Most theme parks are all about the rides. The rollercoasters, the trains — stuff that moves by itself so visitors don’t have to. Not SkyPark at Santa’s Village, where clusters of mountain bikers arrived by the truck full this past weekend.
For its second holiday season, which opened late last week, it’s all about being active. There's a new mountain bike park that has 10 miles of trails, a bungee jump trampoline, an archery range and two new zip lines, one of which whizzes along between the pine trees, high in the San Bernardino mountains near Lake Arrowhead.
"The purpose of the park is to redefine what a theme park is," said Bill Johnson, general manager of SkyPark at Santa’s Village, which reopened last December after almost two decades of being dark.
The original Santa’s Village had opened its doors a couple weeks before Disneyland did, 62 years ago, when everything was about the ride, Johnson says. But times have changed. Today, he says, "The way people look at our environment is different than how we looked at it in the 1950s… There wasn’t a lot of thought put into a carbon footprint for instance… so now most of our features are pedal powered."
Back in the day, Santa’s Village offered horseback riding on a trail system that is now used for a fantasy forest hike and mountain bike riding.
"The twist is, how do you create something that’s good for families, gets them outside, makes them recreate, and has something for all ages? So that’s the idea," Johnson said.
It was an idea that was mostly unrealized when SkyPark at Santa’s Village opened last year. The bike paths and zip lines and bungee trampoline — they weren’t up and running. This year, SkyPark has doubled the number of attractions.
And now that they’re reality, it’s an idea that seems to be working.
"I’ve just done one run, I’m making a few adjustments and then we’re gonna hit it again," said Neal Bloser, an avid mountain biker who drove with a few friends from Laguna Beach to check out the new trails. "So far, it’s really fun."
There are four trails, ranging from beginner runs appropriate for preschoolers to double black diamonds better suited for the pros.
"Neverland I think has 40 jumps from top to bottom, and hence the name, because once you start it’s just jumps, jumps, jumps all the way down," Johnson said.
Gravity does most of the pulling. Rudolph is nowhere to be found. In fact, the only animal on site is Santa’s dog Arrow – who’s part timber wolf, part malamute, 100 percent pettable AND photogenic – plus various forest creatures unique to SkyPark at Santa’s Village, including Santa’s brother and someone named CJ Cufflebug.
"They say I’m the spirit of Christmas," she said. And she just might be, with an evergreen wreath tied into her hair, and a skirt trimmed with holly. "But I’m named after the Cuffle family, who originally homesteaded the land."
About 200 acres of it, 15 of which are used for the family-friendly theme park.
"I have three kids," said Javier Lozano, who drove from San Fernando Valley with his 11-, 9- and 8-year-olds. "They like to run around and drive me crazy at home, so I thought this would be the perfect place for them to let out all the energy… They love the zip line. They love the rock climbing … all the fun physical activities this park has to offer."
Those activities are set to expand again next summer. That’s when SkyPark at Santa’s Village will repurpose its monorail, letting intrepid cyclists pedal as fast as they can from a bicycle dangling from its elevated track. There will also be a fly fishing pond and a solar-powered campground — with showers – so people can stay overnight.
But what does any of this have to do with Santa? I mean, this place is called Santa’s Village.
"All of it has to do with Santa," Johnson said. "Santa, as everybody knows, is the big jolly guy eating the cookies. We're trying to get Santa in shape."
Which is difficult, with Santa’s house just around the corner from Kringles coffee shop and St. Nick’s café serving up burgers and fries.
But we thought we’d find out from the source. With all the new activities just outside his front door at Santa’s Village, is the big man getting his exercise?
"Only at night," Santa said. "That way I’m not embarrassing anybody, especially me."