Downhill mountain biking with Northstar Bike Academy

In the process of soaking up all the summer ski resort activities on offer at Northstar California this July, the whole family took part in the Northstar Bike Academy Bike 101 package. Bike 101 includes a full day lift ticket, half-day bike and protective equipment rental, and Bike 101 lesson, and is perfect for families new to the sport of downhill mountain biking.

Families sign up for Bike 101 at Plaza Bikes in the Northstar Village (reserving ahead of time is recommended). We arrived at Plaza Bikes at 9:30 am the day of our adventure, and were outfitted with full protective gear before meeting with our Bike 101 instructor Luke Sheppard.

Bike 101

Note: there isn’t a set minimum age for Bike 101, but size does matter. Toby, age 7, was able to participate, but just barely…meaning that he barely fit onto the smallest available bike, and he was too small for the protective chest plate and full-face helmet. He was outfitted appropriately to participate, but kids must be able to maneuver their bike, listen to instructions, etc.

We rode Northstar’s Big Springs Gondola up to the Bike Academy, where we picked up our bikes and got started. First up was an orientation on our bikes: these aren’t your average dirt bikes you’re used to! Less than 10 minutes later, we were on our way. Luke took us up to the top of the Zephyr lift, which the boys loved: straight to the cool stuff! The trails are marked as easy (green circle), intermediate (blue square), and expert (black diamond) just like during ski season, so we were able to cruise along easy runs for our lesson period. The terrain was challenging, but Luke stopped us often to give technical advice, point out different elements in the terrain, and watch us handle our bikes (again, just like a ski lesson). The session was part instruction, but part mountain tour: had we not joined Luke for Bike 101, we would have never found lots of fun elements and trails that were perfect for our ability level. (Though the trails are marked, it’s possible to start out on one thinking it looks easy, only to become quickly overwhelmed.) Did we fall? Yes, a few times (Toby more than the rest, given his smaller size). The protective gear did its job, however, and mostly we had dusty clothes and dirty faces to show for it by the end of the day. While we were riding the chair or resting off to the side of the single tracks, we loved watching the expert riders bump their way down the mountain; just be sure to yield to them! By the end of our 2 hour lesson, we had ridden all the way back down to the village, where we were given the option of upgrading our package to a full day rental. I like that this option is offered at this point in the day: families don’t need to decide whether they’ll want to ride all day until after the Ride 101 lesson. In our family, Toby decided he was done by lunch, but Nate (13), Calvin (11), and Charlie and I wanted to continue. After a quick lunch at Big Springs Day Lodge, we were off again, armed with our helmets and Luke’s advice on new trails to try. (Tip: you’ll want to pick up a trail map and refer to it!)

bike 101

We had a blast exploring the bike trails all afternoon, and didn’t call it a day until almost chair closing time. Of particular fun for the boys was the small elements on the ‘bike terrain park’ (our words…I think mountain bikers call it a jump park) and the intermediate single track runs (of which there are many). Is it tough? Yes! Downhill mountain biking is much harder than it looks. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you can ride a bike, you can downhill mountain bike. New mountain bikers definitely need Bike 101. For return visits, or if you’re already experienced, the Bike Academy also offers ‘Bumps and Bends’ for the intermediate to expert rider.

bike 101

If you have young kids not ready for mountain biking: consider buying a hiking lift ticket for the adults in your group (just $10, kids are free) and try one of the hiking-specific trails at the top of the lifts. Young kids will enjoy watching the expert riders along the single tracks while they hike.


The Bike 101 package is $80 on weekdays and $139 on weekends. This is actually a very good deal, as half-day bike rentals alone are as much as $112. If you already own your own bike, Bike 101 is an even better deal at just $15.

Hours of operation:

Read up on Northstar summer lift and park hours. Generally, the Bike Academy Bike 101 package and other lesson offerings are available while the lifts operate: June 29-August 19.


To reach Northstar-at-Tahoe, take I-80 to Highway 267 to Northstar Drive. Drive up to the village, then find Plaza Bikes in the center of the village by the skating rink.

As I disclose whenever applicable, Northstar hosted our Bike 101 experience, as well as bike rentals for the remainder of the day, for the purpose of review. While we appreciate this opportunity to inform our readers, it came with no expectation of a positive review.

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