Each summer the huge Snowmass ski area nine miles from Aspen in Colorado's Elk Range become a huge mountain biking mecca. A fast gondola plus a chairlift beyone it carry riders and their bikes to the top of the region known as Elk Camp, elevation 11,325 feet. From there mountain bikers have a vast network of trails from beginner to expert to roll through.
Downhilll fans get their kicks on a 4,000-foot single track descent beginning above tree line and ending in the high mountain desert. Although mountain biking has been a feature of Snowmass for more than 25 years, new trails have been added in recent years.
These include the signature trail Valhalla, giving Snowmass the most vertical feet of riding in Colorado and "over 50 miles of singletrack, cross-country, freeride and downhill terrain," according to the Aspen Skiing Company.
As rider Abby Eagye of Carbondale, Colo. noted, Valhalla was designed "by the people from Whistler" (the company Gravity Logic) so "it's special." Whistler is he Canadian eden for mountain bikers.
Snowmass recently added a new beginner trail to the system called Verde, Spanish for "green." (In skiing, the color green is used to denote the easiest runs on any mountain.) Bikers and ski company bike patrollers at Snowmass point out that this is the best way to separate newbies who may need to ride more slowly on difficult patches from the experienced riders who like to fly, especially on designated jumps.
Visitors who simply want to ride the gondola to the handsome Elk Camp restaurant and bar or to stroll around designated hikers-only trails gawk at the jumps they see beneath them.
"If you know what you're doing, you know how to make it work," Eagye said of the biggest jump. She is 44, "and I only started doing this at 40. It's really fun. I'm trying to get my 79-year old mother to try it."
The Elk Camp gondola is open daily from June 21, 2014 through Labor Day and on weekends through September. For details, see the Bike Snowmass information on the Aspen/Snowmass website.