If you grew up in the United States—or anywhere in the world for that matter—odds are good summertime often equaled bike riding. In Aspen, just because you reach adulthood doesn’t mean this stops being true! In fact, the advent of spring and summer in Aspen means there are multiple options for cycling.
From downhill mountain biking to cruiser bikes and everything in between, there’s a way to get even the most skeptical former bike riders out in the saddle again.
Update: We are thrilled to share that the Roaring Fork Valley was recently awarded Gold-Level Ride Center Status by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), which is only accredited to the world's best destinations for mountain bikers of all abilities. Learn more about this award.
For the adrenaline junkies out there, downhill mountain biking could be your calling. Snowmass has multiple trails and configurations for those looking to bypass the grind of biking uphill and want to take a chairlift up to simply enjoy the ride down.
Downhill specific bikes tend to have a more forgiving and wider ranging suspension system making it easier and more pleasant to go fast while going down and be able to go over roots, bumps, and other impediments. The geometry of downhill bikes makes it easier to get in an aggressive downhill position and react more quickly to turns, curves, and jumps. This doesn’t mean a traditional mountain bike won’t work, but if you’re looking to rent something specifically designed for downhill biking, that can easily be arranged by the bike staff at Four Mountain Sports at Snowmass.
And while hitting jumps and other man-mad features may eventually be factored into your downhill repertoire, that doesn’t man they have to be there from the start. Like ski runs, downhill bike trails are labeled blue circle through black diamond with many variations in between making knowing where to start and where to progress easy.
Downhill mountain biking lives at Snowmass. Lift-service downhill biking is made possible via the Elk Mountain chairlift that whisks cyclists up 3,000 vertical feet with endless options of how to get down. There is a skills park at the top of the lift giving beginners an opportunity to get comfortable on their bikes before working up the nerve to descend. The next step is to try your chops on the Verde trail—a beginner flow trail. Work your way up via Viking and Vapor to the Mac Daddy of them all—Valhalla.
Four Mountain Sports on the Snowmass Mall is your best bet for downhill and freeride oriented rentals. They have a large range of various bikes from beginner specific to practically pro. They can also tune bikes that need a little love after a winter in storage.
Cross-Country Mountain Biking
Cross-Country Mountain Biking
Different than it’s sister genre of downhill, cross-country mountain biking will make you earn your descents. While this makes for some harder days for the ol’ heart-rate monitor, it also opens up the places you can go. The cross-country trail network is a great way to link Snowmass and Aspen and the other ski resorts in between. The hand-built trails run all through the valley and up into the mountains making views unparalleled and the amount of miles you want to ride unlimited.
Mountain bikes with dual suspension work best for the riding around Aspen. Locking out the suspension for more stiffness and efficiency going up then unlocking to enjoy the soft suspension while traveling down will be what you see experienced riders doing.
Rental bikes of the cross country variety can again be found at Four Mountain Sports at Snowmass Village Mall, Aspen, and Aspen Highlands locations.
The amount of trails in and around Aspen Snowmass are many and varied with pros and cons to all. The best way to get a feel for where trails start, end, and what degrees of difficulty you’ll be encountering is to get the Mountain Bike Project app. Download the app and then come back here to look at what we recommend in Aspen.
We’ll go east to west:
Hunter Creek ValleyStarting with the slog of riding up Smuggler Mountain—the popular hiking trail—will allow you to access a network of technical trails like BTS, Lollipop, Tootsie Roll, Hummingbird, Four Corners, Sunnyside, and more. The Hunter Creek Valley is beautiful with a gentle flowing river and lots of options to keep going on your ride, or turn around when fatigue starts to overtake fun.
ButtermilkAgain, heading up will be a slog. The fire road that takes bikers, hikers and trucks alike is a grind. But once again, it’s worth the reward. The descent consists of West Buttermilk trail which criss-crosses ski runs until it links with the bottom portion of Government Trail.
This is a great ride for those looking to get a workout in and have some fun riding down on something not too technical.
Sky Mountain ParkA relatively new network of trails in the valley, these trails are fun and on the easier side. They’re located directly behind the airport and are a great link between Aspen and Snowmass. The Aspen side starts in the Buttermilk parking lot with a quick pedal to the trailhead and Airline Trail. The top of Airline lets you choose a few various ways to continue including Cozyline and Skyline which leads to Deadline and Highline.
