Whether you’re new to the sport or already rocking a full-suspension set-up, Aspen Snowmass is the perfect place to jump on a mountain bike. From cross-country trails to gnarly downhill courses to simple routes to ride to grab lunch, there’s something for everyone. Recently rated one of the top 20 mountain bike towns in the United States, Aspen is continually progressing the offerings for those looking to explore on two wheels.Furthermore, the Roaring Fork Valley was recently deemed a Gold Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) for its accessibility and quality of mountain bike trails for riders of all ability.
The Snowmass Bike Park has the downhill trails you’re looking for ranging from a skills park for those who are brand new to the sport to expert trails of Valhalla for the experienced riders. Simply take the Elk Camp Gondola to the top — the helpful lift operators will make sure your bike gets to the top with you — and it’s a choose your own adventure playground from there.
The skills park will help you understand some of the terms and skills you’ll hear and need out on the downhill trails. You’ll start with some berms, bridges and rollers — which are the gateway to jumps — and start to work your riding and pedaling into a flow. There are also incredibly patient and super knowledgeable bike pros and teaching staff to help you pedal through a private lesson or group clinic to get you started.
From the skills park, work your way up to the Verde beginner flow trail. Three and a half miles of easy, flowing single track through beautiful aspen trees will help you build confidence. Once that feels conquered, the Viking trail is the blue square of downhill mountain biking. You’ll start to see bigger rollers, a few bridges and tighter corners. This almost three-mile trail will work you up to the biggest and baddest of them all — the crown in the Snowmass Bike Park cap — Valhalla. The black-diamond trail is 1,400 vertical feet winding through evergreen forests interspersed with wall rides, mandatory drops, table tops and more.
If you’re truly looking to put your skills to the test, you can keep going up past the top of Elk Camp gondola by putting your bike on the Elk Camp lift and reaching the top of the Vapor Trail. This 1,400 vertical foot trail is rated intermediate to advanced and with its higher elevation, you’ll see some different high-alpine trail surfaces like shale and rocks. At the bottom of Vapor, you can connect to the top of Valhalla — or any of the other lower mountain trails — for a full 2,800 vertical foot descent of Snowmass.
Miles and miles of cross country trails ascend, descend and interconnect up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, but some are time-honored and considered a rite of passage to mountain biking in the valley.
The Hunter Creek Valley trail system is one of the most iconic in the town of Aspen and generally starts with a burner right off the bat. Smuggler Mountain starts in town and is one of the most popular hiking trails all year round. It’s one and a half miles to the overlook with an 800-vertical foot gain — fairly steep and a relentless on a bike. But once at the overlook, the sky is the limit. Roots and rocks and technical riding — not for the faint of heart or true mountain biking beginners — abound on BTS, Lollipop, Tootsie Roll, Iowa Shaft, and 10th Mountain. These are all interconnected trails that can be looped together and will wind and climb and eventually drop you in the Hunter Valley.
From here you can call it a day and take the Hunter Creek Trail back down into town or you can keep climbing and exploring by finding Hummingbird, Four Corners, Hobbit, Sunnyside and other trails that will eventually put you back near town depending on which route you take. Aspentrailfinder.com is a great resource for maps with distances and elevations, as well as The Mountain Bike Project. Be sure to pack lots of snacks and water for some of these Hunter Valley expeditions.
A relatively new addition to the cross country circuit in Aspen is Sky Mountain Park. Located directly southwest of the airport, Sky Mountain — easily discernible by the rotating radar tower that sits at the top — boasts 15 miles of single track that can be looped together to suit all ability levels and distance needs. Airline, Cozyline and Viewline will all get you near the summit with spectacular views ranging from Buttermilk to Snowmass. Deadline is a flowing downhill trail with super fun berms and table tops. Skyline provides a connection from the top of Airline and Cozyline to the top of Deadline but don’t think of it as a simple “in between”, the views from Skyline will make you stop to catch your breath from more than just the pedaling. Sky Mountain trails are all well marked and perfect for beginner / intermediate riders looking to improve their skills. Sky Mountain also provides a great way to connect Aspen riders to the trails of Snowmass. Tom Blake starts at the bottom of Highline and is one of the most beautiful trails in the valley. Aspen trees surround you as you make your way to either Government trail and Buttermilk beyond which will lead back toward Aspen, or through Snowmass Village and on to South Rim, North Rim and Seven Star. Again, aspentrailfinder.com provides great maps with difficulty designations and mileage.
For those thinking all of the above might prove too much for a leisurely vacation, there are plenty of bike paths both dirt and paved that allow you to log some miles with less sweat and more smiles. Altitude can be a factor when exercising at a strenuous level, so starting your bike adventures with more mellow bike paths could help set the tone and allow you to work up to more challenging trails.
The East of Aspen trail is a three-mile dirt trail that parallels the Roaring Fork River when it’s the most calm, at Northstar nature preserve. This trail is popular with bird watchers, runners and bikers. It is slightly uphill heading east— around 200 vertical feet — and ends at Difficult Campground. It’s absolutely beautiful in the morning and worth taking the few diversion trails to the river to listen to the running water and watch for wildlife.
The Rio Grande Trail starts at Herron Park in town and can take you all the way to Glenwood Springs. It’s partially paved, partially dirt and all beautiful. It parallels the river as well going west of town and provides the route to one of the most beloved eating establishments in the Aspen area — The Woody Creek Tavern, Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite hang out. Eight and a half miles will get you to some of the best fish tacos and margaritas in the valley.
No matter which type of riding best suits your time in Aspen, make sure to balance the exercise with the sights. Being in nature is one of the best parts about Aspen and you’ll be amazed how much more of it you can see once you start pedaling.
The customizable features on a mountain bike are endless. Various components, frame materials and suspension combinations make creating the bike that is perfect for you a complicated process. We recommend figuring out just what you’re looking for by renting and demoing a few bikes before you pull the trigger on a purchase. Luckily, many ski shops in Aspen turn into bike shops in the summer and will be able to help you get as close to custom as you can to start adventuring.
Four Mountain Sports is a great place to start as there are multiple locations between Aspen and Snowmass. The gear experts at Four Mountain can get you set up on either a cross country bike, downhill bike, cruiser bike, or road bike depending on what you’re looking to do. They have plenty of kids rentals too, so the whole family can enjoy. And once you’re done out on the trails, you can trade your mountain bike in for a cruiser bike to go find beer and food that you’ve worked so hard for!
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.
Want to learn more about the Aspen Snowmass trail systems, including upcoming trail volunteer opportunities? Visit RFMBA.org to become a part of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association's mission to create and sustain the best possible mountain bike trail system and experiences in the Roaring Fork Valley.
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