“Whoa!” I heard the skidding of bike wheels on dirt and saw four riders come to abrupt halts on the trail above me, just before a sharp switchback that my daughter and two other riders had decided to walk.

It was the first ride at Snowmass Bike Park for three of us — my 9-year-old daughter, her friend, and that girl’s mom. With me as the leader, our group had decided — perhaps unwisely — to try French Press, a freeride bike trail considered intermediate but that attracts a lot of really good, and fast, local riders. Although we’d been leading up that ride for weeks, practicing downhill skills like cornering and even jumping on other area trails, I thought in that moment that maybe these 9-year-olds were in over their heads.

Nodody else did. Nearly two hours later when we finally made it to the bottom of the 4.5-mile trail, the girls were bright-eyed and exhilarated, proud of what they’d accomplished and downhill bike converts through and through. The other riders we encountered — or rather, who passed us — were polite and encouraging (even the four mentioned above who had to make rather abrupt stops), giving us ample time to pull over to a safe place and often shouting confidence-boosting messages to the girls as they rode by. That not only assuaged my motherly guilt about putting my child in a risky scenario, but also proved to me that the Snowmass Bike Park can be a really fun and relatively safe place to ride — as long as everyone’s following safety protocols.
With guidance from Kevin Jordan, Snowmass Bike School manager, and the Mountain Bikers Responsibility Code, here are five important things to consider to ride safely in Snowmass Bike Park:

Stay in control and know your limits

Riding within your ability level is key to both your safety and enjoyment of bike park trails. Remember that unlike ski slopes, which many Snowmass visitors are familiar with, a bike trail is a lot narrower, with not a lot of room for error. “You have to go the way the trail wants you to go,” notes Jordan.
How to Ride Safely at Snowmass Bike Park
How to Ride Safely at Snowmass Bike Park

Gear up properly

Bike park trails are not the place to bring that 20-year-old hardtail you’ve been riding only on pavement. If you don’t have a mountain bike with adequate shocks, tires, and brakes to handle a bumpy, narrow trail at fast speeds, treat yourself to a rental downhill bike — you’ll enjoy the ride much more! Jordan and his team also recommend protective gear — a full-face helmet, gloves, and padding for knees, shins, elbows, and shoulders — which can make a fall much less painful.

Practice safe progression

There’s nothing more thrilling than landing that first jump or smoothly riding a difficult freeride trail for the first time. The key to safe progression is to practice those next-level skills first — before going full throttle down black-diamond Valhalla. Start in the skills park, located near the turn station of the Elk Camp gondola, where you can lap features ranging from easy to difficult including banked turns, jumps, a narrow bridge, and a tabletop. Take those skills to a transition trail like Valkyrie first, then when you hit Valhalla for the first time, make it an inspection run by rolling the jumps and generally getting the lay of the land — and best to do so outside of busy times.
How to Ride Safely at Snowmass Bike Park
How to Ride Safely at Snowmass Bike Park

Consider some coaching

“People think, how hard can it be? It’s just riding a bike,” says Jordan, who adds that that notion is only half right. Snowmass Bike School offers a variety of clinics and private coaching to help riders just getting into downhill mountain biking or wanting to progress. A coach will teach you how and when to stand on your bike, descending skills, and the fine art of braking — among other lessons unique to downhill biking.

Be aware and yield to others

Remember that numerous riders of varying speeds and skill levels can be sharing the same narrow trail at any given time. The downhill rider does have the right of way, but it can be unnerving to know someone is close on your tail for any length of time. Listen for riders that might come up behind you, who should give a polite verbal warning, and wait until there’s a safe place to pull off. There are many pullouts along Bike Park trails, and road crossings are always good places to stop on the side, take a breather and regroup.

About the Author

Catherine Lutz
Catherine Lutz

CATHERINE LUTZ

Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer and editor who helps craft stories and content for the Aspen Institute, Aspen Sojourner magazine, Powder magazine, and many others. An avid skier, paddleboarder, and mountain biker, she’s now vicariously experiencing a second childhood through her two young children in one of the best places on the planet to raise a family.

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