Paul Andrews

The Black Diamond Freeride Revolution

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Trail Access on January 8, 2010 at 2:40 am

It’s funny how these things happen. The small southeastern King County town of Black Diamond was originally named after the nickname for coal. Coal mining brought big bucks and lots of people to Black Diamond in its heyday a century ago, a phenomenon commemorated by a coal car on rails at the town limits.

A memento of glory years past

Commemorative coal car at the outskirts of town

The term has far different connotations for the phenomenon transforming Black Diamond today. In extreme sports parlance, “black diamond” is a trail designation meaning, “Watch out!” It’s a measurement of degree of difficulty, an alert for skill requirement. For bike riders, “black diamond” trails mean steepness, rocks, drops and other challenges lie ahead: Ride at your own risk!

Today Black Diamond is where the lexicon and the phenom merge. While no one is going to mistake its swoopy flatland trails for Whistler or Kamloops, the area is sporting a growing matrix of increasingly challenging rides. At Summit Ridge they’re putting together a signature mountain bike freeride park, with structures, jumps and other cool stuff.

But they need your help, and here’s your chance. Beginning 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23rd, two weeks from now, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Black Diamond Bike shop and local riders will host a day-long work party and fundraiser to build on what’s already shaping up as a prime destination for Seattle-area mountain bikers. Walter Yi will be there to add to his killer video collection, and the Facebook tribe currently numbering 330 will be well-represented.

It’s all happened pretty suddenly. But that’s just a reflection of the pent-up demand for this stuff. Freeride parks are starting to explode all over. Witness the reception to Duthie Hill, which in just a few months has come from an idea to a whiteboard to a full-blown case study in how to get things done at the local level. Galbraith Mountain continues to evolve to world-class stature, and great expectations are in store for the forthcoming Stevens Pass mountain bike park.

Last winter Jim Lyon introduced me to the Sawyer Lake network just outside of Black Diamond and we immediately saw the huge potential for the place. Some rudimentary structures had fallen into disrepair, including a wild teeter-launch combo, and trails were getting overgrown from neglect. Still, the trailheads were never empty of vehicles with bike racks, and on any given weekend you’d run into lots of locals out thrashing the trails. There’s not a lot of climbing in this area, but there’s great draining and the trails do go up and down and make you work. For winter riding it’s one of the few places you can count on not to turn to mush.

With Summit Ridge, the Black Diamond area is taking the next big step to stardom. But it isn’t just about serving the riding community. Freeride parks provide a great positive outlet for kidz, a gathering spot where good things happen, where sports and fitness blot out less attractive pursuits, and where generations intersect in a common purpose and setting.

Plus — business leaders listen up. Parks draw. Duthie Hill’s once-spacious and underused parking lot already has expansion challenges from unexpectedly huge popularity. Freeriders eat and party and visit local attractions just like normal people. If you’re looking for a shot in the arm for local commerce, you’ll want to welcome the mountain biking crowd with open arms. Back in the day, when I was a suburban reporter for The Seattle Times, I used to drop into the Black Diamond bakery for oven-baked bread unlike anything you could find anywhere. The bakery is still there, it’s bigger and better, and it’s a perfect post-ride hangout.

So mark your calendars, bring your trail gear and generosity, come on out on the 23rd and join the revolution!

Summit Ridge Freeride Park links:

Take the survey to let the city know!

Walter Yi’s rockin’ video.

Facebook page.

Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance page.

Event flyer.

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