An increasing number of trail networks earns Roaring Fork Valley cycling an A-plus
April 9, 2018
The number and diversity of mountain bike trails in the Roaring Fork Valley has exploded over the last decade — thanks to in large part to riders finally forming a sort of political peloton.
New trails from Aspen to Glenwood Springs are thanks in large part to lobbying, fund-raising and pick-and-shovel work by the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, formed in 2008.
Trails were constructed at the Smuggler Mountain-Hunter Creek Valley network, at Sky Mountain Park between Aspen and Snowmass Village, via the Basalt and Carbondale accesses to the Crown in the midvalley and on Red Mountain in Glenwood Springs.
"A big difference between now and 10 years ago is we're working with the land managers and going through the process to get these trails approved," said Mike Pritchard, the mountain bike association's executive director.
“If you have only one day and are looking for an A-plus experience, Sky Mountain Park can give it to you.”
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Roaring Fork Valley riding used to feature a few epic rides on mainly isolated trails. The founders of the mountain bike association gave the valley's network a letter grade of "C" a decade ago because of the lack of connectivity between trails and the widespread requirement of monster climbs to access singletrack riding.
The grade has dramatically improved in recent years. "We're definitely getting into that B-plus, A-minus and even A-plus range," Pritchard said.
The system now features several long, continuous singletrack trails highly coveted by most mountain bikers. Many of the new trails accommodate riders with intermediate technical skills, though the double diamond rides are still plentiful.
The biggest change in the valley's trail network is routes have been built throughout the valley. They are within riding distance of Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs as well as Aspen and Snowmass Village.
"We have trails in peoples' backyards where they didn't exist before," Pritchard said.
In Aspen-Snowmass, riders weighed in to help convince the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program to build an incredible trail network on Sky Mountain Park after the property was acquired. The high ground between the airport and Snowmass Village has three primary ingress/egress trails and a dedicated downhill flow trail so it can be ridden in different combinations. The creme de la creme was the latest addition of the Seven Star Trail, one of the longest singletrack trails in the area at 4 miles, usually ridden downhill.
"If you have only one day and are looking for an A-plus experience, Sky Mountain Park can give it to you," Pritchard said.
Some people have criticized the new trails for being too easy and blame the use of machines to construct the routes, Pritchard noted. He feels most of the new trails are smoother and less technical primarily because of the lack of rock in the terrain selected for construction.
Riders looking for rougher experiences can always tap into old epics such as Sunnyside Trail, Government Trail and newer additions such as the Cross Mountain Trail at Snowmass Ski Area.
The transformation of upvalley riding compliments of Sky Mountain Park has been matched by the development of a midvalley area known as the Crown. The Bureau of Land Management and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails have teamed to add trails on the Prince Creek Road side to the south, easily accessible from Carbondale, and the Hooks side on the north, easily accessible from Basalt and El Jebel.
Midvalley riders don't have to load up their bikes and travel to find good riding like they did in years past.
"We'd do a bunch of road riding and occasionally find a little cattle track to ride down," said Todd Fugate, a Carbondale rider who has played a key role in expanding the opportunities on the Crown. Fugate, a RFMBA board member, worked with the Bureau of Land Management for a decade to achieve a designation for the Crown as a special recreation management area with an emphasis on mountain bikes. The BLM formalized some trails that had been created by riders over the years and authorized construction of about 4 miles of additional trails along Prince Creek Road terrain this year. One trail addition will separate climbers and descenders in the thick oak brush.
On the north side of the Crown, riders now enjoy a loop by combining the Glassier Trail and Buckhorn Trail. It's as popular with midvalley riders as Smuggler-Hunter is with upvalley residents.
Fugate's dedication to trail issues extends to the dirt. He regularly leads trail-building volunteer crews on projects sanctioned and supervised by the BLM.
"Opportunities have changed over the years and the number of riders is up," Fugate said.
The beauty of the Crown is riders can do a quick circuit after work on a weekday or tie in loops for a full day on weekends. "There's a diversity, but there's not a lot of technical features," Fugate said. "It's smoother trails and faster, more flow-y features."
Riders in Glenwood Springs received a welcome addition to their network last year with the completion of the Grandstaff Trail on Red Mountain.
"This adds something that's really doable," said Sheryl Bower, an avid rider and member of the mountain bike association's board of directors. "All the city residents can ride to it from their house."
Many people climb the old road that's always been an option on Red Mountain, she said. The Grandstaff Trail adds 3.4 miles of singletrack that's a great alternative to the road for the descent but not too technical, Bower said.
It also can be combined with the Wulfsohn trail network to the west for longer rides.
The mountain bike association and city of Glenwood Springs are teaming to add 8 miles of trails in South Canyon, just west of town via Interstate 70. The city is providing the land; RFMBA is providing its expertise and fundraising assistance to get the trails started this summer. About $250,000 was raised from Garfield County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife through the state trails grant program, Alpine Bank, town of New Castle as well as Glenwood Springs and RFMBA's members.
Bower moved to Glenwood from Florida in 2016 after deciding she needed to live somewhere more conducive to mountain biking. She hasn't been disappointed.
"We really are becoming a great place for mountain biking," she said. "We're pulling it together to provide more variety and more miles."
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