Blue Doon has been built by the Nevis Range trail team over the last couple of years, with spanners thrown into and removed from the works at various points by 2020’s most popular virus.
Mention Nevis Range to anyone and they’ll likely think of the UCI Downhill World Cup, currently the second longest-running World Cup venue in the world. Mont Saint Anne’s top by the way. Every year since 2002 (bar the last two), thousands have travelled to Nevis Range, just north of Fort William, to watch riders do battle on Aonach Mòr’s lower slopes.
We’ve always thought the iconic venue was missing a trick, though. Ride the brilliant gondola uplift to the top and there are only two ways back down (well, three if you count a dull fire road) – the DH track or Top Chief, now graded black. Less-experienced riders were effectively barred from most of the altitude on offer.
Nevis Range obviously agreed, because recently it opened Blue Doon, a new blue-graded downhill trail, accessed by gondola and built properly into the hill without resorting to boardwalk. It’s the longest descending blue trail in the UK, and will likely hold that title for a while to come. It’s also one of the best mountain bike blue trails, full stop.
At approximately eight kilometres long and dropping a similar height to the World Cup downhill, it’s far longer than the numbers might suggest. Starting just below the Snowgoose Cafe, there are options below the Puggy Line to continue along the blue-graded trails or spice things up with the myriad of other options to get you back to the car park for another lap.
A single, non-stop run being chased by local turn-hoofer extraordinaire and the man who lends his name to the aforementioned black run, Joe Barnes, took around 19 minutes. I have no doubt that without me slowing him down, the Hazzard Racing main man could have clipped a few minutes off that time. Either way, you’re in for a trail that feels never-ending, and for the most part, that is a good thing.
Cut to the chase
The opening day saw local dignitaries ascend the gondola into the mist for the curtain-raiser, and local rider Skylar McLeod, winner of the video competition, was the first to turn a wheel on the Blue Doon after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Despite the low-hanging cloud telling us otherwise, a distinct lack of liquid sunshine over the preceding week left the track in a typical Nevis Range style; fast and loose. Anyone who’s raced on the World Cup track knows that a touch of moisture helps settle the surface on this mountain and that’s no different on the Blue Doon.
Sweeping berms help you get up to pace quickly, before the corners tighten and open up into fast, traversing blasts across the open hill. Views across Fort William itself, and along Loch Eil, are a constant throughout the upper reaches of the trail, but you’re best paying full attention to the trail and enjoying the view from one of the conveniently- placed picnic benches scattered along the route.
Some flat turns help wake you up and keep you on your toes, with other corners sporting absolute peaches of berms that will hold you tight and spit you out faster than you went in, almost regardless of your entry speed.
With the grip levels coming and going, and some of the track still soft in spots, to get down this fast, you need to put the work in. Get ready to be on the gas out of the turns and work the changes in gradient to keep the speed up. More rain and riders will see the trail firm up, meaning it will run hotter as the track beds in.
A solid hardtail is likely the bare minimum to get down the Blue Doon and go back up for another. With many runs taking upwards of 20 minutes, you and your bike might not be as battered as you might be on the Top Chief or the World Cup track, but the high speed and quantity of trail means that you will be tired long before you’ve got the car park in your sights.
The Blue Doon is definitely a mountain blue – don’t think Berm Baby Berm as you head up the gondola. Few people will have descended this far in the UK in one hit without having to turn a pedal to get to the top, and that is the magic of the Blue Doon – you just have to be prepared for what is an entirely unique experience on these shores.
Words and pics: Pete Scullion