D.C. Area cyclists are lucky to have a new and challenging venue where to test and hone their downhill mountain biking skills. Bryce Resort in Basye, VA (just over 100 miles from Northern Virginia) recently opened and is continuing to expand a network of lift-assisted mountain bike trails that offer runs for both beginner and expert riders.

I had the opportunity to head out to the resort this past Wednesday and spent the morning riding with General Manager Rob Schwartz and the afternoon with Derek Clifton, one of the resort’s mountain bike instructors.

My Intent was just to go down to Bryce to check out the new MTB trails, but after a few email exchanges with Rob we decided to do a road loop before hitting the slopes. So, early Wednesday morning I put the road and mountain bike on the roof rack and headed out to the resort for a day of riding.

The road loop (below) did not disappoint. We had planned on doing just under 30 miles but my road bike was in need of some love. An early flat (read: destroyed rear tire) forced us to cut the ride down to a manageable 16 miles. Our near-noon start did not help either, the temperatures were pretty high, so it was probably best to keep the spin short. Our ride followed some rural back roads with spectacular views of the Shenandoah. Short spirited climbs were rewarded by twisty technical descents with minimal traffic. I think I counted four cars and one motorcycle during our entire outing. I was somewhat embarrassed that my bike was not ready and a little saddened we did not extend the ride, but definitely relieved we only did 16 miles in the blistering heat.

Upon return to the resort I left my road bike with Jeff Bartley, one of Bryce’s mechanics; Jeff gave my steel Hampsten a great look-over and made sure it was in perfect condition for the next road outing, which I hope is a longer loop near Bryce. His attention to detail was welcomed, and clearly visible in the pristine condition the rental stable is in. Rob mention that it is Bryce’s goal to provide a complete riding experience, and having immaculate bikes for renters to enjoy is the first step in that direction. “I want a rider to come and get top notch equipment so that they can have the full experience,” he added, “I’ve often seen places that have great trails but their bikes are in horrible condition and give renters no confidence.” I did not use one of their bikes, but would have gladly taken one out on the trails. Along with the rentals, Bryce also provides full armor, if a rider wants it, so that they can feel safe on the slopes.

The resort has partnered with Trek and offers a sleek fleet of high end dual suspension bikes for rent (Trek Session 8’s and Slash 8’s). Bryce is not a bike dealer, but they do have a comprehensive repair program and the small retail shop offers accessories and equipment for sale and rent, including GoPro cameras for guests to record their experiences.

Rob had to leave me behind (he had to work after all), and left me in the hands of Derek Clifton, one of the resort’s bike Instructors. The former Marine was a consummate professional. He was respectful and certainly knew his craft. As we rode the chairlift up the mountain Derek talked about the different trails, their features, and nuances. He talked about how he coaches and helps new riders master some of the skills and confidence necessary to ride a bike down the resort trails and provided me with some key advice on how to maximize my experience on the downhill runs. I am not an expert downhiller and have always been shy and apprehensive about launching off any types of jumps, but by my 7th run down the mountain I had enough confidence to clear several of the small table tops in the intermediate trails – I seriously can’t wait to get back to keep trying…

I made it a point to ride all of the trails that Bryce offers, from the beginner “Sundowner” to the double black diamond “Copperhead.

Bryce Trail Map

Sundowner is perfect for beginners to get acquainted with downhill riding in general. The trail descends for nearly two miles and makes ample use of all the terrain on the mountain. Sundowner can be fast, but lacks the obstacles and technical features that more intermediate riders crave. I did enjoy the run and can’t wait to take my 8 year old daughter down its slopes – she’ll appreciate the fact that there is no “uphill pedaling.” Sundowner does have one great feature towards the end, a wall ride that can be easily bypassed or swooped high for a quick rush.

Next we rode “Brew Thru.” This was by far my favorite run. The first part of this intermediate trail parallels Sundowner but offers riders a set of small table tops that will give them a feel for what is to come, this is a flow trail with several jump features. It’s important to note that all of the features on this trail can be “rolled,” so if you are apprehensive about jumps you can easily roll them, and as your confidence increases, you can test your skills further. Brew Thru is shorter than Sundowner but packs lots of fun in the run, including several small drops and two wooden features that are a joy to ride.

