WILMINGTON - In the late 1990s, Mike Scheur started taking his mountain bike on the trails around Lake Placid, hitting spots like the Peninsula trails and those on the former Lake Placid Club property.
"I was terrible at first," he said.
But he continued to ride, and it wasn't long before he hit the trails at Whiteface Mountain, where he went again and again until his skill levels improved. He was hooked.
Mike Scheur rides at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center’s mountain bike center. He goes by the name 'Downhill' Mike because of passion of the sport.
(Photo — Mike Lynch)
"I moved up here to backpack, you know, and all of the sudden I started mountain biking, and it was kind of like hiking, but I could cover way more ground," said Scheur, who was an avid skier and snowboarder and worked as a wholesale distributor for his families business, Acme Sales and Distribution, in Buffalo, before moving here in the 1990s. That job required him to drive 60,000 a year.
Now Scheur and his business partner, Elias Ingraham, run the downhill biking center at Whiteface Mountain for the Lake Placid-based High Peaks Cyclery, which they've been doing for roughly a decade.
And Scheur has essentially shed his last name and goes by the moniker Downhill Mike. He's become part of the mountain from June to October.
Scheur is an avid proponent of biking at Whiteface. It's how he makes a living, but it's obviously a passion for him too.
"I guess you could call it work, but if I didn't have to work I'd be doing the same thing," he said.
He's fond of pointing out factoids. For example, Little Whiteface Mountain, where the most difficult trails start, is about 3,676 foot high and drops 2,424 feet to the base. That's tops in the East.
"The majority of (mountains) offer between 800 and 1,000 feet of vertical," he said. "Killington and (Mount) Snow are up about 1,600 or 1,700 feet, but we just tower over the others."
There are 27 trails, 23 of which are for downhill riding. Most of them are single track. Like ski trails, they are labeled green for easy, blue for intermediate and black for expert. Those who want to ride the expert trails from the top of Little Whiteface can take the gondola, while other riders use a shuttle service to lower elevations.
Scheur said Whiteface offers "some of the most challenging trails on the continent." Many of the trails are "old-school single track with roots and rocks and switchbacks and physically challenging downhill."
But those trails aren't for everyone, and there are plenty of easier trails for beginners.
"If you're new in the sport, you want to talk to us," he said. "You want to stay on the lower mountain, where you can use your own bike just to keep it affordable. You want to keep it comfortable."
Scheur and his partner also offer guided trips and lessons for those who want them.
In addition to the trail riding, Whiteface Mountain offers weekly downhill races. There have been large-scale races in the past at Whiteface, but now they are pretty low key, said Scheur, who knows a thing or two about races. In recent years, he's been organizing downhill races in Boulder City, Nevada, during the winter months called the Bootleg Canyon Winter Gravity Series. The races attract hundreds of competitors and spectators.
Although he spends a lot of time out West, Scheur said the Northeast offers more opportunities for mountain biking. The centers, on ski mountains, are located much closer together. Out West you have to drive many hours between mountains.
"There are more mountains are running their lifts for mountain bikes than before," he said. "The Northeast is just a hot bed for this."
When Scheur first started getting interested in the sport in the 1990s, that wasn't the case.
"Mount Snow, Plattekill and Whiteface were kind of the three original places in the Northeast that really started running their lifts for mountain bikes," he said.
Now it's common for ski resorts to transform into mountain bike centers in the summer, which is right up Scheur's alley.
"I really want to turn people on to it," Scheur said.