Monday, June 28, 2010

Spot Check: Wisp Resort Bike Park, McHenry, MD.

In early 2009, after hearing about Wisp from a friend, and checking out their website, I decided to visit the resort on opening weekend, one week before Seven Springs, about an hour north. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as there weren’t many videos on Youtube or Vimeo, and the website seemed devoid of much other than mentioning an opening day. Regardless, I packed my gear and made the drive down.

Upon arrival, I noticed three or four cars in the parking lot sporting the telltale bike racks and rear bumper sticker jobs... definitely a light crowd for an opening day, even one as unseasonably cold as it was. I paid for my lift ticket ($35.00, almost as much as Diablo), and headed up the chairlift. I had heard stories about the Wisp lift being slow, and they weren’t kidding. In roughly 12 minutes, I de-boarded at the top.

The trails are, in contrast to the lift, for the most part really fun. I rode High Roller first, as it was the only trailhead I could find. Wisp could definitely use some more trail signs, and the ones they have could be larger and more visible. On my second visit, I grabbed a trail map and had a much easier time getting around, but the first trip, I had to have a few other riders guide me around the place. More signage would help, due to the fact that instead of having a defined entrance to the park, various trailheads are spread around the area.

The trails:

High Roller: It starts off with a few small tabletops before you hit a feature presumably called “The High Roller” which is a really fun brace drop/step down into a natural tabletop. From there it becomes a tight singletrack snaking through the woods with a few steep, nasty sections before a large step-up which tosses you back onto the slope, and down to the chairlift. It’s a fun trail, and makes for a good warm up run.

Easy Does It: This trail is accessed from the same trailhead as High Roller, and is a true intermediate trail. Lots of small rock gardens into more flowy singletrack at the bottom. It then makes its way across the slope to the chairlift.

Monkey Shine: Probably the most fun trail on the mountain. Very steep and rooted, with several tight, braced switchbacks. It’s easy to go too fast on this trail, and at times, my brakes weren’t slowing me down enough. It’s definitely a standout, though, and probably the best trail on the mountain. I’d love to be able to ride this trail all the time.

Edgewood Park: This is the freeride-style area of the mountain, in the woods off of the next slope over from the one accessed from the chair. There’s a recently rebuilt rhythm section, a few small ladders, a progression drop area, and a long up-flat ladder to a 6 foot drop onto a rock, which serves as the transition. The layout of this area is odd, but they definitely pack a lot of fun features into a small space, and worked with the natural features well.

Skid Alley: Behind Edgewood Park, this trail re-connects with Easy Does It towards the bottom, and contains a 4 foot rock drop with a somewhat flat landing before turning rocky and off-camber.

Rock It/Drop It: These are basically just one long trail. Rock It is one of the steepest, gnarliest stretches of loose rock that I’ve ever made it down in one piece. Unfortunately, when I rode it, it was still covered in leaves from the winter, and finding the right line wasn’t easy. Drop It comes next, and is a relatively short, steep blast before reconnecting with High Roller.

I didn’t get a chance to ride some of the other trails at Wisp, and for a small mountain, they do have quite a few. It’s worth mentioning that there’s a progression drop zone at the top of the lift, with a 7-8 footer for the large drop. Unfortunately, they’re rarely touched, and have grass landings. There’s a few other drops scattered around the mountain on some side trails, and a road gap with a steep, sketchy landing.

It’s worth mentioning that Wisp wasn’t built with machinery or the help of a bike park design firm. However, for being a small mountain, they have a lot of very fun, flowy, hand-built trails. The impression I’m under is that they have a very small budget, a very small crew, and the resort isn’t placing downhill at the top of their list of priorities. And really, that’s okay. Wisp is what it is: a small, local mountain that happens to offer some downhill and freeride action. And without a large crew, an A-Line style trail needing constant maintenance, and other large financial commitments, Wisp’s downhill program is most likely still profitable, keeping it open as yet another place to ride. Comparing it to a place like Diablo or Snowshoe would be ludicrous, but it’s still a fun spot for a day of moderate shredding, as long as one doesn’t mind getting fewer runs due to the slow lift. Just make sure you pick up a trail map before you head up.


1 comment:

Jane said...

Hi there!
My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for blogs about McHenry to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you soon!