The third run took us down “Screwdriver.” Screwdriver is the second intermediate trail on the mountain. Unlike Brew Thru, Screwdriver is far more technical. As its name aptly implies, Screwdriver consists of a series of top side switchbacks and fast berms. The mid portion of this run utilizes a section of Sundowner before delivering you to Lower Screwdriver, another technical portion of tight switchbacks.

We then proceeded to run the black diamond “Car Bomb.” This trail was little more intense than screwdriver and included a wood bridge with a mid size drop-off. I rode the entire trail with the exception of that feature; I’ll save it for another day; I’m sure that if I had spent some more time on the mountain I would have mustered the courage to attempt it – and I’m sure I will in the future – today was just not the day. Still, the run was fun and challenging, and seeing Derek clean the bridge drop-off inspired some confidence for the future.

We finally rode “Copperhead,” the resort’s double black diamond run. The trail starts with a 20 yard rock garden – you just have to plow through this section and let the suspension on your bike do the work. After clearing the rocks you are treated to some tight off-camber single track that reminded me of some of the exposed runs I did in Peru. This trail is challenging; it has several steep drops that will test your technical riding skills. For advanced riders this section is a treat. After a series of drops and steep left hand turn you’ll hit the first wood bridge. The bridge has an easy drop off that smoothly rolls to the trail below, shortly after you hit the second bridge – this one, however, has a much steeper transition, which if not ready, can cost you dearly. Finally, Copperhead ends with a creek gap jump and a long table top before delivering you to the base of the mountain. While I was there, crews were working hard to finish a new advanced feature that will mark the end of the double diamond run. By the looks of it  it will be challenging, but surely please the expert set of riders that hit the resort trails.

After this, Derek and I parted ways and I continued doing a few more runs down the mountain. I hit Brew Thru several times and sampled the short “Snakebite” trail, the third and final intermediate offering. Snakebite is simply an alternate trail that runs parallel to Brew Thru that offers a much more technical line down the mountain, including a nice long set of “skinnies.”

What’s cool about Bryce is that all of the trails merge at one point or another, so you can easily craft a path that builds on the best sections of each trail. Copperhead is the only one trail that once you commit you have to ride all the way down.

All in all I had an absolute blast during the time I spent at the resort and can’t wait to get back again. Next time I’m bringing a few of my friends to share in the experience. I’m also looking forward to trying some of the other activities offered by the resort, including their zipline adventure course and possibly renting a Mountain Board. I’m definitely bringing my daughter on one of these outings so that we can run down Sundowner together – I think it will help her hone her skills and become a better rider overall.

Finally, Bryce is not just a downhill mountain bike destination. If you enjoy all cycling disciplines you’ll find that the road riding from the resort is phenomenal; feel free to sample the loop I did above, and if you ask, I’m sure the staff can help you piece together another route, including some challenging gravel roads. I’ve yet to sample the cross country trails near the resort, but Rob assures me that there are some great routes within a short distance from the slopes.

Here’s a quick montage of the rides I did that day, hope they give you a sense for the trails I describe above;

UPDATE 8/7/13

Headed back up to Bryce this past Wednesday, this time with my 8 year-old daughter. We spent nearly 6 hours going up and down the slopes. Rode mostly Sundowner, but added a couple of short sections of Brew Thru for good measure. She had an absolute blast and is already asking when we can go back. Unfortunately she did not meet the weight requirement for the zip line just yet, next year for sure. Below is a snap of her enjoying one of the turns on Sundowner.

Ari on Sundowner

Ari on Sundowner

UPDATE 10/13/13

Headed back up to Bryce on the weekend of 9/22 with my best friend Scott Scudamore, his granddaughter, his son-in-law, and my daughter for a fun day of cycling. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse during a mid afternoon run and Scott was involved in a serious accident that has left him paralyzed. Scott is a pillar of the cycling community in the mid-atlantic region and chances are that if you’re reading this you know him. Please take minute to visit the site that’s been created for him to support his family during this very difficult time. And please, be careful out there, you just never know when your life will change dramatically…