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Northstar At Tahoe: Divine Downhill


Northstar At Tahoe: Divine Downhill

Northstar at Tahoe offers plenty of downhill options to suit every mountain biker who visits.

©Beth Puliti

With more than 100 miles of mountain biking trails, Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort in Truckee boasts the largest bike park in northern California—a downhill destination that’s been growing in popularity over the past few years.

It’s easy to see why.

During my two-day stay in the Golden State, I didn’t even come close to riding all of the mountain bike trails offered at the resort. It’s true; riders can spend an entire day without riding the same trail twice. But with standout trails such as LiveWire—a two-mile long irrigated trail system with a vertical drop of over 1,100 feet—you’ll want to come back again and again.

Play it Safe
To get the full experience—and to safely take advantage of the majority of trails—bring your downhill mountain bike, pads and full face helmet. Don’t have the proper equipment? Rent it at the resort. Northstar offers a fleet of downhill ($99 per day) and freeride ($85 per day) Giant Bicycles to rent. A full face helmet and gloves are included in the rental. I spent much time atop the saddle of a rented Giant Faith, which proved to be an excellent choice for the gravity-fueled trails.

For those of you who are new to the lift-fed trail experience, let me advise you to enroll in a lesson before you “shred the gnar.” I began with a one-on-one session and progressed to solo trail riding once I had a handle on proper technique and etiquette—and I was much more comfortable on my downhill rig once I did.

You can reserve your lesson online in advance or on-site the day of (on a first-come, first-serve basis). Private lessons are also available. Northstar’s “Learn to Bike Academy” is located at mid-mountain and offers beginners, or those new to the downhill scene, two options:

  • Ride 101- This intro to downhill mountain biking is a 1.5-hour lesson that covers basic downhilling techniques. $15 per person.
  • Bends & Bumps – This clinic teaches riders how to ride berm turns, bumps and jumps. $39 per person.

Feel it Out
Offering the most extensive lift-accessed trail network in the Western U.S., Northstar provides plenty of options for visitors to their mountain bike park. Trails are rated just as ski runs are: Green circle = easy, blue square = intermediate, black diamond = advanced. Get a feel for what you can handle by starting out conservative and working your way to more difficult trails.

I started the first day on trails rated “easy” until I felt comfortable enough to take a more advanced trail down the mountain. Easy Rider and Tryumph, with their smooth surface and mild grade allowed me to work on the skills I learned during my one-on-one session earlier in the day.

After some easy runs, it was time to take it to the next level. Big Tree (offering a log ride and a boardwalk), Booster (up and down singletrack) and Coaster (a mix of singletrack and fire road) fit the bill.

By the end of my second day, I cautiously threw some trails rated “advanced” into the mix, such as Gypsy (featuring berms, jumps and log rides) and LiveWire (smooth and flowy with lots of jumps and berms).

Check out Northstar’s extensive trail system no matter where you live with this interactive map.

Where to Eat
Ripping down big hills is sure to make you ravenous. But you don’t have to go far to get good grub. Partway down your run, park your bike at Chilly Peppers Cantina at mid-mountain on the deck of the day lodge for some tasty Mexican-American fare. I went hungry and didn’t leave disappointed. The burritos, tacos and sandwich offerings are some of the best in the area, portions are hearty and prices are affordable. Vegetarian options, if you’re into that sort of thing (I am), a fresh salsa bar and beer are available.

Northstar has lots of other dining options available in the village (a.k.a. off the mountain) to suit your every craving. Hit up Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar (their sushi was phenomenal), Baxter’s Bistro & Lounge, Rubicon Pizza Company, Earthly Delights (go here for breakfast) and more.

Where to Stay
For the easiest access to mountain bike trails, reserve a room at Northstar. I stayed in the village, which proved to be the perfect proximity to everything: dining, shopping and riding. I was able to roll out of bed and arrive at the base of the mountain on two wheels in no time flat. And after a day on the hill, I could get cleaned up in my charming “rustic-looking” room and walk to and from dinner.

Rooms come with a DVD player and free movie rentals, washer and dryer access (Daily clean riding gear? Yes, please!), high-speed internet, iPod speakers, Playstation 2 and more. At the time of my visit, summer rates were $75 per person, per night and included two all-day mountain biking or hiking lift tickets per room, per two night stay.

Where to Get Your Bike Fixed
A couple days of downhilling can put a hurtin’ on your rig. If something goes awry during your stay, hobble on over to Plaza Bikes in the Village for a tune up. If you’re renting one of Northstar’s bikes for the day, it would be a wise idea to protect yourself from costs of damage to the bike by opting for the $9 insurance fee.

Getting There
Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort is located on Highway 267, six miles north of Lake Tahoe and six miles south of downtown Truckee. Coming from a great distance? So was I, and I found that flying into the Reno airport and then driving to the resort was the easiest and most convenient means to get there.

From Reno, go west on Interstate 80 for about 30 miles. Take the Northstar Exit #188, Highway 267. Turn left onto Highway 267. Continue on 267 for about six miles through Martis Valley. Make a right onto Northstar Drive and then make an immediate right for Northstar Resort Lodging check in. For resort services, access to the mountain or other lodging options, continue straight on Northstar Dr. to the Village at Northstar.

As is common in the industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations and meals for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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