Since man discovered gravity, he has been exploring its wonders with fervent curiosity. Physicists struggle to understand its mystery, engineers manipulate it for its energy and extreme sports enthusiast revel in its potential. Many journalists lament the misnomer of Winter Park, as it fails to encapsulate the epic year round activities that offer sportsman of all extremes the best of what they are looking for. Gravity Park, CO is a more fitting name for this geographical wonderland. Expect that change if anyone ever puts me in charge.
Whether you're a novice looking for scenic cruises, an expert looking for backbreaking climbs or a cross-country enthusiast testing your endurance, Fraser Valley offers 600 miles of diverse trails to sate your mountain biking desires. 90% of these trails are accessible from town, but if your flavor of mountain biking includes more speed, big turns and death defying drops, 2 of the premier downhill mountain biking locations in the United States, Granby and Trestle Bike Parks, are only a short drive from town. In early July, Rendezvous Mountain Bike Weekend is held to showcase what this town has to offer in a full on display of its full potential.
Arriving to Winter Park late on a Friday, I checked into my home base for the weekend, the Vista Condos at Timber Run, on a hill over looking the forestry surrounding the town. Upon arrival, I found a secluded 1-bedroom/2-bathroom condo with a kitchen, balcony with a barbecue and plenty of space to setup a temporary bike shop for the long weekend. Tuning my bike, I was filled with anticipation for the events that lay ahead and could barely settle myself as the night came to a close.
The Colorado morning sun is the only alarm clock one needs when you know sunlight brings the promise of mountain biking in Fraser Valley. Especially this morning as the Epic Single Track race was to coincide with the ALP Cycle Coaching skills camp in Winter Park. The weather promised a serene day with max temperature of 72 and clear blue skies. This is a typical summer day in the valley, and if you are fortunate enough to catch it between snowfall and snow melt, you will be hard pressed to find a day too hot for a ride.
Hideaway Park was only a 5-minute ride in the morning chill from the condo, the launching pad of Rendezvous Mountain Bike Weekend and the local event center. Arriving, I found a park housing a 4,000-person concert venue, skate park and playgrounds. This public site goes from a quite town center hangout to full on party mode in the blink of an eye. First on the agenda, I was due to meet Bill Ross, the “Outdoor Legend” and a local fixture in the mountain biking and ski mountaineering scene. At the spry age of 59, Bill is still as competitive as ever- racing and skiing while helping to build the community of mountain biking in Winter Park. Within minutes of meeting Bill, I was inundated with stories of the development of the trail systems in Winter Park. Having been around in the 80's to help build trails that are on the map today, Ross had no shortage of epic tales to fill the time between events. I was even fortunate enough to hear the ice-pick through the knee story, a true classic.
Bill shared with me that there were acres of trails in Winter Park for years that were difficult to access due to National Forest. Eventually my investigations revealed that 80% of the land in Grand County is public land, which in the past had caused issues with connectivity. I went on to uncover details about an unprecedented partnership between the Forest Service, a range of wildlife and mountain bike advocate groups, and the Towns of Winter Park and Fraser. The project, titled the Sulfur Ranger District Trails Smart Sizing Proposal, is a detailed 5-year plan with a focus on connecting existing trail networks in the Winter Park and Fraser areas in a sustainable manner, keeping wildlife in the forefront. The end result will be a series of singletrack loops, varying in difficulty, while simultaneously improving wildlife habitat and watershed conditions. For more details on this one of a kind project see the following page on the US Forest Service site:
ALP Cycle Coaching Skills Camp
Since 2015, Rendezvous Mountain Bike Capital USA TM Weekend has featured a skills camp by ALP Cycle Coaching, owned and operated by hometown hero Alison Powers. Powers is the first American cyclist to simultaneously be National Champion in all three disciplines of road cycling, and now full time coach and mentor back in her home of Colorado. I would be participating in the skills camp with ALP Cycle Coaching to start my day on the bike and the excitement was palpable as bikers of all age and skill gathered for the event.
For this particular camp, Alison would be assisted by volunteer coaches, a group of locals that had a mix of coaching certifications to go along with their knowledge of the area. Alison and ALP Cycle Coaching kicked off the event by dividing groups based on their abilities and splitting off to different parts of town to proceed with the training. After a short demonstration on attack position and cornering skills, Alison led the charge out of town to begin the ride.
The fact that all 3 of our coaches were locals was a huge factor in the skills camp. They knew every trail in the area and every little detail of the system where we were training. One of the volunteer coaches, Kari Gates, is actually the High School Mountain Bike Team Coach. Some of her students were on the trail with us, and Kari was there encouraging and carefully guiding them all morning.
