Tuesday, November 15, 2011

-Trip Report- Pine Hill Park: Now There's A Reason to go to Rutland (November 2011)

Rutland has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of Vermont towns: it doesn't get any respect. From it's derisive nicknames (i.e. "The Rut", "Rut-vegas") to…well, the title of the article, it takes a lot of flak from the outside world and especially from Vermonters.

After sampling the local trails at Pine Hill Park, I may owe the good folks from Rutland an apology.

One more "Knowing Rutland is half the
battle" joke and I'm going to choke you out.
Admittedly, Rutland sits in one of the most beautiful areas of the state.  Much like Burlington and Middlebury, it is nestled in a wide valley and has spectacular views of the Green Mountains on both sides.  This gives the area a sense of space that’s normally only found in the towns and farms in the upper Champlain Valley.  Somehow, despite this natural beauty, Rutland has only managed to become famous for the country’s first polio outbreak, and the home of the fictional G.I. Joe character “Snow Job”.  Having a waste company as its second largest employer doesn’t quite help the image either.

On the western edge of Rutland lies a large hill with dedicated municipal park land.  The continued existence of this land is thanks in large part to the efforts of Rutland residents, who fought for the last decade to protect, develop and maintain the trail system there.  Where there could have been another stale, unimaginative housing development, instead sits one of Vermont’s premiere recreation centers.  While the trails are not dedicated solely to biking (hikers and skiers share them with the mountain biking crowd), there is ample room.  So when Gered and I pulled into the parking lot shared by Pine Hill with the Giorgetti Park ball fields, we saw a number of other people readying their bikes or setting off on foot.  Despite the number of cars in the parking-lot we only occasionally came across other people and never felt crowded.

Following a list of trials that had been given to us from the always reliable anonymous internet message boards, we headed up onto the hill.  Soon, however we began following the multi-colored butterfly signs that had been posted for the recent Luna Quarry 12 hour race there.

Immediately I was struck by how well maintained the trails appeared.   I used to think that the Kingdom had the smoothest singletrack in the state, but I was wrong. The trails at Pine Hill are “bowling alley lane” buff.

It was abundantly clear that much time, effort and care has been devoted to developing and maintaining the trails at Pine Hill.  There are an insane number of banked turns, allowing you to hold speed on the winding downhill sections, and what originally appeared to be randomly placed mounds of dirt (“kickers”) for getting air.  I soon realized, however, that these “kickers” were actually covering up tree roots.  Instead of the usual fight to find your way through an eroded root system, these random jumps only multiply the fun factor by allowing you to keep speed AND get some air while you zip along the singletrack.  At one point in the ride, on a particularly fast but twisty section, I looked up ahead to see Gered around the next bend, fully airborne above the trail.

Although we hit some mildly technical sections on trails like 999 and Stegosaurus, for the most part the trails we rode were very fast singletrack.  My favorite section included a run along Stegosaurus to Strong Angel, and then along Lonely Rock.  These trails had interesting bridges, banked turns, and the random kickers.

While soaring down this trail I got the feeling I like to call “playoff hockey”.  Those of you who watch the NHL probably know what I’m talking about.  And even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen it in other contexts. 

By late April, when the NHL playoffs begin, each of the teams’ players have been on the ice together for months.  They are usually at their peak in terms of conditioning and hand-eye coordination.  Where earlier in the season the game doesn’t seem to move as smoothly, suddenly everything starts clicking. No-look passes connect with teammates, hits connect with opposing players and the game flows smoothly at a breakneck pace. 

The combination of the smooth, well built trails at Pine Hill, with a season’s worth of bike sense, made the trails incredibly fun.  I weaved between trees, grabbed air on jumps and balanced across rocks in perfect harmony with my bike.  It was playoff hockey on two wheels.

To top things off Gered and I stopped at the Long Trail Brewery on our way home.  If you ever have the fortune of stopping there you MUST get an order of the garlic teriyaki wings.  I love buffalo wings and find other flavors to be downright blasphemous.  However, I can’t help myself.  They’re so good that I have been intentionally looking for an excuse to go there again ever since I tried them last year.  Get them.  Period. 

While you’re there you may also want to try the Goodnight Irene.  Not only do some of the proceeds from this limited edition brew go toward Irene flooding relief, but as a brown/amber ale lover it was instantly among my favorites.

So if you’re looking for some November biking before the snow starts piling up, or you’re planning next year’s mountain biking tour of Vermont, Pine Hill Park needs to be on your short list.  Just make sure you leave the “Give Rutland Back to New York” bumper stickers at home.  


  1. Rode for three hours there yesterday (December, 27,2014) and had a blast! I've ridden there many times before - but never this late in the season - the recent rain and "warm" weather worked against the ski areas but opened up the Pine Hill trails for prime riding conditions.

    1. This is why being a mountain biker is the perfect complement to being a skier.