Queenstown Bike Park Gondola
Here are a couple of photos of the Queenstown Bike Park which I took from our tour boat the day before. The clearing marks the top of the gondola.
The first thing I saw was the cemetery … sitting right there at the base of the gondola for the Queenstown Bike Park. I was hoping the sight was not a bad omen. I couldn’t help but think about the people laying there under the ground. “Were they all mountain bikers?” or “How many of them had never been on a legitimate downhill bike?” And then reason set in, “If they were foreigners (like me) would they be buried here in Queenstown, New Zealand? No way!”
I glided past the cemetery on the Giant Glory I had “hired” at the Torpedo 7 shop just a couple blocks down the hill. With 200 mm of travel I was certainly not on the type of rig I was accustomed to (my Stumpjumper has 160 mm and my Camber 140). But the shop had such a great deal on the bike and half-day gondola pass I couldn’t resist.
I found only one person in line before me at the window … the first customers of the day. Using my acute sense of hearing I gathered the young fellow before me was from Ireland and had never mountain biked before (I later found out he was in Queenstown for only 3 days and had already parachuted and gone white water rafting).
After showing the ticket window worker my receipt he took my photo, asked my name, then gave me my bracelet. At the loading station I ran bracelet over a scanner and was surprised to see my photo and name appearing on a monitor. Since the Irishman and I were the only two riders they gave us our own personal gondola cars.
The Queenstown Gondola is very steep, and services bungee jumpers, luge riders, hikers, para-gliders, and of course … mountain bikers.
First thing I did at the top? Looked for a bathroom (which I found inside the lodge). Then I came out, studied the huge trail map posted on a sheet of plywood, and headed for the trailheads. Getting to the top of the runs required riding down a gradual hill and then climbing about 50 feet in elevation. It was during this uphill stretch when I realized how heavy a downhill bike is! Especially after 5 or 6 runs. I now understood why all those downhillers had to use a lift (and not pedal to the top to “earn the downhill.”
Darkness … Darkness
Almost every trail in the Queenstown Bike Park winds its way down the mountain under a dark blanket caused by a tightly packed forest. I quickly realized I had to remove my sunglasses if I was going to see anything.
I decided to take Hammy’s Track, the easiest way down so I could get warmed up and adjust to the Glory.
I began to loosen up and feel pretty good until I got to the uphill part of Hammy’s. On either of my bikes the climbing would have been insignificant. But with the Glory? And here I thought riding at gravity parks required only gravity!
I shared my next gondola ride with two young chaps from the UK. They spoke about bike parks “back home” but didn’t seem to know each other.
One guy wore a tank top. With blood oozing from a scrape on his shoulder he shared, “I just took Hammy’s,” and paused for a second, “but I found this soil to be a bit dry and loose. My front wheel just slid right out.”
I took Hammy’s again on my second run, but riding more aggressively. To avoid the uphill stretch I decided to take “Single Track Sandwich,” which turned out to be a steep, rutted up bunch of short, sharp switchbacks through 8 inches of dark gray powder. Clearly a challenge. But not my idea of fun.
I got a total of eight runs down Queenstown Bike Park between 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, the bewitching hour when my bracelet lost its magic.
I met two local boys on one of my gondola trips. They were discussing a guy they had seen in the gondola line. “His name is Brook McDonald and he is a member of the New Zealand World Cup Downhill Team.
“Was that the guy with the Red Bull helmet?” I asked.
“Yea, and he had a film crew with him,” one of them confirmed. I waited for the Red Bull rider to get off the gondola. I was surprised at how muscular he was, especially his calves. While waiting for his film crew he sat on his bike and watched the people riding the luge sleds. I found his interest in the people below remarkable. Here was a guy accustomed to pounding down treacherous terrain, sailing off huge drops, putting everything on the line against the best competition in the world … having fun watching kids, moms, and dads creeping down that track.
Wrong Side Brakes?
At one point I saw a young lady get off the gondola, put on her helmet and gloves, and start off pedaling off across the pavement following her friends. But, all of a sudden her back wheel rose off the ground and she went over the bars, with her helmet bouncing on the blacktop and her bike landing on top of her. She lay there for a few seconds, then got to her feet. Many of us had run to find out if we could help.
Thankfully she was okay. She said she was not used to the back brake being on the left side (in the USA we have the back brake on the right while New Zealanders prefer it on the left). She had hired the bike from a shop and they had not thought to ask her which side she preferred her brakes. Before she went any farther someone whipped out some tools and switched the brake handles.
I think my favorite route down was Vertigo or Thing-a-ma-jig down to Thunder Goat which took me to the bottom without having to pedal uphill (except to get to the top of the runs).
While working my way over the roots and ruts on Vertigo I spotted a figure to my right coming at a high rate of speed. I stopped to see a girl weaving her way through the trees, running right over logs and deep ruts. I am pretty sure she was not even on a trail. Just that short observation opened my eyes as to what a downhill bike could handle.
From then on I began to ride the Glory more aggressively. Several times the back of my shorts landed on my rear tire. I have occasionally done that on my bikes but not as frequent. I guess that must have been due to the different geometry of the downhill bike.
Thunder Goat was not technical but offered many chances to build up some serious speed. I am not sure I have ever traveled so fast on a trail. Fast … like the giant roller coaster I had once ridden in Prim, Nevada!
In addition to the butt-hitting I also had several episodes of the “flying phone.” I usually keep my phone in a cell phone pouch on the belt of my pack … handy for photos of wildlife or other fast action. After having my phone bounce down the Queenstown tracks three times I finally put it into my backpack. I also lost a baggy with my business cards which were also in my phone pouch (I never did find those).
Again, I guess I was just not prepared for such aggressive biking.
Near the end of my “half day.” I finally got a chance to ride the gondola with the fellow from Ireland. That was when he told me he was trying to pack every exciting experience possible into three days. He said he had not yet crashed on the mountain bike.
I was pretty exhausted after my eight runs. I smiled as I cruised past the cemetery and headed down the hill to the Torpedo 7 Bike Shop. When the shop worker took back the bike he asked me how I liked it. “Great.” I replied. “It took me a little while to get used to the bike and I don’t think I ever used all 200 mm. But I had a blast.”
When I returned to the hotel room I texted Cindy to find out what she had decided to do with her day. She said she was hiking the Ben Lomond Track … on the same mountain as the Queenstown Bike Park … only higher up!
When she returned she asked me about my “half day.” I told her I had a lot of fun and would like to try it again sometime, but I was glad I had only signed up for the “half day.” I also told her I was the oldest guy on the hill … by at least 30 years!
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured at Queenstown Bike Park … 19 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery Site.
The following link can give you all the stats for my time at Queenstown Bike Park … just click on the box below.