Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sugar Mountain Resort, Banner Elk, North Carolina

Downhill Mountain Biking at Sugar Mountain
When I left on my journey up to Sugar Mountain, I really had no idea what to expect. I watched a few videos of people riding there from years past, but they still didn't really give a very accurate presentation of what Sugar was really like to ride.

Here's the first thing you need to know: the trail map posted on Sugar Mountain's website is very misleading. In real life, there are only about 1 and 1/2 singletrack trails for downhill riding. The rest of the trails are either entirely overgrown, or they just run down the wide open ski runs.

So what about those "1 1/2" trails? They're freaking gnarly dude!

The main downhill run was at one time a part of the Nationals series of downhill races, and still hosts severa different races throughout the year. This main trail begins right off the top of the resort, right of the top of the lift as you get off. The other 1/2 of a trail is an option that you can add to the main nationals trail. To get to it, traverse across the main ski slope right before where the national's run drops down below the chairlift. The singletrack picks up in the opposite woods, descends for a ways, and then traverses back over to join the main trail.

All About the Trail
The singletrack at Sugar is incredibly gnarly! There are roots, rocks, more roots and rocks... ledges, drops, some insanely steep trails, and a few jumps thrown in. By far the coolest feature is this massive rock/cliff ride. It is a part of the main trail, and as you roll up to it you feel like you are looking (and then riding) down a cliff! And really, it is a cliff. I don't know if I would have ever thought to run a trail down such a steep piece of rock!

I thought that in addition to these super technical trails, there would be a run or two featuring jumps, berms, and tons of flow. That expectation left me somewhat disappointed. Besides this one awesome trail, Sugar Mountain has little to offer. The ski runs aren't any fun to ride either, as it is not a wise choice to try to bomb down them at high speed due to wheel-sucking drainage ditches running across them at regular intervals.

The one other disappointing factor was the speed of the lift. While this may seem totally inconsequential, the cable was crawling up the hill like a wounded snake. Sure, there were tourists paying for a scenic lift ride up to the top, but I mean c'mon, 25+ minutes to ascend only 1,200 vertical feet? That's painfully slow!

Taka on the Chairlift

The Overlook
If you go up to ride Sugar Mountain, be sure to take a quick break from the relentless gnar and hike up to the overlook which is located just off the top of the lift. The view is bound to take your breath away and make you turn in circles for a few minutes taking it all in. It's that good!

Lift Tickets
The lift ticket prices are very reasonable. As of the 2010 season, the cost for one ride up the lift is $12, and the cost for a full day of riding is only $25. So while the lift ride may be slow, the tourists are getting the short end of the financial stick!

Getting There

From Asheville, head East on I-40. Get off on exit 85 for US 221-N. Follow 221-N until you start seeing the brown ski resort signs. Follow the signs for Sugar Mountain, and there you go. To plot more detailed directions or directions from a different city, click here.


Loving the Bike September 10, 2010 at 12:13 AM  

Man, you are definitely getting in some awesome MTBing dude. As you know, I'm a road biker, but when I read about your adventures and see your pictures, it really makes me want to get out there and ride with you.


Greg Heil September 10, 2010 at 7:49 AM  

Yeah Darryl, I try to ride as much as possible! This last weekend was a great little getaway to North Carolina. I don't get to travel to new trails as often as I used to, so it was a real treat! More trail reviews to come, whenever I can take the time to write them.

Ride on!


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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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