U .S. 40. Call it the nation’s gateway to gravity riding.
The 100-mile stretch of U.S. 40 from Winter Park to Granby Ranch to Steamboat Springs hosts three of the nation’s best and most progressive bike parks, with chairlifts servicing more than 120 miles of meandering singletrack and expert downhill trails.
“It’s cool to see these Colorado resorts funding bike parks because it really is an economically feasible way to keep chairs running all summer,” Steamboat downhiller Cory Prager, who has worked with his local ski area to develop a growing collection of gravity-specific trails, with massive features that are drawing hordes of armor-clad riders, said in 2012. “I think the park is helping Steamboat become a cycling destination. Now we have something for everyone who rides.”
For decades, resorts have intermittently and often halfheartedly fostered a stable of singletrack. But in the last half-dozen years the Winter Park, Granby Ranch and Steamboat ski areas have upped the game, with major investments in sprawling bike parks. The trio is on the front end of a summer-focused push at ski resorts — fueled by legislation meant to grow year-round business at ski areas on public land. Summer months at the resort base villages bustle with full-face helmeted kids in dusty shoulder-to-ankle pads pushing hefty rides with 9 inches of suspension. It’s a youthful, vibrant tribe — and the home hive thrives along U.S. 40.
The queen bee of U.S. gravity riding arguably calls Winter Park home. The resort’s Trestle Bike Park is one of the fastest-growing parks in the country. It uses three lifts that climb 1,800 vertical feet and service 40 miles of trails riddled with jumps. The Rainmaker trail boasts 80 jumps, with elevated wooden corridors through the canopy, and terrifying drops.
“Be All You Can Be” is a 15-foot plummet off a wooden ramp that juts like a diving board over ruin-your-day rocks.
“Well, it’s man-up day, right?” said Mike Taras, expert rider and Trestle Bike Shop mechanic, as he surveyed the drop before he greased it.
Rewarding the experts while luring beginners is a delicate dance for ski-area bike trail designers. Resorts catering to first-timers offer affordable nibbles, with downhill lessons and rental gear at why-not prices, such as $69 for two hours at Granby Ranch.
At the Trestle opening in 2012, Winter Park doubled its largest opening day ever — with students in the Trestle 101 class easily mingling with eager experts.
“It’s the full gamut over here,” said Bob Holme, the Trestle Bike Park manager. “A lot of people stoked on bikes. It’s a little mix of everything.”
That mix is the key to resort success. And it’s a mingling perfected at Granby Ranch, home to the former SolVista Bike Park that hosted the 2009 and 2010 USA Cycling Downhill National Championships. The private ski area has more than 5,000 acres of aspen glades and meadows along the Fraser River and more than 40 miles of cross-country trails. Rolling singletrack is accessible from the chairlift or via a manageable 1,100 vertical-foot climb. That’s on top of the resort’s top-shelf collection of 12 downhill trails, which are rawer than Winter Park’s and Steamboat’s manicured trails with a specific European World Cup circuit feel.
While Winter Park and Steamboat’s expert-only routes tend to include smooth trails, man-made ramps and technical drops, Granby Ranch’s “technical” is more natural, with sections of barely navigable boulders and 30-foot, must-make gaps jumps. The “expert” trails at Granby Ranch are tailored for the world’s best downhill mountain bikers, meaning mere mortals will likely curse every turn.
“We are one of the most technical in the country, that’s for sure,” said Adam LaRochelle, head of the six-rider Team Granby Ranch downhill team, in a 2012 interview. “We are trying to make this a very progressive park that appeals to beginners but keeps the pros happy.”