With its summer ski lift, Sugarloaf Park turns into hot spot for mountain bikers
Over 6,000 people visited northern New Brunswick bike park last summer as interest soars
A northern New Brunswick park is drawing thousands of thrill-seekers for its lift-served downhill mountain bike trails.
Sugarloaf Provincial Park in Atholville was ahead of the curve in using a ski lift to take up bikers, becoming the first in Atlantic Canada 14 years ago. With the help of a biking boom during the pandemic, it's turning into a top destination for the sport in Eastern Canada.
Park manager Greg Dion said the mountain welcomed about 6,000 bikers last summer — triple the previous year. The lifts spin four days a week.
"Mountain biking at large is expanding by leaps and bounds," he said. "We were already positioned in that market, so people were seeking trails to ride, and they found us last summer."
The 2,400-acre park has a network of 11 downhill mountain bike trails, ranging in skill level from beginner to expert paths in the trees with jumps. The trail system was designed by Gravity Logic, the same design that built the bike park in Whistler, B.C.
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Sugarloaf Provincial Park has long been known for its downhill and cross-country ski trails. As a summertime activity, it had an alpine slide.
The concrete chute sent thrill-seekers flying down the hill on carts with wheels.
But when a bad snowstorm destroyed it in 2008, Dion said, staff turned to downhill mountain biking as a new opportunity.
"Some local guys had already built some trails and the mountain-biking scene that I was familiar with in the West was growing. So I was like, 'hey, let's try that here.'"
As downhill mountain biking grows in popularity, other ski areas in Atlantic Canada are looking to Sugarloaf as an example. Poley Mountain in Sussex recently added lift-served downhill mountain biking.
Sugarloaf's lift has retrofitted chairs to attach three bikes, while chairs with seats have a hook on the side to also hang a bike.
Dion said the park is drawing large numbers of bikers from Quebec, as well as from different parts of the Maritimes.
"Our reach goes as far as Montreal or even further. We've had people from Montreal buy season passes here."
Becoming a biking destination
The Sugarloaf Bike Park is helping put the Restigouche Region on the map for mountain bikers, with many staying at the neighbouring campground.
Sugarloaf Bike Park has been named the top park in Eastern Canada for four years in a row by mtbparks.com, a site that ranks trail networks.
Patrice Michaud, events co-ordinator for the park, said interest is continuing to grow with everyone from beginners up to pro riders.
"It's very popular to rent bikes, people want to rent them often," he said.
'No better adrenaline rush'
Patrick Kelly started downhill mountain biking during the pandemic as a way to get outside and keep busy.
"There's no better adrenaline rush, it's fun, even beginners can get into it," he said. "The bike will take you where you want to go with the mathematics and geometry of them today."
Kelly, who lives in Saint John, said he frequently travels north for the Sugarloaf Bike Park.
"My friend and I found it last year. We just found it was the best park in New Brunswick."
Sugarloaf hosts an annual Adrenaline Bike Festival, which helps draw bikers to the park and generate interest.
Dion said downhill biking could seem intimidating, but there's a trail for everyone.
"It's not much different than skiing," he said. "We have green trails for the beginner that are a very gentle slope, all the way up to some crazy fall line through the trees."