Underexposed is a series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
I need to establish something before we get into this: I want to be a Vermonter. I just do. I recognize that state lines are mostly arbitrary, confusing and imaginary scribbles drawn on a map and all of that. Still, there’s just something about the landscape and the people in the carrot-ish shaped territory in the Northeastern United States that resonates with me. There are bigger mountains out there, heck, you can find several taller summits in both New York and New Hampshire, the two east and west bordering states. Save for some lakes and rivers, there aren’t really any beaches in the Green Mountain State either. Winters here can be brutally cold, and the snowpack is hard to bank on. But if I’m being honest, none of that matters to me. Around any given bend, Vermont can stop you in your tracks with one stunning visual after another. The dirt is the kind of stuff most riders dream about. It’s a state chock full of world-class trails and world-class riders, and they’re generally incredibly humble, hard-working, and nice people to boot. I love Vermont, and Woodstock may be about as Vermonty a town you’ll find anywhere.
Driving through town today feels a bit as if you’re going through a Norman Rockwell painting, with late Georgian, Federal Style, and Greek Revival houses scattered throughout. The Ottauquechee River cuts through town, with several modest (by Vermont standards) peaks surrounding the community of just over 3,000 residents. The Quechee Gorge overlooks the river just a few miles east of town along Route 4, and 30-minutes west of Woodstock lies a world-class mountain bike park in Killington Resort. Woodstock itself is home to three primary and distinct trail networks: Suicide 6, The Aqueduct, and Mount Peg. Suicide 6 was formerly a lift-assisted bike park before shutting down chairs due to Covid but has a dedicated climbing trail to access the four different downhill trails. The Aqueduct is home to 10 miles of trails and is an ever-growing trail network for XC and All Mountain use. Both of those trail networks will leave you grinning ear to ear. In my estimation, the single most satisfying trip down a mountain in Woodstock, and quite honestly, one of the single best descents in the State of Vermont can be found on Mount Peg. With the closest trails to town and home to the Cloud Drop to Hardstyle loop.
Gavin Vaughan and Nick Mahood were tasked with the design and build of this gem. Alongside scores of volunteers from the Woodstock Area Mountain Bike Association (WAMBA), they are responsible for a high-speed descent that drops about 600 feet over the course of a mile. It features a combination of perfectly sculpted berms, several doubles, step-ups, and step downs, and plenty of steep and off-camber segments that combine for a nearly perfect descent. In fact, the only thing keeping this from sitting squarely at the top of my “favorite trails” list is that it doesn’t last longer. Which isn’t really something that can be helped. Fortunately, it’s just a 20 minute pedal back to Mount Peg’s top for more good times playing in the pristine Vermont dirt.
I’m not sure that it’s especially important to articulate exactly what it is about Vermont and Woodstock that I love so much, and I’m not even sure it’s possible to do this place justice only with words and images. It just feels different here. It’s a total sensory experience every time you dive into the woods aboard two wheels: you can smell it, you can taste it, and you can feel it through your grips on every ride. Are there other places with bigger mountains, longer descents, and more trails? Sure, but none of those places feel quite like Vermont, which explains why it gets harder and harder to leave every time I pay this little paradise a visit.