The Whiteface Mountain Bike Park, operated by High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, provides biking enthusiasts an opportunity to enjoy an activity at a mountain better known for its skiing. The venue is run by partners “Downhill Mike” Scheur and his partner Elias Ingraham who both professed a dedication to making the sport more accessible and enjoyable for new riders.
“We want riders to have fun while being safe,” he said. “Some people want to go right to the top, but then they’d have a bad experience and not come back. We want to put them on the right trail.”
Ingraham spoke about how important it is to stay within one’s ability in mountain biking, similar to how a beginner skier shouldn’t venture onto expert trails without first mastering basic skills.
“You shouldn’t bring a beginner skier to the top of the mountain and it’s the same with mountain biking,” Scheur said. “I teach (riders) how to do all the things they already know. The goal is for them to have a safe progression — and progress to do anything on the mountain.”
According to Scheur, only advanced riders should take the gondola to the summit, where much of the terrain is an expert level. Other riders take a shuttle bus to the trails, which are marked with easy-to-see yellow signs. Trails accessed by the shuttle are classified as beginner, intermediate and advanced — and Scheur said his goal is to provide all riders with a fun and safe experience — with the hope they will enjoy the sport and do it again.
“The first thing I do is ask (guests) where they’re from and where they’ve been riding,” Scheur said, adding that after asking several questions, he deduces what level they are as riders and suggests a plan for the day. He said he gets lots of phone calls from people who say they are a little out of shape and want to take a ride on the gondola to take the trails down, but said learning how to mountain bike is a gradual process.
A beginning rider’s
I ski at Whiteface, and I’ll admit that I fell into the aforementioned category of those who thought one could go right to the top of Whiteface and bike down — I was just a tad disappointed when I found out I would not be taking the gondola and ride down from the summit. But Downhill Mike assured me that it is important to learn progressively and the easiest trails to learn on were accessed via the shuttle. Being a skier, I thought for sure that taking Excelsior (an intermediate ski trail) would be easy and well within my capabilities on a mountain bike
“That’s a misconception most people have,” Mike told me. Before heading down the trails, Scheur asked several questions, and I admitted I had never went mountain biking before.
Sitting in the shuttle, we drove past Kids Kampus, the children’s learning area at the mountain, and were soon unloading the bikes from the shuttle.
Mike gave some pointers and helped give me a feel for the bike, which at retail value of about $3,000, had many features not found on a regular bike. The brakes were soft to the touch, and Mike told me that it is important to hit both brakes gently, as pressing them too hard would produce an unwanted sudden stop. After getting a feel for the bike, we headed down the main ski trail.
It didn’t take long to begin to pick up speed. Mike rode on front and gave instructions as we glided down, going side to side, under the chairlifts until we arrived at the base lodge. The first run was a success, no falls — and a sense of accomplishment.
“You did well,” Mike told me.
It was time to do a more challenging trail.
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There are 27 trails at the Whiteface Mountain Bike Park, which boasts a 2,476-foot vertical drop for experts and 600 feet for beginners, and includes three-foot wide, “single track” trails in the woods trails and a main ski trail that is several hundred feet wide and traverses back and forth on the Lower Valley ski trail. Several of the trails, the majority of which are in the lower valley, have picnic tables and waterfalls along the way and there are trails geared for all abilities and styles.
“Some of the trails are like glade skiing on a bike,” Schuer said. “Others are scenic cross country.”
For those who want to practice more technical aspects of riding, there is “pump track” where riders learn more skills. For riders who want more of a thrill, there are ramps and other challenging features at the bike park.
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Looking at Whiteface, it may seem an intimidating venture to those who look at the slopes and vertical drop. One passerby at the base lodge looked at us in our bike gear and said, “You guys go down that?” When Mike nodded and said yeah,” the response was a simple “Wow!”
Downhill Mike led the way to more challenging trails, and assured me that he will not travel too far ahead. The ride down provided a nice combination of cruising and bumps and curves.
And then there were the scenic views. Each time I stopped for a breather, I was reminded of just how great it was to be on the mountain.
