Saturday 11 February 2012

Blaenau Downhill – a preview

There’s been talk about Blaenau’s downhill biking for a few years, with recent progress marked by the uplift road reaching towards the top of the mountain. But for me, on an icy, misty Saturday morning, this was the first time I got really excited.  Simon from Antur Stiniog and Ceri led about 30 of us up the mountain to see the work in progress.

Along the way were trails in varying states of completion and parked, with their buckets planted nose first into the ground, were the orange excavators.  One of the drivers is Jason Rennie, famous for achieving the world record jump on a mountain bike of over 134 feet at Llandegla in true Evel Knievel style. Not just a digger driver but a devotee of the sport and this, along with the biking or motocross skills of the other operators, will make Blaenau’s downhill that much better. 

Steeply cambered hairpin bends on high cliffs looked inviting, but the more I looked the more I thought this could be a spectator sport. The higher we climbed the icier the footing and reeds with blades of wind- formed ice.  At the very top a small mound marked the site of a ramp from which bikers will launch onto their chosen trail. For our descent we chose the steepest black run. The gentle start lulled us into a sense of false security but not for long, pretty soon we were peering into descents challenging in sturdy walking boots. 

Great care has been taken to design and create the downhill biking in a sustainable manner, not just in environmental but also economic terms.  With a choice of 4 trails of varying severity Blaenau will appeal to a wider cross section of bikers as opposed to other downhill centres where there is just a single extreme trail.  It will also be an all year round operation, albeit snow and ice will of necessity close the uplift road and trails. At the bottom of the trails in the car park will be the jump site (free of charge) next to the cafe with visitor centre and viewing platform above. Unlike other subsidised downhill centres, this one has been designed to be self-sustaining.

The cafe will sell basic foods for bikers but will encourage customers wanting meals to go down the road to Blaenau with a safe cycle route to aid them on their way.  It sounds like the whole business and biking community in the Vale of Ffestiniog has the opportunity to benefit.

Prices have not yet been fixed but it is likely there will be permits for a day, for a half day and for a ‘single hit’ – I’m not sure about the choice of words but this sounds like the option for me. Market rates will dictate the prices but the day ticket is thought to be in the region of £20 to £25 but best wait and see.

As we got closer to the bottom we came to the ‘sting in the trail’, basically a bridge up and over a path to propel you to the top of a rock with the straight on option being what looked like almost certain death 15 or more feet below.  There is an option to the left for those that feel like wimping out.

Plans and words can’t do it justice and, whilst walking the route brought the enormity of it home to me, I can’t quite imagine what it would be like on two wheels. There’s only one way to find out – I’ll put it on my bucket list.

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