Sep 02, 2014
If you’re a Northwest mountain biker looking to get away for a while and ride some different terrain, perhaps a trip to Winter Park, Colo., the proclaimed Mountain Bike Capital USA™ is in order. Located about 1.5 hours west of Denver, Grand Valley boasts an impressive trail network that caters to everyone on two wheels.
On a recent whirlwind trip to the Centennial State, I had the opportunity to ride three different areas: Granby Ranch Bike Park — formerly known as SolVista — Devil’s Thumb Ranch, and Trestle Bike Park. All located within a 20-mile radius, each location provides a multitude of riding opportunities for every level of ability and riding preferences.
First on the agenda was Granby Ranch Bike Park, featuring cross-country as well as lift-served downhill trails. The park offers a variety of terrain options and is typically open from late May to the last weekend in September, weather depending. The base area features a full-service bike shop and offers private lessons for beginners to expert level riders.
Following a quick trip to the rental shop, I found myself on a sexy looking bright orange Transition Covert 27.5 trail bike and was fully outfitted with downhill gear. Our guide for the day, Assistant Director of Mountain Patrol Jamie Wolter, offered a quick breakdown of the trails before loading up on the Quick Draw Express chairlift for a ride to the summit of East Mountain at 9,202’. The ascent rewards riders with stunning views of the Grand Valley, Continental Divide, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
We started on some of the easier green trails like Moga’s Mile and Loosey, which are fun and flowy with plenty of berms. We then stepped up to Silky Johnson, a blue and slightly more advanced trail that contains a few wooden features, whoopties, tabletop jumps, and optional ramps for catching air. It was super fun, especially after I dialed in the Covert and became more comfortable with it. The 27.5-inch wheels make the bike snappy and extremely maneuverable in the tight stuff while the ample suspension took on roots, rocks and other obstacles head-on without wavering. (Renting from the resort is a great way to try out new bikes, especially for those wanting to upgrade or not travel with their own.)
Next up was Tron, an advanced trail with much bigger features and more rocky and technical obstacles to navigate. I wouldn’t recommend this one for beginners or riders who are tentative in their approach, however, there are options to go around many features, and there is no shame in doing so. We also checked out some of the “big boy” features that Granby Ranch offers. Every jump was magnified, but almost all obstacles are optional and for good reason. I mostly stayed within my comfort zone but definitely pushed myself further than usual, thanks to Wolter’s knowledge of the trails and a solid bike beneath me … the full-face helmet and padding boosted my confidence as well.
New to the bike park are moveable jumps with metal undercarriages and wooden planked tops. Instead of having to raze large dirt features to make way for the resort’s winter ski season, these can be moved and then stored for the next summer, which is much more sustainable in the long run. “We’re excited about the longevity and the lack of maintenance to go along with them … people don’t realize how much maintenance a bike park takes,” Wolter explains. The ramps are also predictable and don’t change a rider’s trajectory, unlike dirt jumps do after rainstorms, grooming, and lots of use.
Although I could have ridden there all day, the next stop on the itinerary brought us to Devil’s Thumb Ranch, located in the Fraser Valley between Winter Park and Granby Ranch. There I was outfitted with a Trek hardtail bike. Unfortunately I rode only a small portion of some of the cross-country trails that weave throughout the 6,000-acre property, ranging from flat and wide unpaved options in the flats to tight and windy singletrack in the hills. Not long after the ride began, incoming stormy weather, common to Colorado’s summer afternoons, rolled in with rain accompanied by many lightning strikes. That said, it’s always best to be cautious of approaching storms and try to start and finish rides early.
The Ranch also features five zip lines that take guests though treetops at up to 40 mph. If interested, reservations should be made at least 24 hours in advance and riders must be between 75-275 pounds. Other activities like hiking, fishing, disc golf, and horseback riding can be enjoyed during the summer months as well, while cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and more can be had in the winter.
Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort was next on the schedule. There I was outfitted again in full pads and provided with a 26-inch-wheel Specialized Enduro. Being a Saturday morning, the lines for rentals at Trestle Bike Park Shop were very long, but the highly organized and efficient staff geared everyone up in no time. Soon after I was greeted by Bike School Director Bob Barnes, who provided the lowdown on the day’s agenda.
The lift line was surprisingly short. Even with the influx of weekend riders, it spread out quickly due to the mountain’s 40 miles of trails; once again I have to give credit to Winter Park’s skilled employees who kept things moving. Upon exiting the Zephyr Express Lift at 10,700’, I was once again treated with impressive views of the Rocky Mountains.
Barnes started the tour with instructions on body and bike positioning. I have to admit, the crusty old school cross-country rider in me was thinking, “OK Bob, I’ve been riding for a long time. What can you possibly teach me?” It wasn’t long before I was eating those words.
I rode my SPDs the first run, but after some gentle persuasion from Barnes, I swapped them out at the shop for flat pedals and a pair of Six Six One shoes, soon understanding why many downhillers prefer this setup; shifting the foot’s arch forward over the pedal’s axle provides better stability. Coupled with the tacky soles of the shoes, the feet stick to the pedals like glue. Additionally, if things get sketchy, it’s easier to get back on and in control without searching for contact like one does when clipped in.
I focused on moving the bike underneath my body and bringing the forearms up with elbows out and forward while pointing the heels down and back for a more aggressive riding position. This does wonders for control and makes it much easier to recover from precarious situations. Barnes also provided some air instruction, starting off with simple bunny hops and some smaller tabletops.
He was genuinely happy to see my progression throughout the day, and often said, “We’re going to make a downhill rider out of you yet.” I think he may have been right, as I was confidently taking to the air and attacking Trestle’s many high-walled berms, each run growing more confident of the bike and my abilities. I learned some new skills that I can take anywhere and on any bike; who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? If you’re ever in a rut or think you’ve learned all you need to know, take a lesson from the experts; they often see things you may not notice and can correct years of bad riding habits in a single day.
As luck would have it, the rain held off all day, even with threatening clouds on the horizon. Barnes showed me some incredible lines on a few of the more advanced black diamond-rated trails such as Search and Seizure and the Boulevard Trail. He’s not a youngster by any means, but has been riding motocross and bicycles his whole life, and it shows, as he was extremely confident in the air. He took my riding to a new level.
I later met up with friends for a beer at one of the many patios located at the base of Winter Park Resort. Besides mountain biking, the resort’s summer schedule — typically from mid-June to the end of September — offers numerous options suited for the entire family, including Colorado’s longest alpine slide, mini golf course, human maze, climbing wall, T-bar mini zip line, shopping and more.
Both Trestle Bike Park and Granby Ranch have trails suitable for all abilities and everything is well marked, making it easy to get around. I found that Trestle has smoother runs and the green trails can be ridden by most anyone with some mountain biking experience. For those wanting big drops with lots of exposure, options like Banana Peel shouldn’t be missed; a Pro Line trail pass has to first be earned by attending a class and getting certified. After riding both downhill bike parks, I’ve concluded that there aren’t as many options for the complete beginner at Granby Ranch, as even the less advanced trails were steeper and had plenty of natural obstacles due to the drier and rockier location. Still, anyone can have fun there, as proven by a teenager I spoke with who was riding a rigid ‘90s bike he borrowed from his sister. He was all smiles.