Downhill Mike led me to a ramp that was designed and built by mountain bikers and certainly geared for more advanced riders. I didn’t ride that. Near the base lodge was a fun slalom course. That I did. Each trail brought something new, and more skills were learned. I admit there were several instances in which I decided to walk the bike, but that was better than being unsafe.
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Mountain bikers from each end of the spectrum — from beginner to expert — can be found at Whiteface. I found a good sampling of rider levels during my excursion.
As I waited for my third shuttle ride, I met Celerie Kemble and Boykin Curry, both from New York City, who were riding on the shuttle for their first-ever mountain bike ride. I was eager to learn what inspired them to try the sport — and ask if they were apprehensive about going down the slopes on a bike.
“I’m more afraid of having to peddle uphill than riding downhill. You couldn’t find two people more out of shape.” Celerie said. “But we’re excited.”
“I’ve been indoors with the mother-in-law,” Boykin said. “And after five days in the house, I’m ready to do anything.”
Their game plan for mountain biking? To follow the bark road to the bottom.
Mark Weissman was also on one of the shuttles. He has been mountain biking for seven years and biking his entire life, but it was his first time mountain biking at Whiteface. He said the terrain at the mountain was more enjoyable than other locations he’s biked.
“It’s well laid out,” Weissman said. “It’s challenging, but not overly challenging. It’s great for all levels of experience.”
Weissman also spoke about the expertise of Downhill Mike.
“He’s just so helpful,” he said. “And that made the whole experience great.”
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I did several more runs — of course feeling like I should be at the summit, but knowing I wasn’t ready — and just before taking a break, I ran into Celerie and Boykin again. They spoke about their mountain bike experience as they waited for the next shuttle ride.
“It was fun,” Celerie said. “It’s the perfect activity for a New Yorker — it seems rugged at first, but it doesn’t require as much physical effort as I thought it would. It was enough to make my heart pound, but there was not too much fear involved.”
“It’s probably true that as you get better, it becomes easier,” she added. “I think timidity will get you hurt rather than aggression.”
“It’s like a gateway drug,” Boykin said. “You get sucked in with the easy trails, and then you’re hooked.”
Getting hooked seemed to be the case with Tom Nicoll, who lives in Au Sable Forks and practices dentistry in Plattsburgh. He was 60 years old when he decided to take up mountain biking just to see what it was like.
“At first, I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t help myself and did it. Now I keep coming back for more,” he said.
“It’s more fun than I can describe,” he said, adding that the combination of thinking and action helps him relieve the stresses of work. “I like complicated things, and there’s so many technical aspects to mountain biking. I have an intense job — and this helps.”
Celerie said she would not only return, but she’ll tell others of her adventurous exploits.
“We’d do it again, and send our friends to do it — definitely,” Celerie concluded.
A sport on the rise
According to Schuer, mountain biking as a sport is where snowboarding was in the early 1990s. He said he hopes that eventually more local talent will find their way to the sport and help increase its popularity.
“There are lots of fine athletes in Lake Placid in luge and downhill skiing,” he said, adding that eventually he’d like to see mountain biking become an Olympic sport.
“The sport is building up,” Scheur said. “Many mountains that have chairlifts are adding mountain biking. It’s growing.”
He added to the equation, his love for just being at the mountain.
“It’s cool to be at the mountain during the summer,” Scheur said. “I moved up here to snowboard, and someday I’d like to see people move here to mountain bike.”
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There’s still time to hit the slopes for a real adventure. The Whiteface Mountain Bike Park will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 19.
And for those who think Whiteface Mountain is too difficult for trying the sport, High Peaks Cyclery also operates mountain biking at Mt. Van Hoevenburg, where there are only cross-country biking trails.
For more information on that venue, call 523-8972.
“Downhill Mike' Scheur, right, and a rider take a short break.
Fact BoxIf you go ...
¯Bike rental: $30 to $80 (helmets are included in bike rental
¯Lift/shuttle ticket: $32 for adults; $20 for children 12 and under
¯Pads: $30 for the day; $20 for a half day: includes shin guards, elbow pads and chest protector
¯When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 19
¯Special: Ladies Days, Saturday, Sept. 6 and Oct. 4; free lift ticket for the ladies.
¯For more information, call 946-2223 ext. 7 or visit www.downhillmike.com