Through every step of the way Alison was patient, well spoken and encouraging. She has a way of explaining techniques simply and succinctly, getting her message through loud and clear. After a long climb, where cornering and upward vision on the trail were highlighted, the group crested the mountain for some downhill flow. At each obstacle, Alison would stop and watch each rider, handling them individually and taking as many repetitions as needed to get them past the challenges. A lot of inexperienced riders ended that camp having conquered obstacles they had never tried, and as we rode back into town, spirits were high. Wrapping up the camp, I had a chance to sit down with Alison for an interview. She went into detail about her coaching business, strongly stating that her goal is “to change your life” through a disciplined training program. For the full interview with Alison, see our Facebook page and hear what she has to say about ALP Cycles Coaching, the art of mentoring and recovery from severe injury. Alison is a true champion, and her advice is valuable.
Epic Single Track Race
The Epic Single Track Race was ongoing as we were training with Alison, being the third installment of a 6 part series in Winter Park this summer. This particular race would be held among the Idlewild trail system east of town, a collection of steep, punchy climbs mixed in with ripping descents through the trees and back into town. From my personal experience, this ride is not for the weak of leg and lung. A 19.4 mile race combined with elevation gain/loss of 3891/-3550 ft. Max climbing grades come in at a 27.2% and even steeper on the descent at -29.5%. All technical details can be found at the following link:
Following the race, the award ceremony took place back in Hideaway Park. All groups, including Novice, Sport, Expert and Pro, were in attendance to accept gifts, free beer (for the of age, of course) and free food from Rudi's Deli. The winners of the Women and Men's Pro categories were Kathy Waite and Garrett Gerchar, with times of 01:38:10 and 01:18:23, respectively. Racers and family members lounged in the mid day sun as the announcements were made, relishing the exhaustion of the race and the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
Tacos and Tequila
As the Epic Single Track group recovered, the Rick Lewis project began to setup at the nearby stage for the afternoon event of Tacos and Tequila. A new group was arriving at Hideaway Park for this celebration of a food and drink close to my heart. Being based out of Austin, TX, you realize that no matter what food you like, its only a matter of time until you develop a certain penchant for tacos and tequila. So needless to say, I was pretty excited about this part of the weekend, even if I had to “work” through it. As the gates opened, fold out chairs, shot glasses and taco cartons exploded on the scene. The Rick Lewis Project put on a lights out 3-hour show on a stage that was framed by mountain ranges and blue sky, while community children where gathered at the skate park nearby honing their skills on their bikes, skateboards and scooters. The music kept the vibe up beat and lively, as we toured tequila tents and refueled on tacos in preparation for the evening Headwater Trails Alliance bicycle pub-crawl.
Headwaters Trail Alliance Pub Crawl
The evening continued as we went on to crawl the many pubs of Winter Park, from Idlewild Distillery, to Adolf's in Old Winter Park and several in between. The pub-crawl was also a costume contest and there were many creative outfits on the ride, including a full on yeti suit. Our main road of transportation was The Fraser River Trail, a blissful cruise lined with trees that skirts the river the whole way out to Old Winter Park. The night wore down as bar after bar fell off of our list, and as each of us fell to the day's exhaustion one at a time. At the end of the night, I found myself wondering how many days I had been here, only to realize it had barely been 24 hours.
The next morning, I was fortunate enough to have a personal tour scheduled on the Epic Single Track Race Course with Al Furlone, a local mountain biking guru and this weekend's Mountain Biking Liaison. I ended the night happily exhausted and full of anticipation for this next ride.
Epic Track with Al Furlone
During the Headwaters Trail Alliance Pub Crawl, every one who heard I was riding with Al had ominous warnings. “Oh you're riding with Al?! Better keep him out late tonight if you want to keep up!” As the night grew longer, we had a couple riders attach themselves to the morning cruise, growing the group to 4 upon departure. I had a strong feeling this is common amongst the people of Winter Park, where drinking partners turn to trail companions overnight, or a stranger will lead you on the most epic ride of your life only knowing the brand of bike you own.
Once assembled, we took off for the Epic Single Track Cross Country Race Course review. Starting with a 5-mile climb to the top of the mountain, which included the punchy Whoops climb (not official part of course), we ended up on a sloping hill that took us passed “The Trailer”. One of our riders shared the story of raiding “The Trailer” only to find a litter of newspapers from the 80s, and no story of an origin for the mysterious dwelling. It had the sense of an age where one could disappear into the mountains, Alexander Supertramp style, living unaware of society. As we sat around the trailer, I imagined a grizzled outsider, wandering the mountains and developing miles of trails that we now have the privilege of riding at our leisure. Something tells me we are in debt to the owner of that trailer in the form of sweat and effort.
There was only a bit more extended climbing to reach the top, and along the way we caught a glimpse of Trestle Bike Park, where I would be spending my afternoon in the down hill park. All I could think as I viewed that hill was how grateful my legs would be on the way up the lift. Putting the comfort of automated lift lines far from my mind, I pushed on with my riding group to the crest of the mountain, and once we did it was a free fall the entire way back to town. Fast descents, quick turns, tight trees and epic views were the highlight of this ride.
