In the last few years we have seen a tremendous effort by Colorado towns to embrace cycling. While bike parks and cycling events are a heck of a way to get our attention, what we usually find in our visits to places like Winter Park is that, two wheels aside, we should have already ventured there anyway.
Nestled in the Fraser Valley, Winter Park is a small mountain town with more outdoor activities than residents. To put things in perspective, Winter Park – dubbed ‘Mountain Bike Capital USA‘ – is home to about 1000 full time residents while boasting over 600 miles of trail, 2 bike parks, and enough bike events to keep you pedaling all summer long. To sweeten the ride (and save your legs), a multitude of trails – from family-friendly cross country to downhill black diamond – can be accessed from a chair lift. With a base elevation of 9,000’ a lung-saving ride up is no small gift.
Winter Park is only about a 1.5 hour drive from Denver making it an easy destination for a long weekend whether you live nearby or fly in. Bike rentals are easy to come by from one of the many shops in town or at the bike parks. They even have an interactive tail map that provides info on all of the nearby riding.
As if all the riding in the world isn’t enough, how about some live music, great beer, and tasty wine. In the center of town, mountains all around, there is a beautiful green space for outdoor events and there is almost always something going on. But even with all of these great offerings, Winter Park retains it’s small town-ness. Local shops and restaurants line the main road and shortly after dark a mellow calm fills the air as folks begin to feel the affects of a full day of mountain play. This feeling just adds to the family friendliness already apparent around town with activities for all ages.
Bike Granby Ranch (formerly SolVista Bike Park)
Granby Ranch offers some of the tighter, more technical downhill trails that I have ridden recently, and access to cross country riding is as easy as pie. I spent an entire day riding the downhill trails on the mountain. I chose a bigger, downhill setup from the high quality rental fleet. In hindsight, an all-mountain rig would have been better suited for most of the trails that I chose to tackle. The terrain on this mountain is dryer, hotter, and more high desert like.
While I would consider myself an experienced rider, the tight turns, sand pits, and rock gardens made the intermediate downhill trails a true test of my ability. I was slower on these trails and fully focused but thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. With a few breaks here and there to lay my head in the green grass at the base of the mountain, I kept going back for more. After a day of riding I was mentally and physically worked but my ear-to-ear, shit-eating-downhill-grin lingered long into the evening.
For the purist downhiller who finds smooth turns and delicately calculated doubles to be a bit of a bore, Granby Ranch is your answer. These downhill trails will challenge you. Add in the access to miles and miles of cross-country heaven, short lift lines, and a more laid back, smaller bike park experience and Granby Ranch is a true gem.
Know before you go: Granby has a diverse, high quality rental fleet including bikes from Pivot, Intense, Transition, and Kona. But their selection is small and so is their staff. If you want a guide and a rental I suggest calling ahead to see if you can make a reservation. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the mountain, kindly offered gentle pointers for skill improvement, and served it all up with a sweet southern accent (thanks Wes!). Bring or rent all the downhill gear (knee and elbow pads, full face helmet, gloves and goggles), you can always ditch it after a run or two.
Trestle Bike Park
With a few bumps and bruises from riding Granby, my shit-eating-downhill-grin was pretty much the only thing that pulled me out of bed and on to the mountain the following morning. Trestle Bike Park did not disappoint. Living in Boulder, Colorado (only about a 1.5 hour drive to Winter Park), I spent the entire day asking myself how I had never been there before. Only about 20 miles separates Trestle from Granby but the terrain could not be more different. It is more what you would expect from high alpine mountains – moist, hard packed trails, tall trees, and big boulders.
Trestle also offers something for everyone. The downhill trails are well groomed, carefully calculated, and very fast. Most of the jumps are table tops and many of the features offer bail out options, making it a magical two-wheel playground that is sure to elicit the whoops and hollers of any rider. Trestle uses world-class trail designers from Gravity Logic. Together with the crew at Trestle, they have created what is arguably the best downhill bike park in the US.
But big berms and smooth landings aren’t the only thing Trestle has going for it. The beginner friendliness, educational offerings, and all around helpfulness of the staff made for a top-notch experience. Our guide, coach, and dad for the day was the undisputed Patriarch of the park Bob Barnes. Between tips, tricks and warm-hearted encouragement, throughout the day Bob shared his grand vision for the park – more trails with a thoughtful progression of features and jumps for the best possible learning experience. His intentions are clear, he believes everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the thrill of downhill mountain biking.
Know before you go: Trestle seems to have an endless supply of rental bikes and downhill gear to service the crowd, which is why I recommend going on a weekday. Despite the weekend rush that we encountered, lift lines weren’t unbearable and riders were polite when trails were full. Even if you are experienced, taking a short course with one of the instructors is well worth the extra money. I learned more in a short jump session with Bob than in two years of riding at downhill parks around Colorado. Definitely order up the full gear, you’ll feel much more confident sending a few jumps and drops (seriously, just ask Bob, you got this).
Bonus: Trestle offers a Gravity Goddess two-day camp. I caught a glimpse of the first of two camps offered annually. The women were confident, comfortable, and having a great time. The next camp is August 22-23, 2015. We hope to see you there!
Take a Load Off
Hernando’s Pizza Pub – So you’ve had all the riding you can handle, now you are starving. What could be better than hand tossed pizza with gourmet toppings and a great beer selection? No brainer, you’ll love Hernando’s.
Rise & Shine – Without a doubt, fueling up before a long ride is the best idea ever. Order a full breakfast at Rise & Shine and be sure to grab a doughnut to go. Yum.
Casa Mexico – Perhaps the best Mexican Restaurant I’ve been to in all of Colorado, you don’t have to settle for a burrito here. The options include several specialty dishes and shots of tummy tempting tequila from a goat’s hoof.
DaVinci’s – If you are looking for something a little less casual be sure to visit Da Vinci’s. The dining room, wrapped with large windows, adds a fantastic view while the kitchen serves up fresh pasta and tasty gourmet delights.
There are several options for lodging in Winter Park as one would expect of any mountain resort town with good availability and great prices during the summer months.
Winter Park Lodging Company – Choose the size, location, and amenities, several options are available for rental. Clean, cozy, and convenient, they even have an app for check-in and check-out with all the info you could need right at your fingertips!
Camping and Yurts – If you haven’t camped in the mountains of Colorado you are in for a treat! But be sure to pack some extra layers and nice cozy sleeping bag. Nights get chilly at 9,000 ft!
By Sarai “I love downhill” Snyder – Boulder, CO