Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Other Side of Ellicottville (May 2014)

This is what flow looks like.

In what is fast becoming an annual tradition, I made a late May trip to ride the trails around Ellicottville, New York.  Almost exactly a year ago I made my first trip there and was awestruck with mostly smooth, swoopy singletrack I found.  I had sampled Big Merlin, Rain, Sidewinder, Mesa, among some of the other trails on one side of the mountain.

However, an offhand comment from a rider I met near the end of my day there, stuck with me.  When I told him where I had ridden, he exclaimed, "Oh, man, you haven't even seen the half of it!"   While the map showed a number of trails in the Northwest corner, I couldn't imagine they would differ so greatly from what I had already ridden.

Did they ever.

My day started the same as my first trip.  I parked at the Holiday Valley training center and no sooner than I had settled into my seat on the bike, a brutal twenty minute slog up the access road slapped me in the face.  The climb was made even more taxing by my decision to bang a right and head straight up the liftline doubletrack that intersects with the more reasonable Race Trail ascent.  While both the Race Trail and liftline take you to the same place, the liftline is more direct, and much, much, steeper.  Soft dirt on the freshly graded trail didn't help matters, and just as the heat from the sun was becoming unbearable, I crested the top and deliriously retreated into the woods.

Flowy section of porcupine.
I decided to hit the summit trails clockwise, which was the opposite of how I had ridden them on my first visit.  I cruised along Rain, Mesa, Sidewinder, and my favorite, Big Merlin until I reached the junction with Porcupine.  The trails were as I had remembered them.  Fast and mostly flowy with a few minor technical challenges like logs and rock gardens thrown in.  Everything ran fantastic and there was only one muddy section which had been covered with logs.

At the outset, Porcupine had much wilder feel than the summit trails.  It was much less worn, and much rootier, rockier and outright raw.  I wove through a beautiful pine glen, connecting to Yukon's Lunch and eventually Mutton Hollow.  There were a couple stream crossings with rocky "under-bridges" (as in "underwater"), and the technical challenges were more numerous and interesting.  I climbed up Buzzard's Breath and descended down the very flowy Rocky Run, numbers 1-3.  After a short climb up Shamrock I crossed a road and hitched the FLT back toward the top of the Holiday Valley lifts.

FLT was hands-down the most challenging of the trails on the mountain.  Relentless rock gardens connected by flat and flowy singletrack challenged my tired legs as I pushed onward back to the start of my loop.

Beautiful gnar on the FLT.
I eventually made my way to KC Trail, and onto the summit roads (which were torn up from ongoing logging), and descended via a dirt road toward what I thought was Holiday Valley.  When my progress was blocked by felled trees, I skirted into the woods, riding through a large glade toward where I thought a road would be located.  As I stopped to check the map, however, I realized I had descended almost all of the way down to Hollimont Ski Area, on the other side of the ridge.  I was out of water.  It was hot.  My legs were spent.  But I had a decision to make.  If I wanted to get back to my car, it was either a long paved ride through town, or climbing back to the top of the lifts.  As much as my legs burned, my hatred for riding on pavement burned even more fiercely.  And so I picked up my bike and climbed back through the trail-less woods to where I had left the road.  From there I hopped on my bike and slowly worked myself back to the top of the lifts.

I eventually got oriented, found the right doubletrack and headed back down (the right gully this time) to the training center's parking lot.

In one respect my opinion of Ellicottville did not change:  It still needs a fun trail for descending back to the resort.  If riding pavement is at the bottom of my list, giving up altitude on doubletrack has to be a close second.  I hear that a flow trail was designed for the recent Bell Built Grants entry, and is still in the works.  This is highly encouraging.

After having ridden most of the IMBA loop, I recommend riding it in counter-clockwise fashion.  This would have you hit FLT when you're freshest, and in the best condition to have some fun on the gnar.  In addition, I got the feeling that trails like Buzzard's Breath, Porcupine and especially Big Merlin are more fun when riding that direction.

A peaceful spot to catch my breath.

Overall,my opinion of Ellicottville has improved drastically over the already high esteem under which it was held.  The wild backcountry side of Ellicottville, when combined with the flowy side, puts it in a class by itself.  It is a full day and full spectrum of riding options.  When you combine this with the local brewery, reasonable prices, and cheap airfare into nearby Buffalo, Ellicottville needs to be considered a true destination riding center.

Start making your reservations.

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