Southern California is a great location for mountain biking. Not only do we have beautiful mountain ranges to ride, but we’re spoiled with awesome weather year-round, which means we don’t have to hang up our helmets when winter rolls around.
If you’re a downhill rider, however, your options are a little more limited. Unlike cross-country, which is what most people imagine when they think of mountain biking, downhill is aptly named for its focus on riding down mountains as opposed to up or across them. Downhill trails are typically more advanced and consist of tight, steep terrain with a mixture of rocks, roots, jumps, and other technical features.
There aren’t a ton of spots that fit that description here in SoCal, but one popular place that riders head to is Snow Summit (part of Big Bear Mountain Resort). I had never ridden there before, but when my friend Nibal called me two weeks ago asking if I wanted to ride, I jumped at the opportunity.
We arrived at the base of the mountain at about 9:30 AM. After a two-hour drive with five people packed inside the small-ish cab of a Toyota Tacoma, we were relieved to open the doors to fresh air and cold mountain weather. Everyone pulled their bikes out of the truck, put our gear on and grabbed our helmets, and headed towards the lift.
Our first trail of the day was a blue trail by the name of Turtle. As you can probably guess by the name, this is Snow Summit’s beginner trail. We always like to warm up on something easier to get the blood flowing, plus we brought our friend Gary who had literally never ridden a mountain bike before, so this was a good start. There are no serious features or jumps, just some simple downhill with dozens of berms and switchbacks. We took things slow so Gary could get used to his bike, and surprisingly, he made it down without a single spill!
Once we reached the bottom, we made our way over to the line for the lift again. Typically, these lines take forever, but it was a slow day for Snow Summit so we were on our way back up the mountain within about 10 minutes.
With our warm-up trail out of the way, we decided to tackle a trail called Party Wave next. Party Wave is arguably the most popular trail on the mountain, offering a little bit of everything – fast sections, slow sections, steep, not steep, rocky, smooth, and dozens of jumps (our personal favorite). As it turns out, this is where we’d spend most of our day.
Out of 12 total runs down the mountain, I think eight of them were on this trail. My first couple runs were mainly spent trying to memorize my lines, and by the fourth run, I had things dialed in. I had figured out which rocks to ride over, which to avoid, and where each turn was taking me (even in a blind corner). Of course, even with perfect preparation, mistakes are always made.
The second-to-last run down the mountain, Nibal, Carey, and I were riding quick. We typically ride pretty close together, so I was about 15 feet behind Nibal, with Carey close behind me. We came into a turn which had some tough rocks before it, and Nibal accidentally clips one of the big ones with his rear wheel. His entire back end lifted off the ground, only riding his front wheel, and he was about to fly over the bars doing at least 25 mph.
By some miracle, he was able to shift his weight back and avoid the crash, but for a second there we all thought he was going down hard. Needless to say, he took things easy the rest of that run.
After Nibal’s close encounter, we decided to spend our last hour on the short courses at the base of the mountain which Snow Summit calls Skill Builders. These trails mainly consist of jumps and turns to help you improve your skills for when you’re riding the actual trails down the mountain. There are three lines available – Beginner, Intermediate, and Pro. Nibal, Carey, and I are fairly experienced riders, so we stuck to the Pro Line, while Gary and Haley played around on the Beginner and Intermediate lines.
As the clock rolled over to 4:00, Snow Summit staff members took to each trail to let us know the mountain had closed and it was time to leave. Thankfully, the girl that came over to the Skill Builders lines was super cool and let us continue riding until the other staff members had gone up and down the mountain. This meant an extra half hour of riding – right about the time I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. My body was literally surviving off two Quest bars.
On the way home, we finished the day with food and smoothies. For me, a giant Jersey Mike’s sandwich and a local smoothie called the 800lb Gorilla. In other words, about 2,800 calories in 45 minutes. I was a happy camper.
If you’re a mountain biker and you ever have the chance to visit Snow Summit, I’d say definitely take the trip. You have lift access, the trails are fun, and it’s overall a good time if you’ve got the right group of people. Before you hit the road, remember to pack the essentials: helmet, knee pads, gloves, snacks, and of course, your favorite Rocket Pure products! The Mint Foot and Shoe Deodorizer Spray is a savior for eliminating sweaty stenches after riding, and since I’m pretty fair skinned, the Zinc Sunscreen Lip Balm is a must-have too.
About the author
Hey everyone, my name is Cory Yeakel. I’m a friend of Alex’s, head of ProductAdvisor.com, and I’ve ridden downhill since I was 11 years old. I used to race semi-professionally until I realized I would never be as good as my buddy Aaron Gwin (he’s the #1 rider in the world now), but downhill still runs through my veins and I’ll hop on a bike any chance I can.