Mountain Bikes are a bit of a misnomer. Having eclipsed road bikes in popularity, most mountain bikes never venture far from the comfort of a paved road - and few ever brush their tires against a real mountain. Whitetail offers a real mountain, and a pretty good reason for mountain bikers to veer off that asphalt.
Motivated by Whitetail’s recent decision to offer 50% mountain biking discounts to last ski season’s passholders, I threw my mountain bike on the roof rack this past Saturday and made the trek to Whitetail. It was a beautiful day and Whitetail was relatively uncrowded: there were under 50 cars in the parking lot, a sight not often seen during the winter season.
Whitetail’s ski rental building becomes headquarters for mountain biking during the summer months.This is where you purchase a trail pass and rent bikes. Whitetail provides a hose to wash your bike down and free hot showers to wash yourself down, but you’ll need to bring your own towel. You can also visit the mountain biking center for repair work. On weekends, Whitetail fires up the barbecue grill for lunch.
Whitetail sells trail passes, providing access to all of Whitetail’s terrain, and trail/lift passes, which provide access to the terrain but help you get to the top through a ride on the Whitetail Express lift. In previous years, Whitetail ran the Expert’s Choice chairlift on weekends and holidays to transport mountain bikers and their bikes to the top of the mountain. This year, Whitetail is running the Whitetail Express lift on weekends to get bikers and hikers to the top. This removes the need for bikers to pedal uphill to the Expert’s Choice lift. During the week, you’ll have to rely on your own steam to get to the top.
Mountain bikers will enjoy dozens of miles of trails wandering around the vicinity of Whitetail. Hikers with a trail pass are also free to explore these trails. (On weekends, they can hitch a ride up the mountain with a lift pass, and could probably talk their way into a ride down the mountain as well.) Note that the mountain biking trails are completely different from the slopes you ski down in the winter. Some of the trails, such as the Dowling Farm Loop, extend miles from the base area of Whitetail. Most of the advanced trails are located around Whitetail’s mountain, to the right side of Whitetail’s expert skiing terrain or between Whitetail’s beginner and intermediate skiing terrain.
Some of the trails at Whitetail are exclusively single-track, some are exclusively dirt road, while others are a combination of the two. For example, the Funnel, a trail rated as “most difficult,” is a technical single track trail with moderate and steep climbs and downhills, and rocky sections with off camber turns. The Work Road is a dirt road leading from the base area to the summit, offering a two-mile climb up 935 vertical feet. The Work Road is rated as “more difficult,” but presumably is easier if a biker is starting from the top.
If you have never been mountain biking off-road before, you might not know what to expect when visiting a facility like Whitetail for the first time. My mountain bike had been subjected to the (sometimes challenging) city terrain of Philadelphia, with occasional stints on off-road trails at Wissahickon State Park, located outside of Philadelphia. But I had never really been “mountain biking.” You will quickly discover why high-end mountain bikes are equipped with shock absorbers. Even on beginner terrain, you will have to navigate over rocky sections of trail, requiring delicate balance and a bit of faith. Doing this while traveling uphill is challenging because you can run out of steam or momentum before getting to the top. It is best to play it safe: if you are unsure of your ability or get into a situation you don’t feel comfortable with, dismount your bike and walk that section out. (You won’t be the only person doing that.)
I followed Whitetail’s advice and started on one of the easier trails, the Dowling Farm Loop. This 6.3 mile trail is described as gentle single track with some slight climbs and downhills. The Dowling Farm Loop will take you several miles north of Whitetail’s base area. After a short while you will cross the main road and head into the woods. Some great scenery awaits: the first of several ponds, where you might witness a family of ducks waddling along the banks, followed by rolling farmland and even an old cemetery. Sections of the trail are rocky and narrow, but later expand into wide-open dirt roads. The trail wanders around the property of a functioning farm, so be alert for farm activity. (I had a surprise run-in with a rather large lawn-mowing device, cutting the grass on the sides of the trail.)
There are several spots where you can switch from Dowling Farm Loop to the Roller Coaster trail, a “more difficult” single track trail with moderate climbs and downhills, and some rocky and technical sections. Roller Coaster is 7.1 miles and is in the general vicinity of Dowling Farm Loop.
Both will take you right next to the Whitetail Reservoir, which provides water for Whitetail’s snowmaking operations in the winter. (This reservoir is north of Whitetail - it is not the lake you see on the left as you drive to Whitetail from the south.)
Several sections of Roller Coaster challenged my ability, so I was not prepared to try some of the more difficult terrain at Whitetail. My bike also lacks shock absorbers, and by the end of the day I was feeling the effects of the (very) bumpy ride. Whitetail does offer inexpensive lessons, which I am sure I will take before venturing onto trails described as “difficult.” However, Whitetail does offer plenty of terrain for beginner mountain bikers.
The Goose Ponds trail stays near the Whitetail base area and is a beginner grassy trail offering gentle single track and some slight climbs and downhills. The Bear Ponds Loop takes bikers south of Whitetail, covering single and double track with moderate climbs and downhills over 9.2 miles. Some rocky and technical sections are also present in Bear Ponds Loop.
Both Whitetail’s staff and fellow mountain bikers were very friendly. The scenery is terrific and you are likely to run into several forms of wildlife while mountain biking. (I startled a few squirrels, and a few squirrels startled me.) Even on a Saturday, the trails were not crowded - I only saw other bikers a few times. Even so, you should exercise caution, because there are plenty of “blind corners” that could have oncoming bikers. Trails could be better marked - for example, some of the markers along the Dowling Farm Loop were confusing or missing.
You’ll get a full-body workout mountain biking, and will undoubtedly be sore the next day. Pace yourself and be sure to bring plenty of water - you’ll get thirsty. Other tips are listed below.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays for maintenance)
Lift service: weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Lift will also run on May 26, July 4, September 1, and October 13.)
Trail Fees: trailpass costs $6. Lift and trailpass costs $23. Afternoon lift and trailpass (1:30 - 5:00 p.m.) costs $15. Season pass for mountain biking is $99.
Rental Fees: Cannondale F700 front suspension bikes are $55 per day on weekends, or $40 per day weekdays. Cannondale SV700 full suspension bikes are $65 per day weekends and $50 per day weekdays. This fee includes lift and trailpass, helmet rental, and 6% Pennsylvania sales tax. Helmet rentals (without bike) are $3 per day. A major credit card is required to rent a bike.
Mountain Biking School: A two-hour workshop is offered weekends and holidays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. This workshop, including training in Whitetail’s Terrain Garden and a short trail ride, costs $20 or $10 with bike rental. You may also choose to ride with an Instructional Guide at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekends and holidays for $30 (three hours) or $50 (five hours and lunch). Ride Guides will give experienced bikers a tour of the mountain at 11 a.m. on weekends and holidays for $30 (three hours). Whitetail offers other clinics and by-appointment lessons.
Races: Whitetail sponsors several races throughout the season. Click here to see Whitetail’s 1997 mountain biking schedule.
For more information, contact Whitetail at (717) 328-9400.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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