Santa Village 2019 – SoCal

After touring the USA in search of fun rides in 2018, I inadvertently rode my very first bike park at Trestle in Winter Park, CO. It was life-changing. I absolutely loved riding smooth flow and challenging gnar that was professionally maintained. The people, infrastructure, and attitude left almost no need for improvement.

When I returned home, I searched for local parks to ride and found none. I wanted me Wife and Son to experience park riding, and I found that was nearly impossible without a lot of work. The nearest bike park was at least 5 hours away in Tahoe. I have heard that Tahoe parks are rockier than most (but they still have lots of flow), and I didn’t want to put my family through anything they might be intimidated by – their first taste of park should be a fun and positive one.

Finding a Spot

Santa’s Village – Who knew about this place?

After some research, I discovered Santa’s Village Skypark. Skypark was originally a winter wonderland theme park that was opened in 1955 (pre-dating the opening of Disneyland). It was a place where families could enjoy Christmas-themed rides, food, and activities in an alpine setting. It sits on a 230 acre plot of land in the Skyforest area of Lake Arrowhead, CA just north of Los Angeles.

After closing in 1998 due to falling revenues, the park was purchased by Bill and Michelle Johnson and rebuilt in the image of its former glory. It reopened in 2016 featuring shopping, food, a Santa Clause chalet, wedding and catering accommodations, a zipline, and hiking/ biking trails.

The newer trail system replaced the railroad that previously carried visitors through “Santa’s forest”. In the park’s previous incarnation it was mostly made up of gently-sloped grades and side-trails carved out by the reindeer which were allowed to roam the land freely during off-hours. After the remodel, the tracks were pulled up and the entire area was converted into a hike/bike network filled with challenges for all ages and experience levels.

The trails are not long. The maximum vertical descent on any of the trails does not exceed 320 feet, making them quick downhills, but very easy to climb. Having no lifts, the short climbs create a nurturing and confidence-building experience for new riders.

My ten-year-old Son and his friend endured the 7 hour drive from our home to our rental house near the lake on a Thursday afternoon. Although the drive was long, the destination made up for it with its cleaner air, beautiful landscape, and cool neighborhoods. We unpacked the bikes, turned in for the night, and got up early the next day to spend time on the mountain.

The Ride

Dennis and Myles get to experience managed trails

After arriving at the park, we signed digital waivers and received our bracelet-sensors for park admission. I had purchased them online a few days prior, allowing me to save a few bucks and to help us spend less time in line and more time on the mountain.

We got a bike for my Son’s friend at the shop located inside the park. They rented some pretty good bikes for a reasonable price along with full equipment and a great selection of items for sale. They also host a full repair shop.

The climbs were easy and achievable, even for the kids. We spun to the top and I gave the kids a quick repeat of the bike lessons I was hammering into their heads in the car all the way down. We picked the easiest trail and started down the mountain.

Although I did not find the beginner trail very challenging, the kids’ experience was a little bit different. They had a tough time rolling down some of the switchbacks and dismounted often in order to navigate the trails comfortably. I encouraged them to take a few small chances – and they did on some occasions – but I also allowed them to learn at their own pace. We arrived at the bottom of the trail and couldn’t wait to head back to the top to try again!

The second run was a lot easier for the kids. With some familiarity, they rolled down almost the entire trail. The third run was even better. After a few hours, they had caught the mountain biking bug and my job was done. I left them to their devices and started attacking the intermediate trails to get my legs warmed up.

Santa spins

Skypark contains trails for everyone. If you don’t mind the decreased duration of the steeper trails (they are still long enough to enjoy), then you can have a full day of fun at the park. The intermediate trails are faster and a bit more challenging, as they should be, and the advanced runs present great features, jumps, and chunk. Fun, flowy trails, ramps, and balance features abound. There is even a pretty fast jump line on the eastern edge of the park that scares me just a little bit.

After a decent lunch at the burger bar (one of two places to eat in the park), the kids enjoyed running around and riding the zip line, spending time on the climbing wall, riding the pump track, and racing the pedal cars while I hit the trails.

Evening Delights

A lakeside view to go with a great dinner

After a day of riding, we went into town and enjoyed a nice dinner on the water. Lake Arrowhead is located just a few miles down the hill from Skypark (about a ten minute drive) and boasts a mature and well-maintained shopping district for visitors and residents alike. We ate at The Grill at Lake Arrowhead where the food was pretty good and where we enjoyed the sunset and lakeside views from the deck.

The second day of riding was much like the first; early warm-ups, fun downhills, and a few moments of rest and eating in between. The knowledge of the trails gave the kids confidence. Fortunately, this was a weekend without crashes. All who participated enjoyed the park and walked away with a little bit more experience.

The drive home was long, but we were placated by memories of a fun weekend. The satisfaction of a successful introduction to mountain biking left me with a great feeling of accomplishment – one that is reinforced often as my kids now ask me to hit the local trails about once every week or two.

I can’t wait to get back out there.

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    • The Flow trail is much longer. Like, three times longer than Skypark’s longest downhill.

      Skypark has more upkeep and purpose-built features. It is a commercial venture with a lot of people using the facilities, and that can get in the way of fun (but we didn’t notice any issues aside from people passing the kids, making them even more nervous on their first runs of the day). Everyone was cool and the day was safe. the runs are short, but very diverse and enjoyable.

      Flow’s worst attributes may be found before and after the actual trail. While the actual downhill is super fast and exciting, it takes almost an hour to climb up from the main parking area on Highland Way, and it’s a LONG, HARD climb back up to the car from top bottom. Flow has over 1200 feet of descent, with a 1300ft climb before the downhill, and a 900ft climb back to the car. That’s a long day.

      And Soquel Demo doesn’t have a beer waiting for you at the end of the trail (unless you bring it).

      If you ever want to ride that loop (I’m a slow climber), let me know and we can set a date.

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