As we ripped our way back to town, I took in the forest, peaks and wide-open skies of the Fraser Valley, wondering, “How can it get better than this?” But I had a deadline to meet at Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort, a downhill instruction lesson that I was in danger of missing due to our morning ride. Letting off the brakes, we finished our ride with haste, a fantastic warm up for the downhill experience to come. With barely 30 minutes to spare after our descent, Al and I rushed into town to grab a beer and brats (never too late for a beer I say) before speeding off to the resort for a Trestle Bike Park Downhill Lesson. We arrived in the nick of time to pad up, check out a bike and meet my trainer before taking to the lift.
Trestle Bike Park Lesson
Back in 2011, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act was passed, providing legal backing for increased summer activities at ski resorts. Part of this bill included “mountain bike terrain parks and trails.” This was the impetus for the downhill mountain biking at Trestle Bike Park. Through this bill, the Town of Winter Park worked with Gravity Logic and the Forest Service to develop the best management practice, which is used as a model around the country for downhill mountain biking. This is the most interesting aspect of trail development in Winter Park, and something I really admire about this community. They bring every one to the table, most importantly the Forest Service, who brings GIS Models to sustainably develop trails without affecting wildlife. It is cooperation on a level you rarely see anymore, and it is done for mountain biking and outdoor recreation of all types.
This level of focus and teamwork shines through in the Trestle Bike Park coaching team. My instructor, Nick Horning, was professional, knowledgeable and patient throughout our lesson. Before we even hit the first trail, Nick ran through some skills that I had never been taught in my career, resulting in me being a better rider on my first run. I ripped corners with unfamiliar grip, gaining speed in turns in ways that I had never experienced. Throughout the lesson, Nick harped on his 2 rules of riding. “We want to have fun, and we want to be safe, and you can't have fun if you aren't being safe.” I was encouraged to test my limits, but always be mindful for my own sake, and for the sake of others around me. Nick was a class act the whole way, a reflection of the program that Winter Park has built with excellence in mind. On the next lift ride up, I questioned Nick about the training team and the trail system, and learned quite a bit about this program.
Nick filled me in on Bob Barnes, the Director of the Downhill Mountain Biking School who is in charge of personally vetting all of the instructors on site. The school has classes ranging from learning how to ride a bike on the mountain to mastering all of the roughly 50 miles of track the mountain has to offer. The instructors on the mountain are capable of going pro in downhill racing, but choose to instruct and enjoy the art of mentoring.
Trail development is also a hot topic on the mountain, consistent with the rest of Winter Park's mountain bike mindset, and current plans include Gravity Logic building another 10 miles of track and Winter Park Resorts opening a 4th lift to access trails on the mountain. The new 10 miles of track will focus on the backside of Trestle and will be 40% Blue/Intermediate trails but will include green through double black trails. Due to the material and slope angles, the new trail will be more technical, but will include a top to “bottom” blue jump trail. In total, this build will take 4 years to complete. This will be the most lifts servicing a bike park IN THE UNITED STATES. Bob Holmes is in charge of trail development at Trestle and has been integral in building it to where it is today. He has vision and eyes on the future, keeping Trestle Bike Park on the cutting edge of Downhill Mountain Biking in the United States.
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced downhill rat, you can benefit from a lesson with this team, and I can personally attest to that. My skills grew to another level that day, and I have since used what I have learned on every ride. I never felt overwhelmed by the terrain, but I felt that I was growing as a rider with every minute I spent on that mountain. It's a tough sport but as long as you focus, you will remain safe and build skills you never thought possible. Its just like an old mountain goat told me one time, “Downhill mountain biking is an IQ test, don't get hurt.” Be smart, keep your head up and always be alert and you will have a great time. Upon completing our ride, I was taken to Vertical Bistro & Tap in the Winter Park Resort Village, a short walk from the rental bike drop off, for post ride drinks and a place to shed the adrenaline of the day.
Tim Hubbard is the owner of Vertical Bistro, and his location on the slopes makes for a fantastic spot to wind down after a day on the hill. With a wide variety of American Bistro style food made from locally sourced, Rocky Mountain ingredients, you are sure to find the right meal or drink on the menu to recover while sharing stories of the day with fellow riders. After a few drinks it was time to end my final day in Winter Park before preparing to leave. Arriving at my condo, exhausted and tapped of adrenaline, I rested my head as memories and flashbacks of the weekend spun through my mind. When I rose the next morning, I was already planning my return to Mountain Bike Capital, USA.
In the end, my short tenure in Winter Park, CO was unlike any mountain bike experience I have been through. On each ride, I met new people who wanted to share stories and tales of the Fraser Valley and I counted new friends at the end of each day. After all, that is the magic of the sport. The adversity of a hard ride, the small talk between climbs, avoiding injury on the way down… these are the things that bond riders, and in Winter Park I felt like I made a friend on every ride. The people I rode with were some of the more capable riders I have had the privilege of meeting, but none of them acted like it, they were modest to the end. A mountain bike heaven like this could only exist amongst a humble community built around the sport, and its this conviction the town and people of Winter Park, CO possess in their mission to reclaim the undisputed title of Mountain Bike Capital, USA.