(all photos courtesy of Mammoth Mountain Bike Park)

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park - Pumice Riders Unite

Pumice is a solidified piece of frothy lava that's formed through rapid cooling and depressurization, usually right after it's violently ejected from a volcanic explosion. And if you aren't used to riding on pumice, you'll quickly figure out it's a completely unique experience, usually right after you're violently ejected from your mountain bike.

At 11,053 feet, Mammoth Mountain is one of the largest and most legendary volcanoes in mountain bike history, and it has a gripload of pumice. It made a name for itself in the 1980's with the Kamikaze Downhill, a breakneck 60 mile-an-hour descent covering 2,000 vertical feet of pumice-laden fire road that's more like bike surfing than bike riding. Nothing makes you appreciate life until you reach the bottom of the Kamikaze with both your hardtail bike and body intact.

Although Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is the home of the Kamikaze, among a host of other double-black diamond free-ride trails with huge rock drops and man-made North Shore-style ramps, the park also boasts more than 70 miles of singletrack for mountain bikers of all skill levels.

Park supervisor Mark Hendrickson knows how to build ripping fun trails. Perhaps it's because Mark is a former pro downhiller and knows what a great trail is supposed to feel like. But it might also be due to his unique way of collecting rider feedback.

"I hide in the woods," said Hendrickson. "I want raw, unfiltered feedback, and nothing is more raw and unfiltered than standing ten feet off the trail, listening to people go by. If I hear 'woo-hoos', then I know we're onto something. If I hear 'that sucked', we ride it and figure out why."

Hendrickson's crew of trail builders are all mountain bikers themselves, a pre-requisite for every team member. They ride the trails almost every single day, know where potential trouble spots are and address them before they get worse.

And Mammoth is investing in their park as well - upping the budget from $20,000 last year to $200,000 in 2011, and to smooth out the loose, pumice-laden corners, Mammoth has increased concrete pavers from 30 tons last year to more than 150 tons in 2011.

Josh Chauvet, Action Sports Brand Manager made it clear what Mammoth Mountain Bike Park's goal is, "We want to be the premier mountain bike park in North America."

The two-wheel drift is the signature move of all Mammoth riders. Nowhere else can you get as many opportunities to enter a corner and feel both wheels slowly sliding beneath you. It takes some getting used to, but once you master the Mammoth two-wheel drift, you become what locals call a "Pumice Rider", enabling you to ride any corner anywhere with confidence.

Mammoth Mountain PR Manager, Dan Hansen, gave us the grand tour of the park, and we rode everything from green circles to double-black diamonds. Below is a breakdown on some of the trails we enjoyed most.

If you like fast, flowy singletrack and prefer to earn your downhills by riding up them, then check out these trails that can be linked together for hours of epic riding.

Beach Cruiser is a terrific warm-up climb that can loop you back down to the lodge or take you up to Off the Top, which serpentines its way to Mammoth's 11,053 foot summit. Thousands of concrete pavers were laid in each corner of Off the Top, making for smooth, fast switchbacks. Most of Off the Top is above treeline, adding to the desolate, volcanic eeriness of the environment around you. Once you hit the peak, the payoff is a 2,000-foot vertical, half-hour descent back to the lodge.

On the other side of the mountain, must-ride trails include Paper Route to Timber Ridge to Juniper. This was our absolute favorite piece of singletrack on the mountain. Ripping fun corners in deep, lush woods with techy little rock sections that flow like Hot Creek. If you don't let out at least one "woo-hoo" on the way down, you might want to consider giving up mountain biking; you've got no soul.

If you brought the family and want to get out on an easy, enjoyable ride where the kids won't crash their brains out and your spouse won't file for separation, then ride Downtown and take the shuttle back up to the Adventure Center. If you want to get a solid workout in, ride Uptown instead of the shuttle. It's a gradual singletrack climb that is completely rideable for most people, even lowlanders.

If your idea of a good day on knobby tires includes wearing more body armor than the Knights of the Round Table and sitting on more suspension than your Volkswagen, then these trails are a must ride. Many are rideable on a hardtail, but you better bring your most serious A-game.

Twilight Zone is the highlight of Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, featuring a high-speed, nine-foot tall, 50-foot wide banked right-hand wooden ramp, multiple table top jumps and a huge jump at the bottom with a helpful and clearly visible "EXPERT ONLY" emblazoned on the ramp so you don't accidentally hit it and run out of talent. The entire trail winds deep through the woods, enhancing the element of speed.

We got a sneak peek of Upper Twilight Zone, a brand new trail that opened August 27, and it is one ridiculously fast screamer of a run. Huge paver-banked corners, one after another with huckable lips at the end wind its way like a snake through the woods for warp speeds, leading to involuntary bouts of the "woo-hoos!"

Recoil features huge paver-bermed corners down an open ski slope with perfectly built tabletop jumps highlight this trail, with a really fun and technically challenging rock drop-in section below.

Seven Bridges is a fun, techy black diamond that winds through the woods and crosses over a rivulet seven times before dumping you back out on the ski slope. Totally rideable on a hardtail, but just make sure you jump clear off each bridge, the holes on the downhill side of the bridges will send you reeling over the bars.

Techno Rock - If your huevos are particularly gigante, this double-black diamond trail will size them up something proper. Massive rock ledges, extremely sketch drop-in sections with massive boulders and tire-swallowing pumice sand in between. Just remember - the rocks are your friend. Don't even think about showing up without a full-face helmet and full-suspension for this one, you will surely fail.

The Mammoth Lakes region is a world-class destination with a big reputation and an even bigger mountain. With its natural riding conditions that hone your skills, unmatched alpine scenery and upped investment in its trail network, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is indeed on its way to being the premier mountain bike park in North America. Go check it out!

Visit the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park website for more information.
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