Mountain Biking

Beginner's Mountain Bike Guide

Beginner's Mountain Bike Guide

Mountain biking is a fun and exciting way to explore the mountain as a family or with your buddies. Massanutten Resort is the perfect place to experience the freedom of flowing down the mountain on a bicycle. Riders of all ages can test their skills on our steep rocky terrain or take it easy on our mellow flow trails. 

Imagine the wind whistling inside your helmet, floating over rocky terrain on your plush suspension, going so fast past rocks and trees that even time slows down to a creep. Bombard your brain with adrenaline and endorphins as you smash over rocks with monster truck force.

Whether you are a total beginner, a seasoned downhiller, or an avid cross-country rider, we’ve got great trails for you. All you need is the ability to ride a bike and a desire for adventure!

Beginner's Mountain Bike Guide

The main difference between Cross Country (XC) and Downhill riding is pretty simple. Downhill mountain biking (DH) is, in the most general sense, riding mountain bikes downhill. Usually, DH riders are assisted back up the mountain by ski lifts or shuttles, whereas Cross Country riding (XC) involves pedaling uphill to earn your descents. As you can imagine, this makes XC much more grueling.

There are also differences in the types of equipment used in the two different riding categories. Since you don’t have to pedal uphill in DH, you get to ride heavier and beefier bikes that are designed to ride downhill only. XC bikes are usually lighter and designed to ride both up and down hill. 

We offer both types of riding at Massanutten. The Massanutten Bike Park trails are optimal for DH riding while the Western Slope trails are perfect for XC riding.

  • Layers of Clothing - Layering is a good rule of thumb for any outdoor activity. Avoid cotton materials if possible. Cotton absorbs moisture and does not insulate well when it is wet. Choose active wicking fabrics like polyester, wool, or nylon. Crashing is not uncommon for mountain bikers so be sure to choose clothes that are hefty enough to protect you from abrasions and scrapes. 
  • Water/Wind Resistant Shell - Depending on the weather you may want a water/wind resistant shell, to protect you from the elements. 
  • Helmet, Pads & Gloves - In addition to your rugged clothing, wearing a helmet, pads, and gloves will help protect you in the event of a fall. 
  • Sturdy Footwear - Closed toe shoes are required. Sandals do not provide enough protection for your feet and are not recommended.

Downhill Riders: Most bike park riders choose long sleeved or ¾ length jerseys and pants or knee length shorts made with reinforced heavy duty materials. We require a full-face helmet and strongly recommend knee/elbow pads for armoring and gloves for added protection and improved handlebar grip.  

Cross Country Riders: Most Western Slope trail riders wear light weight and breathable clothing with a more traditional half-lid style XC helmet. Occasionally folks on the Western Slope will choose knee and elbow pads for more aggressive trail riding.  

XC riding on the Western Slope is a strenuous experience away from the comforts of civilization. Be prepared with food, water, phone, trail repair equipment for flat tires, trail map/GPS, phone, and other essentials you deem necessary for a few hours in the woods.

For DH, you will need to purchase your lift ticket and bike rental (if needed). To purchase these items, visit our bike shop located next to the ski lodge at the base of the Bike Park or purchase online by clicking here.

For XC, visit our bike shop for shuttle service, guided instruction, trail maps, and trail recommendations. Our bike transportation service from the bike shop brings bikers and hikers to and from the Western Slope Trails, providing access to beginner and intermediate terrain at the bottom of the mountain.

Want to experience the Western Slope trails without as much climbing? Our Western Slope shuttle service brings bikers to and from the Western Slope Trails, providing access to terrain of all difficulty levels. We can drop you off at the top of the overlook, or at Point C/Special K trail crossing for something less technical. Learn more here.

We also offer Western Slope guided instructional rides to show riders our favorite trails in a safe and fun learning environment. Our guided instruction service is based on the hourly private instruction rate and is limited to the availability of our mountain bike instructors. To rent a XC bike, please visit our bike shop located next to the ski lodge at the base of the Bike Park or learn more here.

Yes. Beginners who take a lesson are less likely to get frustrated and more likely to have a great first time experience on a mountain bike. Our Pathway Program is the perfect introduction to mountain biking and will cover how to use your equipment properly and maintain a good body position, as well as practice proper braking, cornering, and direction control skills. Additionally, your instructor will teach you how to load and unload on the chairlift and give you a tour of the trails.

The Pathway Program includes everything you will need: bike, helmet and pads rental, lift ticket, and a 60 minute lesson with a certified instructor. The Pathway Program will cover skills that are relevant for downhill riding and cross country riding. Plus, it’s a great bargain!

Even experienced riders have room to improve and lessons to learn. We offer hourly, private lessons for any level of existing riders: advanced beginners, intermediates, and experts alike.

Yes! We offer bike specific rental equipment for both DH and XC. We rent primarily Treks for our adult bikes; Remedys, which are long travel all-mountain/endure bikes; and Sessions, which are dual crown, full downhill bikes. For smaller folks and children, we have full suspensions from Norco and Transition. To rent a bike, please visit our bike shop located next to the ski lodge at the base of the Bike Park.

