This Is America’s Best Road for Downhill Skating

Maryhill is a historic 25-curve track in the Pacific Northwest, with a fascinating backstory

A view of a skater heading down a road at full speed, with yellow hills and windmills in the background.
The Maryhill Ratz started hosting freeride events on the historic road back in 2007.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the late 19th century, the United States saw the rise of the Good Roads Movement, a Post Office-supported push to construct modern roads in the country’s most rural corners.

A man named Sam Hill was its biggest proponent in the Pacific Northwest. Hill was a complicated figure — he spoke German, French and Italian, founded art museums and built peace monuments, and visited Japan nine times when that was really hard to do. At the same time, he was a notorious womanizer, an early proponent of using convicts for free labor and sort of invented the concept of fast food restaurants.

The man definitely loved the concept of roads, though, and beyond advocating for them, actually built 10 miles of “demonstration roads” at his own expense, on a parcel of land he bought and called Maryhill (for his wife and daughter, both named Mary).

Hill convinced the governor of Oregon at the time to come check out the asphalt-paved tracks — then the only roads of that variety or quality for hundreds of miles around. In 1912, Model T cars were even tested on the roads.

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Welcome to the Freeride Era

For a while, the beneficiaries of Hill’s efforts were local drivers. Before US 97 opened in 1926, the Maryhill Loops Road (as it came to be known) was the only artery connecting the town of Goldendale, Washington, to the Columbia River.

But in the century since, as the 25-curve expanse eventually earned historical significance status and refurbishment, it’s become primarily associated with the action sports community. The road is owned by the Maryhill Museum of Art, closed to motor vehicle traffic and rented out throughout the year to interested parties.

With eight different hairpin turns and a 850-foot elevation change, the road has attracted the likes of the International Downhill Federation and the International Gravity Sports Association. They come with GoPros and drones, skateboards and street sleds. Here’s a mesmerizing video of a session filmed this past spring, which shows a coterie of riders expertly maneuvering Maryhill’s turns.

If you’re inclined to go full Walter Mitty in the middle of Washington State, we recommend following Maryhill Ratz on Instagram. The local collective hosts three-day freeride events on Maryhill, whereby (after signing a waiver and paying a few hundred bucks) you’ll be able to skate past Columbia River Gorge windmills at max speed. (There are strategic bales of hay situated along each corner, in case of an accident.)

It’s probably not what Hill had in mind when he brought Good Roads to an American frontier in the late 1800s. Or, perhaps that’s the point here. These paved hills have lived long enough to become strange and new again. For those in the gravity sports realm, at least, Maryhill’s the best road America ever built.

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