Snowmass boasts a stash of singletrack
June 23, 2012
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Seventeen years ago a group of mountain biking and hiking enthusiasts in Snowmass Village convinced town officials to fund the relocation of trail on a high ridge overlooking the town. It was the start of something big.
That effort to get the Rim Trail relocated from its former route – a horse path following a fence line – to a more user-friendly location led to a trail-building frenzy around the town that is on-going. Two decades of trail-building at Snowmass Ski Area and on adjacent public lands has created an awesome, interlaced network.
“You’d be pressed to ride every possible combination of trails around Snowmass in a summer,” said John Wilkinson, an avid cyclist and trail builder. He is a member of an ad hoc trails committee that pressed for the relocation of the Rim Trail, which is now established as one of the more popular hiking and biking routes in the village.
Wilkinson said the efforts have really come to fruition in the last three or four years. The trail system has matured, with links that essentially let cyclists circle the town on high-country single-track trails. Wilkinson’s guess is there are 70 miles of trails, mostly the narrow, single tracks that cyclists crave. Aspen Skiing Co. alone has built about 50 miles of trails at Snowmass ski area.
The work isn’t finished. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is exploring the possibility of adding a trail as soon as this year from Cozy Point, at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, to the top of Sky Mountain Park. Wilkinson walked the potential route Wednesday with open space officials. The proposed Cozy Line single-track trail would snake up the hillside and hook into the existing single tracks trails along the ridge and descending into the village, creating yet another loop for cyclists to partake.
The diversity of trails in Snowmass is phenomenal: from open, parched, cactus-lined routes to trails that dance along at timberline. “I think it’s pretty unique,” Wilkinson said.
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There is an abundance of trails for cross-country cyclists – those with standard mountain bikes who are willing to grunt up slopes, traverse hillsides and plunge down routes through the forests.
Then there are the routes designed for freeride cyclists on special bikes designed to go downhill – fast. Riders in that niche market typically pay for a lift ride up the mountain, then hurl themselves downhill. Skico has created a network of freeride trails in the Elk Camp section of Snowmass.
Skico is adding roughly 5 miles of trails this summer. The completed Valhalla Trail will keep the most talented of riders on their toes and get intermediates hooked on specialty downhill cycling. The freeride trail drops 1,400 feet vertically in 2.75 miles. It’s similar to riding a roller coaster on a bike – with a twisting and turning course that features bermed corners that allow riders to blow through without slowing down, jumps that allow riders to fly into drop zones and bridges that add a change of pace.
Riders are well aware they are flying down through clusters of spruce, lodge pole pine and aspen trees, though they must keep their eyes on the trail during the rocket-fast descent.
Valhalla begins at the top of the Elk Camp Gondola and descends to Snowmass Base Village. Valhalla can be combined with the Vapor Trail to create an adrenaline-fueled drop from mountain top to ski area base that’s more than 5 miles long. Vapor Trail itself is 2.5 miles long and losses 1,400 feet in elevation from its start at the top of the Elk Camp chairlift.
Some of Valhalla was completed last summer. More than a mile was added this spring. While checking out the trail last week, Skico Vice President of Mountain Operations Rich Burkley said Snowmass has made huge strides the last two years catching up with resorts that offer top-notch downhill cycling courses. Skico got trails approved in 2010 by the U.S. Forest Service, then hired a firm called Gravity Logic to design and build some of them. The work is ongoing. Skico’s own trails crews is adding features this year, such as bridges and wood berms that extend a banked curve on Valhalla several feet higher.
Also new this year is Expresso, a mile long classic single-track, cross-country trail. It will be a great connector from the Elk Camp Meadows area above the top of the gondola to several of the freeride and cross-country trails.
Skico expects the freeride trails to attract young riders – kids that are part of families and college-age adults. “It drives business. Look at Whistler, look at Winter Park,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle, referring to two resorts known for their freeride networks of trails. “It’s like destination mountain biking.”