Alex Graves points on the trail map last Tuesday to where the new mountain bike trails will be created at Mt Abram’s West Side in Greenwood. Graves is Mt. Abram’s grooming and snowmaking supervisor and will be the primary trail designer and builder of the new bike park. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

GREENWOOD — Over the next six years, Mt. Abram is building the largest mountain bike park in Maine from scratch, up to 16 trails accessibly by chairlift.

Alex Graves will be up in the woods mapping out each jump, drop and switchback.

The ski resort’s 40-year-old grooming and snowmaking supervisor says he was the kind of kid who grew up making jumps in the backyard out of snow or dirt, whichever the season provided.

Over the past four years, he has designed and built courses for U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association.

“I’ve been hiking around the terrain quite a bit and just getting a lay of the land” for the new mountain bike park, said Graves, who lives in Albany.

He and others pitched the million-dollar project to the ownership group that bought the ski resort last fall, a group he describes as local homeowners dedicated to keeping the mountain going.

“Right now, we’re a four-month business. It’s pretty hard to make a go at four months,” Graves said. “This is our play at trying to make this a sustainable business.”

Around the Northeast, only a handful of resorts offer family-friendly mountain bike options, he said. New courses over the past decade were, more often, “a lot more gnarly: rocks and scary and white-knuckle riding.”

“Now we’re trying to provide a really welcoming experience,” Graves said, adding: “The industry has really been evolving. Mountain biking was not a profitable thing for most ski areas 10 years ago.

“Obviously, if you can build a trail that allows anybody to ride, you have a much bigger audience. That’s what the goal is now: Providing lessons and group rides. Just ways to get more people out there.”

Those running Mr. Abram would like to target Maine’s busy summer camp market by developing day and overnight camps, and by exploring on-site lodging.

But first, they must start building.

Graves expects the project’s first phase to kick off next month on the mountain’s west side, with four downhill trails that start about halfway up the mountain, two beginner trails and two intermediate trails, plus one climbing trail for hearty souls who prefer to bike up.

Each will be a 15-foot-wide swath, mostly through woods.

“I use just a small, hand-held inclinometer to get grades while I’m out there,” Graves said. “Ten percent grade is pretty much the maximum, so I’m trying to stay below that. It sounds more gentle than it really is. Your really steep ski slope would be 30 degrees.”

Switchbacks designed into each trail will “keep you from having too downhill momentum, keep your sped managed,” he said.

Beginner trails will have rocks and roots removed and small jumps that can be bypassed. Even young children on balance bikes should be able to ride those, he said. “Obviously, it goes up from there.”

He’ll be working with two excavator operators, one tracked dump truck and three people on a hand-digging crew.

Those first trails will open in spring 2020, when the mountain will also have 50 rental bikes, pads and helmets on hand.

Then, the work crew moves to Phase 2, creating trails in the main part of the mountain, as well as a skills park on the west side. It’ll continues like that for the next several years, each spring opening the section built the year before, until it’s the largest in Maine.

They plan on running both lifts by year three, complete with special racks built on to accommodate the bikes.

Graves started his career at Sunday River, helping design his first terrain park at age 19. He stayed there for 15 years before coming to Mt. Abram five years ago, wanting a smaller mountain experience.

Graves, who has also designed multi-use trails locally for Mahoosuc Pathways, got involved with the national course design work by meeting industry contacts at different events over the years.

“I’ve been a jump guy. This is all I do,” he said. “Eventually, you just meet people and they start calling you and they’re buying you plane tickets. It gets you out to a different resort, it gets you seeing different things.”

Grave said he is excited about what is to come at Mt. Abram. He and Greg Leutje, the business manager at the resort, are both overseeing the mountain bike park project.

“We’ll be hard at it the next six years,” Graves said.

Working is a recurring Sun Journal feature that profiles people on the job in the community. If you have someone you’d like to suggest, contact writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected] or 689-2844.

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