Sep 29, 2014
Downhill Delight: Mountain Biking in Winter Park
BY MELISSA MCGIBBON
I truly dig all kinds of biking, but downhill riding has earned my heart. It’s not just that downhill mountain biking is cooler than cross-country riding—it’s also more menacing, has a lower grunt-to-grin factor, there’s no silly climbing, and it brings me whole minutes of palpable joy. The full-face helmet and body armor only add to the badassery. I feel like one of those medieval infantry soldiers who went into battle with jousting poles on horses. Except in my case, instead of plate armor, I’m wearing the latest in über-technical lightweight, yet durable protective gear. And my steed is a full-suspension 39.11-pound Transitions TR500 Single Crown, which I do not have to feed. My opponent? The miles and miles of Winter Park singletrack I’m about to shred.
I wandered 3,200 or so blocks away from my street in Salt Lake City to have a good close look at the dirt and rocks on the other side of the Rockies and I must say it’s not bad, not bad at all. Winter Park is a historic ski town cradled in the Arapaho National Forest, abutted by Indian Peaks, Byers Peak, and the Vasquez Wilderness Area. It may well be known as one of Colorado’s first skiing destinations—operating since President Roosevelt (Franklin, not Theodore) was in office—and it seems most savvy skiers are in on the must-do moguls at Mary Jane, but this family-friendly resort destination also happens to be home to some of the most staggeringly spectacular downhill mountain biking terrain in these United States.
Trestle Bike Park
Trestle Bike Park is one of the biggest and fastest growing downhill bike parks in North America. Last year, MTBparks.com honored Trestle with the title of Best Bike Park in the Rocky Mountains. Winter Park Resort has been providing lift-served biking since the early 1990s, even before Trestle Bike Park sprouted. In 2005, the resort began a transformation that involved the addition of purpose-built mountain biking trails. Today, Trestle Bike Park is a world-class downhill destination and is distinguished by its steep, rocky chutes and fantastically flowy trails with more than 200 man-made features.
I was nervous to ride The Boulevard because of its black-diamond rating, but by the end of the day it was my favorite trail. It has enough mega berms to keep an Olympic skeleton racer happy, and features tons of wooden ramps and tabletop drops. I didn’t realize I had committed to the giant C-wall at the end until I was halfway through it. ¡Vaya! Good thing I had legendary local instructor, Bob Barnes, to show me how it’s done.
Trestle bike Park Stats
• Base Elevation – 9,000 feet
• Miles of Trails: 40
• Number of Trails: 54
• Vertical: 2,000 feet
• Lifts: 3
• Beginner Trails: 17%
• Intermediate Trails: 26%
• Advanced Trails: 13%
• Expert Trails: 13%
• Open: June–September
The Pro-Line Trails are the most difficult trails Trestle Bike Park has to offer and are a great opportunity for those who want to ride expert slopestyle trail features to dial their skills. These trails include elevated features, large gap jumps, and drop-offs with no alternate routes. Chief among them is Banana Peel, the first double-black diamond downhill mountain biking trail in the nation. Riders must have a special access pass and the confidence of a samurai warrior in order to ride this terrain.
If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Granby Ranch. This four-season mountain community is 20 miles outside of Winter Park and offers everything from luxury lodging, golfing, fishing, hiking, and skiing to a full complement of downhill and cross-country biking trails. Granby Ranch continues to add new trails and develop existing trails to improve the experience for all riders. No matter which trail you’re on you’ll have gorgeous views in every direction, but try not to get too distracted by the overwhelming beauty of the resort because you’ll need every ounce of focus you can muster to navigate the gravity-fed trails and features.
Do heed the words of wisdom from the locals and knock a notch or two off your ability level when determining which trails to tackle. Wear your big girl panties because even blue-squared Silky Johnson ain’t for sissies. I delight in this kind of terrain because it requires profound focus. It’s like a vacation from everything else swirling around in my brain… though the immersion doesn’t necessarily keep me from crashing. The dive I took on Tron was hideous. There’s nothing quite like a handle-bar to your left ovary to put your ego in check. On that note, Granby Ranch also offers private lessons.
Granby Ranch Bike Park Stats
• Base Elevation – 8,202 feet
• Miles of Trails: 40
• Number of Trails: 11
• Vertical: 1,000 feet
• Lifts: 1
• Beginner Trails: 50%
• Intermediate Trails: 25%
• Advanced Trails: 25%
• Open: May–September
Winter Park’s accessibility and adventure-a-bility make it an excellent choice for a weekend getaway. Airfare from SLC to Denver is frequently less than $200, and you can take a shuttle for the remaining 70 miles from the Denver Airport to Winter Park. No need to bring your own gear. Trestle Bike Park Shop and Granby Ranch Bike Shop will set you up with top-shelf gear so you’re properly outfitted for your oncoming feats. They also have a wide variety of dangerously sexy downhill bikes for rent so you can huck down the mountain real-nice-like. Driving to Winter Park from SLC takes about seven and a half hours.
If you opt for slopeside lodging you won’t need a car to get around. There are many accommodations available to rest your head and plenty of restaurants within walking distance to keep you entertained IF you can bear to stop pedaling long enough to eat and sleep. I stayed at Winter Park Resort’s Base Village Lodging. If you, like me, are a sucker for quaint village shops, boutique eateries, and life-sized Words with Friends games, then you too will appreciate the substantial charm of this place.
Suit up for the ride! If you crash as much as I do, or even if you don’t, you’ll need some body armor to make you look and feel fierce. You can always rent gear at the bike shop, but once you get hooked on downhill mountain biking you’ll need your own. Here are a few of my favorite things.
Melissa McGibbon picks gear for downhill mountain biking