Small Town Mountains Opening Up for Bike Lift Access!

Only a few years ago, the idea that a small dual chair mountain would invest in lift access biking would seem foolish. Coupled with immense overhead, steep competition from larger resorts and what was still a very niche sport, the return on investment just wasn’t clear – and the risk for locally owned hills was potentially fatal.

Mountain Biking at Suicide Six

But things have changed. With the explosive growth of Mountain Biking across the Green Mountain State and broader New England, small town mountains are seeing a more solid path to profitably supporting the logistics and overhead associated with digging and staffing trails.

A couple weeks ago, we noticed a Facebook ad for opening day at the new Elemental Bike Park – a lift access network based at the Suicide Six ski area in Pomfret Vermont. We did a double take. Pomfret Vermont? How could a town of under 500 residents support a million dollar downhill park? With a little digging we discovered the design and build was completed by Sinuosity Flowing Trails and already being huge fans of their work it seemed like a great opportunity to do a little recon down south.

At only 700 vertical feet, Suicide Six has a rich history of paving the way for outdoor sport. It carries the proud distinction of being the first motorized ski tow in the United States of America back in 1934 and is home to the the longest running ski race in North America, the Fisk Trophy Race. 82 years later, it’ll join several other small mountains in an attempt to harness the profitability of bicycles in the summer months. With longer summers and a trend of spotty winter snow coverage, small town ski economies have needed to shift, not only to remain relevant – but to survive.

Mountain Biking Suicide Six

The task of building out lift access can be daunting – especially when the mountain in question sits only a stone's throw from Killington, a mecca of the eastern seaboard and offering the most downhill riding on the east coast. Still, staff at Suicide Six seem optimistic about their small park’s chance of success. “A lot of our thinking was around how we could make mountain biking attractive for young families visiting the area” says Nick Mahood, the new manager at Elemental Bike Park. He says they’re less concerned about downhill adrenaline junkies and more focused on creating a fun place for families to ride. The approach makes sense. Suicide Six is owned by the Woodstock Inn, which for than 80 years has served tourists across central Vermont throughout summer, foliage, and the winter months. Lift access biking was “the next logical step” according to Mahood who also expects locals will ride here after work – when they couldn’t make it to Killington or nearby Okemo for last chair anyhow.

No doubt, an outflowing of local support around Suicide Six’s new venture contributes to the cheery optimism of management staff. But can this approach work for other small town mountains? The answer may lie in the broader scope of how progressive financial management and forward thinking policy can accommodate the changing climate (excuse the pun) of outdoor sport.

One thing is evident at the base lodge of Elemental though – the mountain bike culture in Vermont has never been stronger. Kids as young as 5 years old are riding the beginner pump track (featuring free rentals and access) while their parents trade off watching and taking runs on the lift.

There’s music at the base lodge and an opening day BBQ is in full swing around the main lift. If there’s a perfect summer vibe for a small mountain bike park, Suicide Six has found it. We’ll be coming back to ride all fall!

About the contributors:

About Charles Kahn About the author:
Charlie Kahn is a local videographer and bike guru who’s worked with the Skirack content team since 2017. A Vermont native, Charles stayed in Burlington after college and Co-founded New Atlas Collective, a production company based in Burlington. He’s been a Ski Rack customer for as long as he can remember.
About Zach Walbridge About the photographer:
Zach Walbridge is a local photographer and videographer who came to Vermont in 2014 not just for school but for the snow. He's been working with the Skirack team since 2016.