Stoked on a Queenstown Bike Park
By Rebecca Holden
Rolling into Queenstown, bike loaded on the back of the car, I was here for one reason and one reason only: the rad riding I’d heard so much about. Although there are a multitude of trail options for all types of riders in this District, my trail riding buddies had raved over the Gondola accessed Queenstown Bike Park (QBP), giving it a double thumbs up. Not my usual thing but I thought I’d give it a go. Why not, right?
Stepping up to the ticket booth at the base of the Skyline Gondola to purchase my half-day pass, I noticed that all the other riders around me looked like they’d done this before: fully clad in full face helmets, goggles, baggy pants and long sleeved tees, flat pedals and Five Ten shoes, some with body armour, elbow pads and shin pads, but all with bikes probably worth more than their cars. In contrast, there was me with my trail riding gear on: cleated shoes for my clippy pedals, short-sleeved tee-shirt, standard helmet (leaving my face completely recognisable to these Darth Vader chaps), holding my cross-country bike with 130mm travel in the front forks. Although I was yet to see a specimen of the same biking breed as me, I wasn’t going to let that stop my half day of fun riding the Gondola.
After a pleasant ride up looking over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to The Remarkables, I was ready to roll! As advised, my first run was Hammy’s Track, a great warm-up regardless of ability. The wide open berms sent a massive grin to my undisguised face as I let gravity take hold and floated down — just what I like: fast and flowy downhill with a perfect gradient to build up a fun factor greater than 10 out of 10.
So far the experience reminded me a lot of skiing. The runs identified on the trail map were all graded beginner, intermediate and expert (green, blue and black). Given my usual riding preference, I stuck to the ‘groomers’, the green and blue runs, avoiding the off piste routes and ‘cliff drops’ that I could come across on the double black trails. And just like skiing, the easy Gondola access let me do lap after lap. Once I’d finished a lap I’d have an immense desire to do that same run again; having scoped out the trail, next time I could go that little bit faster with a little bit more confidence without going crazy. This repetitiveness exponentially improves one’s ability quickly!
The QBP is fast becoming a world-renowned destination for mountain bike fanatics, being New Zealand’s first Gondola assisted bike lift. Catching the Skyline Gondola up with other bikers, once they had unmasked, I found them to not be from NZ. I met people from South America, Britain, Denmark, Canada, Czech Republic and, closer to home, Australia. Most were here for the mountain bike season. Being compared to Whistler, QBP is becoming acutely popular and the quality of the trail design reflects this growing popularity, completely accommodating all types of abilities from beginners to sponsored athletes.
On my second lap I took Hammy’s Track once more but challenged myself slightly by taking some of the more technical options to the side of the trail: small jumps/inclines with a steeper gradient that merged with the main trail or North Shore-style wooden structures to cruise along. My facial muscles were definitely getting as big a workout as my legs and arms, the grin ever expanding.
As the afternoon progressed I felt confident enough to attempt intermediate trails. The gradients of these runs, including Vertigo and Original, were slightly steeper, but manageably so. These tracks were rootier and less smooth, but again nothing my bike and I couldn’t handle. With a few more bumps added into the mix I was still having so much fun! After trying out a few other tracks, I had decided on my favourite: Thunder Goat. With its massive wide berms and perfect gradient, each time I rolled round a berm, it felt like I was floating — my favourite type of riding.
By the end of the afternoon, my cheeks hurt (from smiling so much) but so did my forearms. On my cross-country bike, I wasn’t used to the amount of pressure applied to my forearms when flying downhill. Every bump was ricocheting pangs of pain. Satisfied, it was time to call it a day.
Although the Queenstown Bike Park has something to suit all riders, it is still a downhill arena. Be smart: ride to your ability and your bike’s capabilities, and be mindful of what safety equipment you’re wearing. If you rock up with your trail bike and mountain bike helmet and then choose a black diamond downhill trail first pop or go too hard and fast, don’t be surprised if your face is damaged on the way down.
That being said, don’t let your lack of a full face helmet and 200mm of travel in your front forks put you off riding the Queenstown Bike Park. It’s completely accessible to all and worth every penny for the pass!
If it’s your first time riding the Gondola accessed trails, a half-day pass will probably suffice. Skyline Queenstown does offer a range of other Gondola assisted bike passes too, including full day passes, multi-day passes and season passes.
If you decide that you would prefer to ride a downhill bike, pretty much every bike shop in town has bikes and combat gear to hire.
Beware of scheduled ‘Blackout’ days around Christmas, New Year and Easter. On these days the Gondola won’t operate for biking.
Follow the Mountain Bike Code of Ethics and never ride alone!