VMBA Festival 2016. Photo: Chris Keating

The Valley housed over 500 mountain bikers from all over the country when the Vermont Mountain Bike Association’s (VMBA) annual festival rolled into town.

The first ride went out at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 22, and the riders left Sugarbush’s Mt. Ellen base lodge Sunday afternoon, July 24. The riding was near nonstop for three days. Eight school busses were shuttling bikers to trail access points around The Valley and picking them up when the riders came out of the woods. Even the volunteers couldn’t wait to end their shifts to go ride the trails.

Vermont Mountain Bike Association executive director Tom Stuessy described the weekend as a “wild success,” especially considering it was The Valley’s first time hosting the event.

This year the number of riders was definitely up from previous years, Stuessy said, as was the number of vendors.

Stuessy said that he would love to see the festival continue to grow as long as they are still able to move around and showcase different areas of Vermont. Stuessy also wants to ensure that the festival does not lose its grassroots feel.

“Moving [the festival] to The Valley was a great decision,” Stuessy said.

All of the information a participant needed was written on a blackboard on the second floor of the Mt. Ellen base lodge. The board held the weekend’s schedule broken into three categories: ride, eat and play.

Under “ride” were three categories: beginner, intermediate and expert. The participants were shown the length of each ride in miles, as well as a ranking from one to five for both level of fitness and skill required. In total there were 18 trails to choose from.

On the right side of the board were a schedule of meals and a “play” section detailing all of the activities. Activities included guided rides, a welcome party on Friday, a kids’ station, a Saturday barbecue and a yoga session Friday morning.

The Blueberry Lake trail system, which John Atkinson, director of the Mad River Riders, considers the Mad River Riders’ greatest success, was described as a madhouse, attracting bikers with various levels of experience.

Atkinson described the area as its own satellite festival, speaking to the level of activity that was seen at the lake. It was easily the busiest place in The Valley, Atkinson said.

Riders could go to Blueberry Lake to swim or rent kayaks and paddleboards from Clearwater Sports, and The Mad Taco showed up on Saturday catering to hungry bikers waiting for a bus back to the base lodge.

Atkinson led five rides throughout the weekend, at Blueberry Lake on Friday and Saturday and moving to more difficult terrain on Sunday, when he took a group from the top of Lincoln Peak down the mountain and back to the festival.

Saturday night brought the only rough patch of weather. Heavy winds blew in and suddenly riders’ tents began to topple over and vendors hustled to secure their gear and pack their tents before they blew away.

Bikers were seen running around asking one another for help securing camps and within a half hour everything was secure and riders were safely inside the Mt. Ellen base lodge.

Luckily the wind and rain did not last and when the sun came back out the party continued with no loss of spirit.

Both Stuessy and Atkinson heard only one complaint throughout the entire weekend, coming from a rider dissatisfied with the wait for a pickup bus. There were no complaints about the rides or the trails.

There are certainly matters of efficiency that can be improved upon for next year, Stuessy noted.

“In my mind we have already started planning next year,” Atkinson said.

There could be more trails opening before next year’s festival, Atkinson said. They are set to finish Lookout Loop, which would be Blueberry Lake’s fifth trail, a trail from Chain Gang that would connect to Route 17, and they could add to the top of the new Evolution trail.

The festival will definitely return next year and preparations at VMBA for the 2017 festival will start next week, Stuessy said.