Wheel Deal

Why the Roaring Fork Valley Is Considered Colorado's Top Cycling Spot

New trails, a huge bike park addition, and the start of a pro stage race highlight this summer.

By Allison Pattillo July 2, 2020 Published in the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

With the 42-mile-long, paved Rio Grande Trail running from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, mountain biking trails in every community along the way, cycling clubs, and a robust racing scene, those of us who live in the Roaring Fork Valley know this is a great place for two-wheeled freedom. This summer, it’s even better, with a new trail network in Coal Basin and a massive expansion of Crown Mountain’s bike park, plus—fingers crossed—a stage of the Colorado Classic women’s pro race. It’s no wonder that the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) designated the valley as Colorado’s first Gold-Level Ride Center earlier this year.

The Gold Standard
In 2014, Aspen, Snowmass, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley was recognized as an IMBA Bronze-Level Ride Center. The feedback from IMBA assessors then served as a guide to create an even richer valley-wide cycling experience, so that when the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA) applied for a review in 2018, the goal was to earn silver, says RFMBA Executive Director Mike Pritchard. In January, however, Pritchard was notified that the community’s hard work, which included many partners throughout the valley, paid off with a gold-level designation, one of only seven such ride centers worldwide.

“There’s a lot that adds up to get to gold level,” he says, “including having a wide range of trails, community support, and amenities. A lot of those things are the same features that make someplace desirable to live.”

Desirable and generous, too. Local groups amassed more than 15,000 volunteer hours in trail maintenance and other projects last year, meaning that our more-than-300 miles of local trails are primed to ride.

Saddle Up
Thanks to cousins Sam and Tom Walton (i.e., of the Walmart family), the former Mid-Continent Resources mine near Redstone now has some four-and-a-half miles of family-centric, progressive mountain bike trails, known as the Coal Basin Mountain Bike Ranch. With construction funded by the Waltons on their private land, the free trail system (find a map at rfmba.org), slated to open late summer, marks a new chapter in the storied history of the property while also using education and recreation to advance restoration.

“People have been riding in Coal Basin for years, ever since the mine shut down,” says Lee Bowers, property and project manager of the facility. “Now we have a purpose-built trail that demonstrates how proper design and construction can actually help control erosion.”
The machine-built trails have been carefully routed to mitigate drainage and erosion hot spots. Work has also been done to improve soil conditions and promote growth for stream health in the area.

An easement granted to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails allows public access to the ranch, where options range from a beginner push-bike trail to an advanced jump line. Eventually, Roaring Fork Cycling will offer educational programming that not only teaches young riders technical skills but also how to handle their bikes around equestrians, wildlife, pedestrians, and other cyclists, so they can act responsibly and be good stewards, says Bowers.

Crowning Moment
Building off the success of its popular BMX track, Crown Mountain Bike Park has grown this summer, opening an asphalt pump track, airbag and mulch jumps, a half dozen jump lines, and a skills progression course. A $168,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado helped fund the expansion.

“Biking and hiking as passive recreation are part of our existing Planned Unit Development. This is adding to it with progressive features, which is something that was missing in the valley,” says Rebecca Wagner, executive director of Crown Mountain Park.

The pump track includes two symmetrical loops, allowing riders to chart their own course and explore different features. Why asphalt? It’s low maintenance and provides a consistent surface for beginners, says Wagner.

Cyclists will have to get certified through a clinic to use the airbag, but the mulch jump—which provides a soft landing in organic material—is open to all. These two practice features sit adjacent to six new dirt jump lines, which range from beginner to expert.

Riders can expect slanted walls, drop-offs, rock features, and balance-testing obstacles in the skills course, with the goal of prepping them to tackle more challenging trails in the valley. “It’s pretty new and unique,” says Crown Mountain’s Parks Manager, Nate Grinzinger, of the 1.5-mile route. “It serves a full progression of riding from green to black.”

Another amenity not as common to bike parks: landscaping and shade structures. “We tried to make it inviting for parents who just want to hang out while their kids are biking,” says Wagner.

The final result complements the valley’s new gold ranking. Says Wagner, “We researched 24 different bike parks in Colorado. We wanted the ability to make this the best one in the state, if not the country.”

Women Out Front
Founded in 2017 with races for both men and women, the Colorado Classic in 2019 shifted to become North America’s only standalone professional stage road bike race for women. This year, it comes to the Roaring Fork Valley for the first time, as the four-day race is scheduled to kick off in Snowmass Village on August 27.

Because of Covid restrictions on large spectator gatherings, this year’s race will emphasize its livestream broadcast, which includes start-to-finish coverage as well as guest commentary, Zoom watch parties, and behind-the-scenes footage.

In addition to being a premier cycling event, Colorado Classic’s mission also includes inspiring future generations of cyclists and seeking fresh solutions to funding, technology, and more in women’s athletics.

“Being a women-specific bike race, this is unlike anything we’ve ever hosted, but even more so because the Colorado Classic is more than a race,” says Julie Hardman, special events manager for Snowmass Village. Original plans to have the athletes engage with community businesses and youth organizations in ways that reflect the event’s mission are being shifted to virtual interactions.

From Snowmass, the race continues on to Avon and Boulder before finishing in Denver.

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