Mountain bikers test their skills down the Northstar slopes

If you're looking for an exciting bit of biking, the Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Resort may be the answer.

Yes, ski resort. Northstar along with other ski areas now welcomes bikers to its lifts in the summer. This means you can get to the easy or interesting trails right away via a Northstar Echo chairlift (bikes are hung on the back of the chairlifts by attendants). No exhausting climbs required!

Visitors can test themselves at the Adventureland trail at the base of the mountain among all the climbing ropes and tree platforms. If you can handle this without panic and exhaustion, it's time to pick up a lift ticket and head for the Echo chairlift.

This will take you to the center of all the facilities at Big Springs. There the rider has two choices: the Lookout double chair or the Vista quad. Both take riders high up on Mount Pluto.

The trail choices are extensive and the views can be as panoramic as any place in the Sierra Nevada. The variety of runs isn't quite as extensive as for skiers, but the thrills can be just as great. All the mid-mountain trails are for moderately-and-up skilled riders.

One neat turn begins at the top of Echo where you go left on Sawmill Flat. Keep going and you run into TryUmph. Follow this for about a mile to where it joins Mountain Road. A hard left here puts you on a gravel road. About a mile along you'll come to Northstar's snowcat maintenance building.

Pick up a trail called Cable to the left here for the leg to the Big Springs lodge. Here make a left turn between the gondola building and the lodge. Take the trail behind the lodge and make the next right turn on the Village Trail. You're on the steepest part of the run here and after about 100 yards take a right down the Village trail. You're back at the Echo lift base.

If that doesn't slake your biking thirst, you can do the same thing again but instead of turning right on the Village run, take the next right for the 6% trail to the bottom of Echo lift.

For a more advanced test ( intermediate and up), try the Watson Lake Loop (11.1 miles). At Big Springs grab the Vista quad, hop on Crossover for a mile to TryUmph for 1.6 miles to Fibreboard Freeway, take a right there and follow Fibreboard for .2 miles to the Watson Lake turnoff left. Pause to refresh.

Backtrack then to the Freeway-TryUmph intersection and down Freeway for 3.1 miles to DV8 Road. Continue to Sawmill Flat, left, follow a scenic single track around Sawmill Lake or continue on TryUmph or Mountain Road back to the Big Springs lodge.

Not enough? The Mount Pluto Loop is for advanced intermediate and up (about 15 miles). Adding this loop to Watson Lake offers the best scenery at Northstar. From the TryUmph-Fibreboard intersection, continue east on Fibreboard for .2 miles to where Pluto turns off to the left. Follow Pluto to the top of Mount Pluto for spectacular views.

From here take East Ridge down to Mountain View, rejoin Fibreboard Freeway to the Watson Lake run. After this you've earned your spurs.

Bike rental, full-suspension bikes (shock-absorbers in front and rear), is $35 for adults, $27 for juniors and $15 for children with a free water bottle. Helmet and glove rentals come with the bikes (helmets required).

Northstar biking is open daily until Sept. 4. Unlimited lift pass goes for $23 for adults, $16 for children 5 to 12. Single lift rides are $16 for adults, $10 for children.

Two-hour guided turns by local experts are available at $12 per person. Two-hour private lessons go for $45. Phone (800) GO NORTH for details.

If you're not an experienced biker, don't push it, just take your time and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the Sierra Nevada.


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