NEW! E-Bikes

We now have pedal assist E-mountain bikes! Take all the work out of climbing the mountain. These bikes will pedal assist you up to 20mph. These bikes are not allowed on the lifts but you may ride the lowside Bike Park trails (lift 4 trails), Western Slope trails, and on the Resort’s roads and parking lots.

All participants at Massanutten's Bike Park must complete a Release Agreement/Waiver and Rental Agreement/Waiver (if renting Massanutten equipment). Participants who are under 18 years old must have Agreement/Waiver(s) signed by a parent or guardian. Paper copies of our agreements are available at Massanutten's Bike shop. If you have questions, please call us at 540.289.4957

Our minimum equipment requirements are:

DH: Mountain Bike with 20-29” wheels with tires no wider than 3.5”. No hybrids, bmx or dirt jumpers. Disc brakes on both wheels. Minimum of front suspension (At least 140mm full suspension recommended). Full Face Helmet. Pads are recommended. Closed toe shoes. 

XC: Helmet & closed toe shoes. 

Riding the chair lift is an enjoyable element to DH. To see how our bike carriers work, check out a video here. Essentially, you roll the bike up to our carriers on its rear wheel and put the front wheel in the carrier. Then, you sit down on the chair coming up behind you, pick your feet up, and enjoy the view. Once you get to the top, the lift attendants will pull your bike off the lift and park it to the left of the exit ramp. Follow the yellow arrows to your bike and enjoy the trails!

Our XC trails are on the Western Slope so unfortunately, there are no chair lift rides for XC.

Bike trail markings are similar to ski trail markings. Green circles are the easiest and suitable for beginners. Blue squares are more difficult suitable for intermediates. Black diamonds are most difficult suitable for advanced riders. Red diamonds are extremely difficult and suitable for experts only. 

For DH, our trails are separated by the two lifts. Trails accessible from the lower lift are all green and blue trails. Trails accessible from our upper lift are all blue/black and black trails. Click here to view the Bike Park trail map.

For XC, our Western Slope trail network is more complex. Follow the highlighted colored trails on the map for recommended loops. The green loop is a series of beginner friendly trails and the perfect length for your first time on an XC ride. The blue loop is a great add on for those that finish the green loop but want some more excitement. It is comprised of green and blue terrain. The gold loop is a great mid-mountain traverse. It connects some of the best intermediate trails you will find anywhere and just keeps flowing and going. The pink loop is a difficult and rocky single track experience that will challenge the most aggressive mountain bikers. Click here to view the Western Slope trail map.

Navigation is a huge element to XC riding. Lots of folks use the smartphone app Trailforks or MTBproject to keep from getting lost on the trails. Click here for more info.

Eyes up! When you’re riding, you go where you look, so look where you want to go! Visually scan the trail downhill for obstacles and find the line that looks good. Don’t get stuck on every little detail—look for the smooth way down, and you will begin to feel it!

Don’t slam on your brakes! Instead, try and keep a gradual, consistent modulation on both brakes! Our rental bikes have very strong stoppers, so use them with care. In fact, they are so strong that you only need one finger on each brake lever. Using more than one finger per lever will overpower the brake and make speed control jerky. That being said, your front brake is much better for speed control. If you are only using your rear brake, your stopping distance increases and you’ll slide out.   

Stand up on level pedals! When going downhill, stand on your pedals and keep your butt off the seat. Keep one foot forward and one foot back, that way your feet are level and away from the ground. Not only does it keep your feet off the roots and rocks, but it provides a nice platform for an athletic stance. By keeping your butt off the seat, you’re allowing the bike to move around underneath you. If you are sitting, you will get bucked off that bike like a bronco.

Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous activity. You can manage these risks by making safe decisions, following the responsibility code below, and by learning bike handling skills from our instructors in a lesson. Our instructors cover everything you need to know to have a safe and fun time on the mountain. Most mountain bike accidents occur when people choose to ride fast on trails above their ability level resulting in a loss of control.

Mountain Biker’s Responsibility Code
Mountain biking involves risk of serious injury or death. Your knowledge, decisions, and actions contribute to your safety and that of others.


  1. Stay in control. You’re responsible for avoiding objects and people.
  2. Know your limits. Ride within your ability. Start small and work your way up.
  3. Protect yourself. Use an appropriate bike, helmet, and protective equipment.
  4. Inspect and maintain your equipment. Know your components and their operation prior to riding.
  5. Be lift smart. Know how to load, ride, and unload lifts safely. As if you need help.
  6. Inspect the trails and features. Conditions change constantly; plan and adjust your riding accordingly.
  7. Obey signs and warnings. Stay on marked trails only. Keep off closed tails and features. Ride in the direction indicated.
  8. Be visible. Do not stop where you obstruct a trail, feature, landing, or are not visible.
  9. Look and yield to others. Look both ways and yield when entering or crossing a road or trail. When overtaking, use caution and yield to those ahead.
  10. Cooperate. If involved in or witness to an incident, identity yourself to staff.

Know and follow the code. It is your responsibility.

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