In the saddle: Mountain biking start to ski season

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bob WardThe author rides a rare, flat stretch of the Zion Curtain in Utah. Colorado is on the opposite side of the fence.

WESTWATER, Utah – I know this is sort of sacrilege, being that it is ski season, but I had one of my finest mountain bike rides of the year Sunday.

A buddy and I decided to head to western Colorado with no particular plan after reviewing the weather forecast earlier in the week. After we stopped for gas in Rifle we kicked around our trail options and decided to go for the Zion Curtain on the Utah side of the border with Colorado.

We pulled off Interstate 70 at Westwater shortly after 10 a.m., parked the car and slowly prepared to launch, hoping the temperature would climb above 41 degrees. I wore arm warmers, a light wind breaker and long-fingered gloves but no biking tights. We started off downhill on a Jeep road but within 15 minutes came to the glorious start of a single-track trail that we would ascend for roughly the next two hours. The motocross trail provides a steady diet of challenging hills with rock obstacles to maneuver and stretches that were a minefield littered with grenade-sized stones. After grunting over untold short, steep climbs, we plunged down short descents steep enough to provide a pucker factor.

The trail included a few hills too tough for us to climb. If the pitch didn’t get us, then loose rock and dirt did. In some of the steeper stretches, dirt bikes have gouged deep ruts in the trail. But most of the route was “hero” riding – manageable but physically demanding enough to make you breath hard and technical enough to keep you alert.

The trail gets its name because a rare flat, sandy stretch parallels a barbed wire fence that marks the Colorado-Utah border. Shortly after encountering the curtain, the trail climbs to the mesa top and snakes along a ledge, providing great views far below into Rabbit Valley to the east, then the Colorado River Valley to the south.

A rolling downhill with some steep pitches is the payoff for all the climbing. The way we did the ride turned it into a 16-mile route. Zion Curtain Trail itself has 1,559 feet in elevation gain, but our start in Westwater added about 500 feet to that at the end.

It was 56 degrees when we arrived back at our car, ideal riding weather. If it starts snowing, we’ll gladly pack away the bikes. And if not, more riding awaits.