7-5-19 Basch-Cranmore Bike Park

Cranmore general manager and president Ben Wilcox (back row) says the resort plans to open a lift served mountain bike park in June 2020. From left: Melissa Linne will run the mountain bike school, Shawn Waters will oversee the park and Chris Lewando is building the trails. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)

Mountain bikers will be able to go downhill at Cranmore Mountain Resort next summer.

The resort is planning to open a new beginner-oriented lift serviced mountain bike park using the South Quad with some 500 to 600 feet of vertical next June.

The family-focused park will have three machine-built flow trails — two beginner and one intermediate — for some 5 miles of riding. Construction began in mid-May on a skills park at the base of the mountain behind the Cranmore Race Team building that will provide novices with an introduction to the pursuit.

A bike rental shop with suspension and cross-country rentals and gear accessories will be located in the winter ski rental shop. Learn-to-ride packages will be available through a mountain bike school for the park that will require a lift pass.

“Our goal is not to build a big thrill-seeking mountain bike park that is going to challenge another lift service mountain bike park,” said Cranmore general manager and president Ben Wilcox. “Our goal is to create a beginner and intermediate lift service program with a mountain bike school and skills park that helps you graduate from the skills park to the South chair.”

Inspired by the success of Tilton’s Highland Mountain Bike Park, Wilcox wants to fashion a park where clients can be introduced to the sport in a non-intimidating environment. That’s where the South Slope comes in, home to Cranmore’s green circle ski trails.

“We want to capitalize on our terrain that is not too steep and that area has about a 5 to 6 percent grade which is a very gradual grade trail,” he said. “That is very rideable.”

The trails are being built by Chris Lewando, owner of Glen’s Tyrol Trails. Lewando is also a vice president and trail builder for the White Mountains chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association and has helped build many recent valley trails with the association.

Shawn Waters will oversee the park with Melissa Linne running the mountain bike school.

“This isn’t your grandfather’s mountain biking,” said Wilcox. “There aren’t rocks, roots and trees to hop over. There are mature elements built out of rock and wood and soil.”

Lewando said the skills park is a condensed version of what riders can expect on the trails that are being constructed. The park in progress has berms, small drops, rollers, jump and more.

The easiest trail will be user-friendly with wide sight lines, he said.

“We will continue to increase from there with berms on the second trail with some rollers and such,” he said. “As we get into the third trail — the intermediate trail — it will have tighter turns, banked turns or berms and some options for little airs and rollers.”

He’s looking to have a variety of elements while showcasing Cranmore’s natural flow.

“We want to bring it all together so not only can riders grow and progress but have something that a family can come and enjoy and introduce their children to mountain biking,” he said.

Cranmore, which saw lift service mountain biking for a spell in the 1990s before Wilcox’s tenure, is positioning itself as a knobby-tired North Conway hub. The mountain is ringed by popular mountain bike trails while also is in a prime position for the projected 4-mile long Mount Washington Valley Rec Path due for a 2020 construction start. Cranmore has parking, bathrooms and other amenities favored by mountain bikers.

“We are inspired by the work New England Mountain Bike Association has done and have a great relationship with them,” said Wilcox.

Many New England Mountain Bike Association trails cross Cranmore land like Parking Lot Smoothie, Red Tail, Kettle Ridge, Kandagnar and Charlie Don’t Surf, according to Wilcox. Those trails will continue to be open to riders without a lift ticket.

“We are not connecting the New England Mountain Bike Association trails to the bike park, but they are indirectly connected,” he said. “They are separate from the lift served trails.”

Wilcox hopes the mountain bike park will be a crossover for winter guests who might not come up to North Conway in summer. He sees similarities between skiing and mountain biking down trails, between going to ski school and going to mountain bike school.

“There is a similar euphoria,” he said. “We hope to bring some winter guests back in the summer to try lift served mountain biking.”

Though the opening date isn’t specific, Wilcox estimates a Father’s Day, 2020 launch.

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