SnowmassWeaving in and out of the Snowmass downhill trails are some of the best cross country trails in the valley. Expresso, Silver Star, Rim Trail, Tom Blake, and Government are just a few of the many options a rider has to traverse not only Snowmass but all of Aspen.
The mountain biking in Aspen may get a lot of the attention in Aspen, but the road biking roots here run deep, as well. Many professional cyclists live or have lived in Aspen and even more visit on a regular basis. The high-altitude climbs make for a great training ground and the beautiful scenery is an ideal backdrop. While climbs are a part of cycling here, there are many routes that avoid the most strenuous and popular climbs.
Renting a road bike is a pretty straight forward business. You’ll want skinny tires and drop handle bars, but aside from that, anyone at Four Mountain Sports will be able to get you set up with the right machine to let you dominate the roads and paved trails.
Paved bike paths can be found up and down a good portion of the valley.
The Rio Grande Trail is 42 miles of continuous-use trails that starts in Herron Park in downtown Aspen and goes to Glenwood Springs. Cyclists who opt for the Rio Grande can go west and east at leisure, but know that as the trail goes west toward Glenwood Springs it’s slightly downhill, making the way back to Aspen slightly uphill.
Other paved bike trails include Owl Creek to Snowmass, the ABC Trail to the airport, and the High School Trail to Aspen High School and Aspen Highlands.
Popular road bike routes that utilize roads include Castle Creek Road to the Ashcroft Ghost Town and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, Maroon Creek Road to the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake, and Highway 82 up Independence Pass to 12,000 feet and the top of the Continental Divide.
Step out in town during the summer and you’ll see bike racks everywhere filled with town bikes and more than a few people using town bikes as their primary mode of transportation for everything from grocery shopping to bar hopping. Some town bikes have gears, others don’t, so be sure to rentwhat makes you more comfortable depending on where you’re going. If you are going to stay within the few blocks of town, you’ll be fine with something with either no gears or very few. But if you’re going to explore out of town on some of the nearer paved paths, getting a range of gears will be helpful in getting up and down some short, mild hills.
Taking a few laps around town on a beautiful summer evening, stopping for ice cream at Paradise, listening to Aspen Music School students, and watching the sunset from Smuggler Park make for a pretty perfect evening.
So does catching a concert at the Benedict Music Tent, listening to the river at John Denver Park, or throwing a frisbee at Wagner Park. All of these locations are accessible via walking, but there’s something magical about feeling the wind in your hair from a saddle.
Another option to help you feel like a kid again is joining the group Tuesday Cruiseday ride every Tuesday evening in the summer that leaves from Aspen Tap. The cruiser ride stops at three different parks and often draws groups of more than 100 people. There is a Facebook page with more information on when and where the ride meets.
Electronic bikes are surging in popularity lately all over the country and here in Aspen. E-bikes are great for those who want to go further and see more but are limited by lung capacity in the altitude. Pedal assist allows cyclists to get as much help with pedaling from their bike as energy exerted. The more force put into pedaling, the more help the motor will give. And once you’re ready to give it a go all on your own, pedal assist can be turned off for a greater workout.
As of May 2018, e-bikes are allowed on the Rio Grande, Owl Creek, Brush Creek, Crystal, Aspen Mass, Basalt Old Snowmass, Emma, Lazy Glen, and East of Aspen trails after the county repealed a nine-month moratorium. Some of these are paved, others dirt, but none are single track. Those are left to human-powered cross country and downhill mountain bikes.
E-bikes are also great for commuting from slightly outside of town to Aspen. Guests and locals who might be staying out in Cemetery Lane, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, Mountain Valley, or Red Mountain can use e-bikes to quickly and easily get into town with out having to exert the full human power these distances require.
NICOLE BIRKHOLDWith nothing but a pair of skis and a journalism degree from Michigan State University, Nicole headed west looking for mountains, snow, and someone to pay her to put words to paper. She found the writing gig in Freeskier Magazine for ten years, but needed to be closer to the mountains to she packed it up and came to Aspen where she still crafts words but with more time on the snow.