This mountain biking thing has come a long way since back in the early 90s, and it's fair to say so has the Skyline Park on the side of Mt. Ngongotaha. In the late 90s (or was it early 2000s?) Skyline opened their chairlift on a limited basis for mountain bikes. Although riders were keen (myself included) this died a pretty quick death. Limited funds and a lack of commitment, and probably other factors I couldn't care less about, meant there were limited tracks, and being accessed only on the chairlift, it was a pretty short run, with the novelty wearing off pretty quickly. Then the 2006 World Champs went down in the same area, a few new tracks were pushed through and we got all excited; rumours were rife in the months following, then nothing. Until now!
After months of hard graft by the teams from Skyline, Mountain Bike Rotorua, and The Empire of Dirt, on Friday Skyline opened a new chapter for mountain biking in New Zealand: the world's first year-round gondola-accessed gravity park!
Friday was reserved for the VIP Opening Event. A select few from the MTB community in Rotorua and a few other like-minded shredders got a golden ticket for the ribbon cutting, some laps in the park, and the best buffet mountain biking has ever seen (I'd say on a global scale!) Somehow I blagged my way in!
Gathering at the base building we donned our kit, grabbed our bikes, and headed for the gondy. But first, the formalities. Local tourism heads and Skyline dignitaries said some words, though I'm not sure anyone heard what they talked about as the buzz of anticipation drowned out anything they said. I'm sure what they did say was important (particularly the part about how much money the government had put into the venture, good guys them governments!) but we wanted one thing. To be unleashed on the trails!
It's fair to say a number of us were skeptical what the park would be like. Would it offer "real mountain bikers" what they were pining for? Would they have fully committed? Would they know what they were doing, like really know? Well, it turns out that yes, they know full well! This isn't a "let's give it a go" scenario; they are all in, boots and all, right up to their neck in it I'd have to say.
Stage one of development is complete now, with two more stages to come over the next 12 months. Currently there's a good array of trails, from those that anyone who can ride a bike can get down, right up to a hand-built, loamy off-camberish number. The beauty of the current trails is every one is fun in its own unique way. Regardless of your riding level there's something for you: some big jumps, some medium jumps, some small jumps, some off-camber, some sweet berms, and some scary bits too. Heck, even Rob Metz left the park smiling after riding digger-built tracks for a few hours!
After a solid couple of hours 'testing' the trails we grabbed a luge and bumped our way to the mid point of the hill where one heck of a spread was put on by the Skyline team. This buffet trumps any I've ever seen at any event, easily. Needless to say after a couple of hours riding we were all in for a big feed, and everyone got stuck in. A couple more speeches while we ate and we were free to head out for more riding or enjoy any of the other attractions the Skyline park has to offer––some of us had work to do though!
It's great to see companies like Skyline and the tourism industry in general starting to see the potential in mountain biking, and the creation of this park really shows the value the Rotorua area put on mountain biking. With a few big events planned over the next 12 months at Skyline, we're excited to see how things develop as the next stages of the project roll out.
A quick thanks must go to the Mountain Bike Rotorua and Skyline guys for getting us along to the day. We'll be back soon!