Loon mountain-bike park

Mark Hayes, right, is president of the Highland Mountain Bike Park and its Highland Trails development arm. He joined Loon Vice President of Operations Brian Norton, left, to inspect a trail that will be part of the Lincoln resort’s new mountain-bike park.

LINCOLN — With guidance and hands-on help from an industry giant, the state’s newest mountain-bike park is rapidly taking shape at Loon Mountain.

Tentatively slated to open this fall, phase I of the park will consist of 5 miles of trails, including a green-circle freeride trail and both a green circle and a blue-square technical trail. It is being designed and built in conjunction with Highland Trails LLC, the development arm of Mark Hayes’ Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield.

Lift service will be offered via Loon’s Seven Brothers Triple chairlift.

In phase II, Loon proposes to add 10 miles more of downhill trails for advanced riders, and to expand lift service to the Kancamagus Express Quad. Loon will connect the mountain-bike park to its 10 miles of existing cross-country bike trails, creating what the resort has said is “the largest network of combined downhill and cross-country trails in New Hampshire.”

Mtbparks.com, which bills itself as “North America’s Mountain Bike Resort Website,” notes that the Granite State currently has six mountain-bike parks of varying sizes and features, with five located at ski resorts: Attitash, Bretton Woods, Mount Sunapee, Pats Peak and Waterville Valley.

The other park is at Highland Mountain, which itself is a former ski area that Hayes has transformed into what Mtbparks said is “the world’s only mountain-bike-specific, lift-accessed mountain, focused entirely on biking.”

Earlier this month, Highland Mountain hosted a “slopestyle” competition that attracted some of the best riders in the world.

As a sport, mountain biking has “massive potential” in the United States, said Hayes, who bought Highland Mountain in 2003 and, after extensive work, opened it in 2006.

While New Hampshire ski resorts like Loon have offered mountain-biking as an amenity to guests since the 1980s, the interest in mountain biking has grown. Many of the resorts, given the volatility of winter weather, have gone to a year-round operations model to maximize and even out earnings.

With some 40 million mountain bikers in the country and only 10 million skiers, Hayes said it was logical that ski resorts reach out to the former.

During a slopeside interview last week at Loon, Hayes said the best way to build a mountain-bike park is to start by making it “family friendly,” which, as with phase I at Loon, means offering terrain that accommodates the broadest range of ability levels.

As the park becomes established and as the riders gain confidence in their skills, more challenging trails will be added.

The economic model for a mountain-bike park, Hayes said, is the same as for a ski resort, meaning that the aim is to encourage repeat visits. Because mountain biking, like skiing, has an initial upfront cost in terms of equipment, riders at Highland MBP and Loon will be able to rent bikes and also get lessons on how to use them in one package, said Hayes.

Brian Norton, Loon’s vice president of operations, said a group of Loon officials visited the Highland MBP earlier this year to experience the park firsthand.

It didn’t take them long, he said, to realize they loved the thrill of mountain biking and that they wanted to have that feeling on a regular basis.

It’s taken Loon, which is located within the White Mountain National Forest, about two years in planning and permitting to get phase I going, said Norton. Every step of the way, he said, the resort has worked closely with the Forest Service to make sure the result meets muster.