Sky Mountain Park trails beckon during Aspen’s rainy weather | AspenTimes.com

Sky Mountain Park trails beckon during Aspen’s rainy weather

Josh Fanshel climbs the Airline Trail into Sky Mountain Park last spring. Sky Mountain Park gets heavy use because it dries out faster than other upper valley routes. A new loop off the Rim Trail could ease congestion by the end of this summer.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

IF YOU GO

Sky Mountain Park can be accessed via three moderately phyiscal challeging and technically easy trails: Airline Trail off the paved Owl Creek Trail; Cozy Line, off the paved Brush Creek Trail; and Viewline, off Highline Road in Snowmass Village. The Deadline Trail is a dedicated downhill route. Sky Mountain Park can be accessed via three moderately phyiscal challeging and technically easy trails: Airline Trail off the paved Owl Creek Trail; Cozy Line, off the paved Brush Creek Trail; and Viewline, off Highline Road in Snowmass Village. The Deadline Trail is a dedicated downhill route.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times will feature a hiking or biking trail or someone doing something special outdoors in a regular feature throughout the summer.

Add quick-drying soils to the long list of reasons why mountain bikers should ride Sky Mountain Park between Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Nearly 2.5 inches of rain has fallen in the upper Roaring Fork Valley already this month, so conditions on forest trails are sloppy where water pools. Sky Mountain Park’s trail network is at an advantage for early-season riding because it’s at a relatively low elevation and has good overall exposure to the sun, said Erik Skarvan, owner of Sun Dog Athletics, which includes mountain-biking training.

His first ride of the season was cut short by weather when Sky Mountain Park opened for the season Saturday, but he found Airline Trail pretty dry at first. He also found the trail surface bumped out from the hooves of scores of elk.

“It’s pretty hammered,” Skarvan said.

That requires adjustments to technique. Riders should keep their arms looser and set their shocks on soft to deal with the bumpy track, he said. Grasses and vegetation also encroached on the singletrack trail during the six months it was closed to benefit elk and other wildlife. Eventually, mountain-bike use will smooth and widen the surface.

Sky Mountain Park provided a missing link when it was developed over the past few years. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, with help from the governments of Snowmass Village, Aspen and Pitkin County, has developed several trails that fill a gap between beginner and expert riding.

Many of the trails in Sky Mountain Park are machine-made, so they have banked turns that created the perfect switchbacks for climbing and let cyclists sail downhill, said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. Many of the older trails around Aspen and Snowmass Village require steep, often technical climbs. The Sky Mountain Park trails are wider, smoother, less rocky and “frankly, more fun,” Pritchard said.

John Wilkinson, an avid cyclist and founding member of the Snowmass Village Trails Committee, said the grade rarely exceeds 7 or 8 percent on the climbs. Flat areas and even a few short downhills were built in.

“Certainly, they have become uphill, mountain-bike friendly,” he said. “The climbs are not over-the-top.”

The trail-building techniques also help the trails shed water.

“They are virtually dry an hour or two after a deluge, it seems,” Wilkinson said.

Older trails were built by simply cutting a path through the woods and trying to make them user-friendly. Water often trickles down the middle. Advanced techniques include using natural contours to make sure water drains and having outside edges lower than the middle.

There are three ways up Sky Mountain Park — Airline is closest to Aspen, Viewline is closest to Snowmass Village and Cozy Line is accessed from the Brush Creek Road-Highway 82 Intercept Lot.

“It’s so diverse. You can do from dry meadows to scrub oak to aspen forests,” Wilkinson said.

The Sky Mountain Park trail network also provides diversity in trail type. Many of the older trails in the upper valley require steep and often technical climbs through rocky terrain. Sky Mountain Park’s trails are smooth.

Most riders pay their dues by climbing to enjoy the fruits of Deadline Trail, a flow trail for downhill traffic only.

“Deadline has got to be one of the more popular destinations in the area,” Wilkinson said.

For a comprehensive guide to trails in Aspen and Snowmass Village, go to http://www.mtbproject.com/directory/ 166284/aspen-and-snowmass.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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