Northstar is offering a Ride 101 course for folks who may be new to DH mountain biking and at just $15 for a 1.5 hour lesson it’s a real steal. I went through an abbreviated version of the course and picked up some great tips on balance and braking in a DH environment. For more experienced riders there’s a $39 Bumps & Bends course that lasts 2.5 hours and covers things like cornering on flats and berms and jumping. The instructors are top notch and not only can they shred, they’re great teachers as well.
Northstar claims to have about 100 miles of downhill mountain bike trails and looking at the map it’s certainly not a stretch. Trails are rated from green (beginner) to double black diamond (experts only) and there’s a good mix of everything else in between. For the Ride 101 class we started out on green-rated fire roads but quickly moved on to intermediate and advanced trails by our second run down the mountain (talk about fast learners!).
photo courtesy Matt Savarino @ ridertech.com.
The signature trail at Northstar is a run called Livewire and it’s the first (and only) fully irrigated downhill mountain bike trail in the US. Keeping the trail moist means faster, tackier conditions which is great for going down fast. It also cuts down on trail maintenance since dry, loose trails tend to erode quickly and the moisture keeps dust to a minimum when you’re in hot pursuit mode.
Hans Ray has been promoting his concept for “flow country trails” recently and that’s a pretty good description for Livewire. The trail definitely flows well and the great thing is riders of almost any skill level can have a blast coming down. Advanced riders catch huge air off the jumps while beginners enjoy experimenting with speed and cornering on the smooth, bermed turns. One of the riders in our group rode Livewire on her hardtail and seemed to have just as much fun as those of us on full DH bikes.
photo courtesy Matt Savarino @ ridertech.com.
For those looking for a more “classic” DH experience, check out Boondocks, a double black diamond run on the far left side of the mountain. Big rocks, huge jumps, and gnarly terrain that seemed to stretch for miles and miles. Admittedly I was in over my head on a few sections of Boondocks but it only made me want to ride more to improve my skills!
Northstar is a great day trip from the Bay area or Sacramento but if you have some time I highly recommend staying at the mountain for a night or two. There’s tons of lodging and great restaurants right at the resort so you don’t have to get into your hot car after a full day of shredding the trails. Hitting the swimming pool and hot tub at the end of the day never felt so good. If you have some cash to spend and are looking to treat yourself on a mountain biking trip, this is definitely the place to do it.
Of course Northstar isn’t just about downhill mountain biking with easy access to the epic cross-country Tahoe Rim Trail about a mile away from the resort summit. Next week I’ll be sharing my cross-country experience at Northstar along with more on the trail building and maintenance philosophy at the resort. California mountain biking at its best!
Thanks to the folks at Northstar for hosting.