Bike Park Reviews: Bolton Valley, VT

Bike Park Reviews: Bolton Valley, VT

Bolton Valley is the closest ski hill to Burlington, and not too long ago added lift service to its bike park. The trails have been there for years, but now you don't have to ride up a fire road to get to them. On our recent staycation in VT (during which we did do a bit of traveling), we rode at Bolton Valley on a very chilly and frosty afternoon. It was so chilly that Kerri wasn't sure she'd ride at all, then took one run and stopped. 

Kerri went to UVM and has skied at Bolton a bunch in the long long ago. I've skied there one time, and it was one of the better ski days I've ever had. It was the MLK day storm a few years ago and in a preview of the new normal, the traffic to get to Stowe was so bad that we bailed and went to Bolton. True east coast powder days are few and far between, this one was solid gold.

For calibration, I'm not very qualified to write bike park reviews. Bolton was the 3rd bike park I've ever ridden, after Bryce several years ago (thanks again, Rob S!) and now Killington about a dozen times this summer. I'm not a great mountain biker, and don't have a ton of experience riding longer travel bikes. Take whatever I write through that lens. When we got to Bolton, I sort of invented my park review rubric on the fly, so that's likely to evolve as well.

Arriving at Bolton, the parking is convenient and the lodge is right at the lift. There's a small retail section if you need anything, and there's standard cafeteria style ski hill food. Changing in the downstairs area is convenient. There is the standard marginally useful Park Tool work station right outside the lodge. I say marginally useful because while there are a ton of tools, the security tails get so braided together that it gets very hard to use them. This is a problem at every one of these that I've seen.

We had free passes thanks to our Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) membership, but otherwise the passes are $30 midweek, $40 weekend pre-purchase, and $50 weekend walkup. I didn't confirm but it sure seems like the passes are for chairlift and not for mountain access, so pedaling uphill might be free. That would be worth confirming if you plan to go and do that.

The one lift is a slow old style (non-detachable) quad with alternating bike racks and people seats. Detachable chairs are vastly superior here because they're much slower during loading and much faster during the trip up. The ride up is a regular series of stops as people struggle to get their bikes loaded in time, and the lifties have to slow or stop the lift to help them. Big negative points there. 

Once you reach the top, it's beautiful. The hill faces mostly west, so you look out across western Green Mountain foothills towards Burlington, and across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks in NY. An insane view. The western exposure becomes a challenge on your ride down, though, since there are sun spots galore in the afternoon and they can seriously mess with your vision. 

I had such a short time on the trails thanks to the temperature and the time of day (our ride there was tacked onto a pretty busy day so we got there late), so my trail intel will be limited. 

(a higher res version of this is here)

The lifts run up to the righthand trails on this map. To get to the left peak, you ride over and up. For what it's worth, I found this map to be either a bit confusing or somewhat inaccurate so I'd have needed more time to find my best ways down. 

Everyone starts off on one trail (the part of blue Vista Glades at the top seemed a myth) and then splits off, with black and green options splitting off fairly soon. Since the steep and rocky (like, it's all rock) black run was very wet and maybe icy, I wimped out and rode green down to Vista Glades which was a fun berm section and then wound up taking the fire road to Broken Bridge, and then hitting Bluebird at the bottom. The trails seem to knot together and cross each other a bunch, which I'm not used to and don't prefer. It makes navigation confusing and interrupted my flow, such as it is.

This is a photo I stole from the internet. I don't typically ride with my camera because I wreck enough phones as is, but I guess now I have to start taking it with me. 

The trails seem well constructed and well maintained. I found the berms on the blue trails I rode to be a bit tight, which could easily be my suboptimal technique at play. But I do find that I can ride the berms on blue trails at Killington almost always wide open and on Killington's black flow (which I use interchangeably with free ride, which may be the proper term) trails I find that the berms have no speed limit except for the one provided by your hippocampus. The jumps were nice and fun, though I often found myself struggling for speed because of my issues with taking the berms at full rip. The runs are pretty long, but thanks to the slow lift the balance of riding up versus riding down isn't ideal. 

Finishing up, there's a good bike wash station which on the day we were there was in high demand. It didn't help that 3 guys were giving their bikes a full proper detailing and holding up the line. If this had been the washdown at a cross race, they would have gotten their tires slashed. 

It's worth noting that Bolton is somewhat legendary for gnarlier terrain, which I didn't have to time to explore nor the skills to exploit. There are a bunch of good YouTubes out there that show that side of things. 

For lift served riding in the Burlington/Waterbury/Montpelier zone, Bolton's great. My enjoyment of it was no doubt hampered by being a bit pressed for time, the crazy cold day, and the soggy ground. With more time there, I'm sure you can get it to open up and be an awesome place to ride. 



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