Mark Hayes is a visionary. He’s the mastermind responsible for launching the only dedicated, lift-access mountain bike park on the East Coast, Highland Mountain Bike Park. That’s right, a ski area with lifts that take you to the top with mountain bikes instead of skis. It’s a 10 on a 1-10 cool scale.
Saying that Mark was an energetic kid would be an understatement. Physical boundaries (being indoors) or mental barriers (rules) were too confining. Mark needed to be outdoors and challenged every day—he was the kid who mowed every lawn in the neighborhood.
Mark discovered mountain biking in his 20s and took to it with a vengeance. It was the perfect combination sport: outdoor, physical, challenging and social. What started as friendly competition among friends quickly turned into a full-fledged athletic addiction. “It was a supernatural high. Every time we rode, we took it to the next level—jumping a little higher, going off a drop a little bigger,” Mark explains. Those who know Mark would say the same of him—whether he’s biking, tackling a business challenge, or deep in conversation, Mark is always pushing forward and going bigger. When the opportunity to buy the defunct ski resort coincided with the sale of his family’s fiber optic business, Mark took the leap and has never looked back. More than a decade later, Mark’s still-growing passion for the sport remains the driving force behind one of the best bike parks in the U.S.
The only thing more contagious than Mark’s passion for mountain biking is his vision for making the sport inviting and accessible to all. Highland’s unintimidating kids’ camps and affordable learn-to-ride programs have helped eliminate the sport’s traditional cost and fear barriers. But it is Highland’s unrelenting focus on training and trails that is truly setting the standard. Highland trail designers are some of the best in the business. They’ve spent thousands of hours on R&D, creating premier trails that appeal to a variety of skill levels. Add to that the best in mountain bike training programs, and Highland is a model for ensuring that everyone—from beginners to expert thrill seekers—can learn, grow, and excel on the mountain. Appealing to a broader audience, Mark knows, is key to growing the sport and achieving sustainable long-term success. Others are catching on; ski mountains all over the world are seeking out Highland’s expertise as they look to scale their own bike parks. Mark Hayes the visionary is seeing his vision become a reality.
When you meet Mark, your first impression is of an approachable, easygoing guy. Mark loves people and people love him. But behind Mark’s chill exterior is an adrenaline-fueled, never-quit mentality. At Highland, Mark fosters a work hard/play hard culture for his 80 fiercely loyal employees, regularly reminding them that fun and passion are what brought them there in the first place. And what sustains them. “Our customers come to Highland on their day off to have a good time,” he says. “Creating that fun, love of life vibe is critical to their personal growth and our success.” To everyone at Highland, the thrill of continuing to push your own limits, whatever your skill level, is an essential part of living and core to the Highland experience.
Despite his remarkable drive, Mark is able to pause once in a while. “When someone says to me, ‘I can’t believe what you’ve created here! It’s incredible!’ it does make me stop and look at what we’ve spent the last 10 years building,” he admits. He’s referring to Highland’s 9,100-sq-ft indoor training center, full-service rental shop, base lodge, café and summer camp facilities that complement its world-class trails. “To know that we’re delivering an incredible experience and life changing mentality to a lot of people . . . that’s what it’s all about.”
Check out Highland Mountain Bike Park for yourself, visit highlandmountain.com for more information and directions.