In the Saddle: Sweet, sugary
August 25, 2005
I’d heard about the Sugar Bowls as an easy-access backcountry skiing destination, but for one reason or another had never exited the Buttermilk boundary to try them out. This week, however, I visited them on a mountain bike.As I’ve gotten older and my work and family obligations have grown, I’ve become a creature of habit, especially when it comes to after-work bike rides and the like. I stick to known terrain, because I can reliably knock it out in one or two hours – whatever I have time for that night.So it was a true pleasure this week when a buddy suggested we try a two-hour loop through the Sugar Bowls – a 2,000-foot ascent through Buttermilk and a long singletrack descent through the bowls to the Government Trail, all the way down to Tiehack.Everyone knows and loves the Government Trail, but it’s usually a one-way trip. This new loop configuration offered a new spin and shortened the overall time investment. Perfect.It was a long grunt up the service road through Buttermilk, but it was cool and cloudy, delightful riding weather. Near the top of the ski area, we paused for the view of Highlands and Maroon Creek Valley before jumping into the woods on a winding singletrack. Before long we were perched on a set of steep cliffs overlooking the entire Willow Creek drainage – familiar country, but for me a whole new vantage.A little farther on, the gently sloping Sugar Bowls straddle the Willow Creek/Owl Creek divide. They aren’t bowls in the Highland Bowl sense of the word, but they are fine mountain meadows that break up the thickly forested zone between Burnt Mountain and Buttermilk. They also mark the beginning of a long, winding, extremely fun descent.We cruised down the bowls and into aspen forest, where we met the Government Trail a few minutes west of the Buttermilk boundary. And the rest, of course, was Government – a fast traverse with some root- and rock-hopping, then a screaming roller-coaster ride to the valley floor.Juicier than a Colorado peach.