Saturday, 30 July 2016

Mammoth Disapointment

Last weekend we took a family trip to Mammoth Mountain. Although I'd be riding solo, it seemed like a crazy waste of opportunity if I didn't ride "America's Best Mountain Bike Park" (or whatever they claim its title to be.) So, with great excitement and anticipation I turned up at the Mammoth Village shuttle point early Saturday morning, ready for a full day of new downhill discoveries!

For reasons too boring to document, I didn't bring my Glory, but elected to rent a bike instead. I ended up with a Trek Session. Like most modern 27.5 downhill rigs it felt light, nimble and not too dissimilar to a regular trail bike. I haven't ridden my Glory since last season and I suspect its going to feel like a moto-cross bike in comparison to the V10 I had at Whistler and the Trek I rode here. However, as nice as the Trek felt, after a few runs I started to realize I was seriously over-gunned.

Mammoth is huge. A massive sprawling mountain with miles of barren trails. Surprisingly its easy to hop off the lift and almost immediately get lost. I honestly have never had such a confusing, frustrating day on a downhill bike in my life. The trail map (which I used constantly) is a spaghetti mess of criss-crossing trails. There's no clear route to take - at least not that I could fathom. After reaching the peak (via gondola) I rode down the double black rated Skid Marks. An endless, dusty single track with a few rocky features here and there to add interest (though I didn't encounter anything that suggested an "expert" level trail.) Aside from being confusing to read on the map, the trail ratings themselves are also odd. There's the familiar greens, blues, blacks and double blacks, but then there's pro and expert lines. The blacks felt like Northstar blues and the double blacks felt more like singles. Once I'd mentally re-callibrated it made trail choice decisions easier, although the lack of adequate signage meant I took plenty of wrong turns and had to back track often. Pedaling a downhill bike isn't fun at the best of times, its even more annoying when you're trying to find your way to a half decent trail.

Because Mammoth is so big, it meant I barely saw anyone all day. I would've loved to have latched onto some folks and followed them. I had a pervasive sense that I was somehow missing something. That there really was a fun, flowey loop via lift and I just kept missing it by accident. The only fellow riders I did see were riding XC and all-mountain rigs and wearing normal riding gear. I envied their ability to explore and enjoy the alpine air as I watched from behind foggy goggles, huffing and puffing on my burly bike.

Eventually I found a decent descent. From one of the lifts I followed a fellow downhill dressed dude to Flow, Pipeline and Shotgun. Flow was an expert trail and had some fun, steep rocks. Pipeline had a big drop and Shotgun had a few tables and some tech and flow sections. However, by the time I discovered them, I was already beaten down. There's no such thing as dirt at Mammoth. Just dense, kitty litter-like ground pumice stone. Every corner and random parts of the trail (usually just before or after a jump or feature) had deep trenches of the stuff. Big speed sapping traps that would easily send you flying if you touched the front brake enough for the wheel to dig in and send you over the bars. Because my bike wasn't set up moto, I did this a couple of times by mistake - on one particularly bad (but lame) fall I hurt my neck. Without knowing exactly what damage I'd done, I decided to skip the extra steep sections and drops, do a couple of runs to at least warrant getting the bike rental, and then I called it an early day.

Mammoth was bitterly disappointing. I almost want to scrub the experience from memory and go back with the same excitement I previously had, but this time ride with someone who knows the place, and preferably after a period of rain. With decent dirt the trails would be faster (or at least rideable) and knowing exactly where to go without being stumped at every signless five way intersection would make for a much more enjoyable, flowey day of riding. But, it wasn't to be. Fortunately my neck is fine, but the bad taste left by riding somewhere that promised so much is still lingering. A shame :o(

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