The mountain biking in Snowmass just keeps getting better |

The mountain biking in Snowmass just keeps getting better

A mountain biker speeds through a banked turn on Valhalla in Snowmass.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Snowmass Village officials aren’t messing around with marketing for cyclists this summer. They know exactly what they’re saying.

They’re heavily promoting the Snowmass Loop, a 24-mile route that features some of the best singletrack trails in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“If someone can conquer this 24-mile ride, they’ve pretty much seen everything,” said Andy Worline, parks, recreation and trails director in the village. “It’s got something for everybody.”

Indeed it does, including plenty of parking at the Rodeo Lot. From there, riders can get on the Ditch Trail in a few short minutes and then avoid pavement for hours. The route circumnavigates Snowmass Village on terrain that ranges from climbs in aspen forests to technical traverses across ski trails and exposed, near-desert terrain on sun-drenched southern slopes.

“The gravity scene is definitely on the rise.”Steve RauschRangers and summer trails manager at Snowmass

Completing the entire loop requires linking several trails. The town’s summer 2016 trail map makes the route clear. The town also invested in good signage for directions on the fly, Worline said.

While the town will promote the whole ride as a multi-hour, cross-country adventure, the beauty of it is that the route also can be broken into chunks for visitors who don’t want to put in one mammoth day.

“We don’t want to have every single person think they have to do the Snowmass Loop,” said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.

One subset network he recommended is catching the Ditchline Trail a short distance from the Rodeo Lot, climbing up Viewline Trail into Sky Mountain Park and then bombing the dedicated downhill trail called Deadline.

Once back on the valley floor, a rider can return to the Viewline climb and repeat the thrilling Deadline or head into the forest on a trail such as Tom Blake. Pritchard recommended riding Deadline two or three times to get a feel for its flow and then easing off the brakes a bit.

Both Worline and Pritchard advise visitors or new residents to the Roaring Fork Valley to make sure the Rim Trail is part of their plan. Any way a rider tackles it requires a grunt.

“You’re in the mountains, you’re going to climb,” Pritchard said.

“It’s going to be difficult for anybody,” Worline said.

Difficult, yes, but fun. From the north trailhead high in the village, the trail climbs 700 feet right out of the chute, but the switchbacks are wide and well-rounded, and the surface is smooth. At the top is a short spur that goes to a high point and provides incredible views of the mountains surrounding the upper valley.

After that break, the fun begins on a descending singletrack trail close to the rim of the mountainside. The second half of the ride requires additional climbing before a rocket downhill to the Rodeo Lot.

Pritchard labeled Rim Trail a solid intermediate ride that’s simply a lot of fun.

“You have to put the Rim Trail on the list,” he said.

Snowmass also is making a name for itself with the lift-served, downhill trail network that Aspen Skiing Co. has developed on the Elk Camp section of the mountain. Steve Rausch, rangers and summer trails manager at Snowmass, recommended taking a morning skills class with a pro. It’s great for getting used to the downhill bikes and getting a feel for the skills needed to make the course more fun, he said. Downhill riding requires an adjustment for riders more familiar with cross-country riding.

“It’s a whole different story when they get on a gravity trail,” Rausch said.

The Snowmass Bike Park trails feature Verde for beginners, Viking and Vapor for intermediate to advanced riders and Valhalla, primarily for advanced riders. While Verde is for beginners, it’s also the longest at 3½ flowing miles through aspen and pine forests that are great for gaining skills.

Valhalla offers a variety of free-ride challenges over 2.75 miles, with a 1,400-vertical-foot drop. It features berms, jumps, bridges, tabletops, a wall ride and more.

Several cross-country trails also converge or start out from Elk Camp. Skico has applied to the U.S. Forest Service to add 10 mountain-biking trails. Construction could start next summer if all goes well.

“We’ve been growing pretty steadily in the last few years,” Rausch said.

He has witnessed growing interest in the downhill trails after starting as a bike ranger in 1996 and taking over as manager in 2001.

“The gravity scene is definitely on the rise,” he said. “We’re seeing more people on a bike vacation.”

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