By Headlamp by Zack Fields
This is the first summer that most of Hillside’s new mountain bike trails are open and rideable. The outstanding local non-profit group Singletrack Advocates built the first set of Hillside trails in 2008, and new additions--Jeff’s Whoop Whoop, Gauer Power, Eh-Line, Dig Deep, and Ticket to Ride--radically expand the system’s mileage and spectrum of difficulty. For skilled mountain bikers, the new trails are an unprecedented opportunity to ride trail like we’ve never seen before in Anchorage.
The new trails are all one way except that the summer uptrack Ticket to Ride is two way in winter. Limiting summer trail use to one way is essential for these new, fast, steep trails. Among the new downhill routes, Jeff’s Whoop Whoop is the easiest, but it is still more challenging than nearly any other trail in Anchorage. It has steep drops, huge berms, and jumps that require careful coordination for landings. The lower part of Jeff’s Whoop Whoop, just to the south of Hilltop ski area, is steep enough you’ll feel your stomach rise as if you were descending a roller coaster. Unlike some of the other new trails, it is possible to ride Jeff’s Whoop Whoop nearly as slowly as you want, so it’s a good choice if you want to try out the new downhill routes but aren’t sure if you’re ready.
Gauer Power is a step up from Jeff’s Whoop Whoop, at least right now when there are still some loose cobbles that make riding more technical. Like Jeff’s, Gauer has dozens of jumps, steep berms, and a few steep pitches. Ride really carefully the first couple passes, because it is possible to gain speed extremely quickly and find yourself airborne landing off to the side of the trail, or in the woods. For only a moderately experienced mountain biker like me, the steepest learning curve with these new trails is managing how the bike travels through the air--off a bar, into a berm turn, and then off subsequent jumps. These moves are much less straightforward than Kincaid’s, and are the equivalent of jumping from Class II to Class IV whitewater.
Eh-Line, one of the steeper new trails, is significantly harder than either Jeff’s Whoop Whoop or Gauer Power. It starts with a steep rock drop off, which you should scout before launching. Following fast turns and berms, a wooden causeway terminates with another drop that should be hit with at least moderate speed for a smooth landing. The difficulty only increases below here as the trail careens down the hillside through a frenzy of turns and jumps interspersed with occasional steep, sinuous root sections. Dig Deep is the other very steep new trail, but it has not been hardened yet and did not appear ready to ride as of early June 2019.
To facilitate access to these new downhills, Singetrack Advocates built an uptrack called Ticket to Ride. Despite the generally hilly terrain, this uptrack weaves around and avoids any steep uphills, so you can conserve your energy for the downhill. In the winter, Ticket to Ride is two-way in winter, and it is an outstanding trail for snow biking. It got plenty of use this winter to be firmly packed and rideable, and will become a standard part of Anchorage snow bikers’ repertoire.
The last decade of mountain bike trail expansion has created huge quality of life improvements for Anchorage outdoors people. New Hillside single track trails are just the latest example. It is striking to see the rise in mountain bike ridership, and growing diversity of mountain bike riders, not to mention snow bikers. At a time when Anchorage is competing with other cities to attract skilled, high-earning professionals, these trails are good for our economy as well as our quality of life.