The trail has been open to ride since the start of the summer, but the official launch marks it as the only red graded XC trail accessed by mountain gondola in the UK.
Home to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup the challenging terrain of Aonach Mor, in the shadows of Ben Nevis, was previously only accessible to expert and professional downhill riders tackling the Off Beat downhill track, one of the toughest physical and technical tracks in the world. Now with the addition of the ‘Nevis Red’ route experienced trail centre riders and competent weekend enthusiasts can now enjoy the thrill of a downhill challenge.
Following a 5.5km singletrack route that undulates and weaves its way 543m down from top to bottom, combining a mixture of infamous Fort William natural bedrock, metre wide wooden boardwalk and gravel paths, the new Nevis Red route (graded red by the Forestry Commission) provides a fun rollercoaster ride for every mountain bike enthusiast. With the Nevis Range mountain gondola providing the perfect access the new route provides the longest downhill ride of a cross country mountain bike trail in the UK. Even the fastest riders will take around 20 minutes to complete the descent.
Accessed by riders and their bikes on specially adapted carriers fitted to the UK’s only mountain gondola the trip up is almost as exciting as the descent. Over 200,000 sight seers, skiers, downhill riders; and now cross country mountain bikers, share gondola access. The trip takes riders from the Nevis Range car park at 100m to 650m up the mountain. On exiting the gondola riders follow a track to the Snowgoose chair, which in the winter transports skiers and boarders further up the snowy slopes, marks the start of the new track.
The Nevis Red route has taken over a year to build as a result of a particularly harsh Scottish winter and extreme weather hampering the diggers and small team of construction workers from Hitrack However riders will quickly discover all the effort has been worth it as they see the trail give way to a sweeping highland mountainscape showcasing previously hidden panoramas across Lochaber – the Outdoor Capital of the UK
Marian Austin, MD of Nevis Range said ‘this new trail is an integral part of our plan to grow the business. Opened almost 20 years ago, initially as a winter snowsports resort, Nevis Range has visitors all year round who use the mountain gondola to access the slopes of Aonach Mor not only for skiing, snowboarding and climbing but to enjoy the stunning highland scenery and gentle walks.
She continued “As part of the diversification of the business into an all year round resort, we opened the first downhill mountain bike track in 2000, and this has led to the Mountain Bike World Cup being held in Fort William every year since 2002. The existing downhill track is a very tough track and although thousands of riders come to Fort William each year to ride it, many bike riders can only aspire to this feat. This new trail will open up the hill to competent cross country mountain bikers, and give more riders the thrill of riding downhill without the need to pedal up. It’s a good fit with the already popular Witch’s Trails cross country tracks in Leanachan forest at the foot of Aonach Mor.”
She concluded “As a business located in the ‘Outdoor Capital’ we are continually working to provide outstanding outdoor experiences for our visitors. A ride on the Nevis Route will not disappoint!”
David Oxley, Head of Operations for HIE’s Fort William Area Office, commented: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise has firmly supported Nevis Range for many years now and the new Red Trail is a welcome addition to what is already a world class attraction. Nevis Range has proved that Lochaber has a huge amount to offer the outdoor enthusiast and we are delighted to be able to help fund a trail that will both attract additional visitors to the area as well as serve the local community even better.”
Stewart Harris, sportscotland Chief Executive said: “sportscotland is delighted to have invested £77,050 of Scottish Government money in this fantastic new mountain bike track which builds on our previous investment in the Nevis Range.
“Scotland has developed an enviable reputation as a destination for mountain bikers through staging events such as the World Cup and World Championships and this has played a major part in encouraging more people to try the sport for themselves. This new intermediate red route will provide a safer way for riders to experience the thrill of downhill mountain biking without having to tackle the daunting World Cup course and I am sure it will prove hugely popular. It will also be a great training facility for our up and coming riders and I look forward to seeing more young Scots achieving success in this dynamic sport.”
Andy Rogers, Chairman of West Highland Wheelers added: “The new route opens up the experience of ‘riding downhill’ to local riders who never dared try the World Cup downhill track. I have found that my skills improve exponentially on one or two trips.”
Finlay Finlayson, Chair of the Outdoor Capital of the UK, added: “We are delighted that the new trail has been officially opened today. We have worked hard with Nevis Range and the other partners and funders to make this new trail a reality. It is unique in the UK as it is the only red graded cross country trail accessed by gondola and we know it will attract thousands of additional mountain bikers to the area. Fort William is already world famous on the mountain bike map with the recent UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in June 2009 held at Nevis Range attracting 18,500 visitors to the area. Now this new trail development offers a completely unrivalled mountain biking experience.”
Mark Hedderwick of Hitrack Ltd, the trail builder, said: “This trail was one of the most challenging to build. The weather held us back a lot. We were knee deep in snow walking up to work in November – that is what made us stop for the winter! It’s certainly not an easy red to ride, but it’s the kind of track you will just want to ride, ride again, and then ride again.”