The Evolution of Killington’s Mountain Biking Revolution

My husband slammed body parts into his handlebar stem that should never be slammed into anything.

When I moved back to Vermont in 1997—with a 26-inch-wheeled Bontrager mountain bike firmly mounted to my Subaru’s roof rack—I learned that black flies can fly up to 4.6 miles per hour. 

How did I learn this scientific fact? 

By riding uphill more slowly than 4.6 mph.

But black flies weren’t the only problem bugging the state’s fat-tire scene in the 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, mountain biking in Vermont consisted primarily of finding old forest roads that laced across (and up) the Green Mountains. If we were lucky, we only rode through one patch of stinging nettles (or as friends call them, FIPs, for F**king Itchy Plants). The majority of these old roads were on private property, so we either asked permission from the landowners or pedaled along quietly, hoping the proprietors weren’t overzealous NRA members. Mostly the latter. 

Back then, Killington also had a few singletrack trails that we could ride for the price of an $8 trail pass. Believe it or not, the going up was easier than the coming down. I still remember somersaulting over my bars into a muddy swamp on a trail somewhere between Snowdon and Ramshead. It was unfriendly terrain for 26-inch mountain bike wheels mounted with inch-and-a-half wide tires and no rear suspension. 

Trying to prevent a similar fall on that same ride, my husband slammed body parts into his handlebar stem that should never be slammed into anything.

Fortunately, mountain biking today—the gear and the trails—have evolved leaps and bounds from mountain biking of yore. Wheels are bigger, tires are wider, front and rear suspension keeps us from losing our marbles (literally and figuratively), and whoever invented the dropper post deserves a Nobel. 

Ride these modern marvels of wheeled engineering on today’s trails and the syllables I utter have evolved from “eek,” “yikes”, and “f**” to “weeeeee!” and “omg!” But in a good way. Even better, on descents, we can get our backsides far behind our lowered seats, moving delicate body parts far from unforgiving handlebars and stems.

Trail designs have evolved too. Nowadays, you can’t even ride uphill at Killington. It’s all about downhill at the Big K, from fun and flowy (I’m talking to you, Sideshow Bob, which is like riding from one “weeeeee!” to the next) to catching air on the jump trails (gulp—I have yet to ride Blue or Black Magic). 

Of course the rocky, rooted singletrack is still there. As are the black flies. But with full-suspension and the blessed dropper post, these trails no longer feel like the singletrack of yore.

And within 30 miles of Killington lies another 200-plus miles of mountain biking trails, from the almost-dead-flat D&R Rail Trail in Castleton to the old-school trails of Pine Hill Park in Rutland to more swooping descents (that you have to work for) in Rochester and Woodstock.

It’s an embarrassment of riches for locals and visitors alike—even for the retro souls still banging around on 25-year-old mountain bikes. But if you want to stay ahead of those darn black flies, best to upgrade your ride.

Peggy Shinn is an eighth-generation Vermonter, writer for and recent inductee into the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Her column “Vermontness” will be published regularly throughout the year. If you like it, please let her know. Just don’t look too lustfully at her World Cup VIP parking pass.

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