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Roger Marolt: Experimenting with adrenaline and scab dressings

It’s good to live in the moment, as painful as that may be

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

The mountain biking on Sky Mountain Park is wimpy. I’ve never ripped clothing or skin riding there. I say this, but I plan to ride Government Trail a lot more than I actually get out on it. I love the Gnarly Legend, but more often than not get sucked onto Sky Mountain Park on my way to its trailhead.

I have learned to worry less about tearing my bike jersey on the Government than breaking bones or getting concussed. Ending up with a limp or a scab is not so much a calculated risk on that trail as it is a good probability. It is a chain of technical challenges that demands intense concentration with the likelihood of fairly severe consequences for mental or physical lapses. It is akin to a chess match decided by a round of boxing.

Government Trail is my mountain biking time machine. It is the opposite of life’s journey. I begin feeling old and finish feeling young again. Pain I endure immediately afterward seems it will be gone in a few days, even though the reality is that it could linger for weeks. Ah well, it is good to live in the moment, as painful as that may be.



I remember my first Ross mountain bike. It was a hand-me-down from my brother in the mid-1980s and was one of the first mountain bikes in Aspen — 12 “speeds,” no suspension and tires that only seemed fat then. It came from northern California, where my brother picked up the sport as a hobby while in college. He had traded up to a Fischer Mt. Tam, its greatest feature being filet brazing which gave the frame an incredible seamless look.

There were no mountain biking trails then. My first ride was around the golf course on the dirt service roads. It was enough.



There weren’t a lot of choices for mountain bikes, so I imagined what could be better about my Ross and ordered parts to build a new bike from scratch. By the time everything arrived, it was fall and I had all winter to put it together. It ended up like homemade stew — all the right, fresh ingredients, but wasn’t quite as good as the canned stuff. I rode it for a summer and traded it for a 30-below sleeping bag I needed for a climb in Alaska.

There were only two rides available — Smuggler and Summer Road on Aspen Mountain. It was difficult to ride Smuggler non-stop. It was absolutely impossible to get all the way to the Sundeck without stopping many times. Eventually, people started exploring the possibility of riding on hiking trails. A new accessory necessary for this was a shoulder strap mounted in the frame triangle below the seat. On most trails you ended up carrying your bike more than riding it.

Then, in the early ’90s, the first Rock Shock suspension fork showed up on the local radar. It provided maybe 2 inches of cushion on the front end of the bike. It was enough to change the game. In the local bike races, the fastest way through Rock Garden was proven to be shouldering your steed and running. It was about as astonishing as humans walking on the moon the day I got passed in a race by somebody actually riding their bike with a shock absorber through that section of the course. They were crashing about every 50 yards, but the point was proven.

I think the Rock Shock was the innovation that opened up mountain biking to the masses. Almost overnight it went from being a fringe sport to being a more fun fringe sport. Bike design went on an experimental binge. Nobody knew what a good mountain bike looked like. There was no box to think inside of, so a plethora of outlandish designs emerged. Most of it ended up being junk — can anyone forget oval-shaped Bio-pace chainrings or the “Y” (why?) frame design? — but it was an exciting time for experimenting with the sport. It seemed every ride was an opportunity to try something new.

Today we enjoy what was then only things that were eventually to come. An ordinary pace ride up Airline Trail now is what was the unimaginable inevitability in the evolution of mountain biking then. It is why I still love the idea of Government Trail, but more often than not choose the comfort of Sky Mountain Park. It was meant to be.

Roger Marolt understands that trial is oftentimes fun, and error can be painful. Email him at roger@maroltllp.com.


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