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Is Winter Park Colorado’s Next Mountain-Biking Mecca?

You don't have to travel to Durango to find great biking—a visit to Winter Park will yield rides just as gnarly.

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You’ve probably seen videos of Kamikaze-like mountain bikers soaring over jumps and cliffs. While entertaining, these videos rarely explain how a mere mortal progresses to that level of gnarliness without fracturing his or her skull.

Progression is the focus of Winter Park’s mountain bike trail network, which now includes 600 miles of trails through the Fraser Valley and two chairlift-supported downhill bike parks. The region’s off-road philosophy is to help newbies progress into intermediates, then advanced riders, and finally adrenaline-junkie experts.

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“Our vision is to become the premier mountain bike destination in North America,” says Steve Hurlbert, communications director of Winter Park Resort.

It’s a lofty goal for the park, which has yet to attract a portion of the international reputation held by Colorado’s three mountain-biking meccas: Crested Butte, Fruita, and Durango. But the walk-before-you-run method—along with the fact that town’s only 65 miles from Denver, which makes it ideal for long day trips and last-minute adventures—may help Winter Park become the go-to destination for Front Range locals.

The Fraser Valley’s extensive trail network is the byproduct of a healthy relationship between the National Forest Service, private landowners, and the local Headwaters Trails Alliance, which oversees trail maintenance. In recent years, the groups have worked together to connect many of the best-known trail networks directly to town.

“You have the ability to hit all of the major networks without a car,” says Keith Sanders, a member of the local trail-building group Grand Mountain Bike Alliance. “We’ve built it so you can shoot right out of town and be on an epic journey or a short lunch loop.”

Winter Park Resort’s investment in mountain biking infrastructure has also helped. The resort’s Trestle Bike Park, which opened in 2008, has become one of the best-known freeride and downhill parks in the U.S. The resort has steadily invested more than $1.2 million into the park’s infrastructure, which includes 40 miles of trails, as well as jaw-dropping jumps and wooden ramps. It even accommodates riders who left their bikes at home, with a fleet of 300 rental downhill bikes—one of the largest in the country. And Trestle is a regular host to downhill events, including the Colorado Freeride Festival, which will host the country’s top riders from July 23 to 26.

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While adrenaline junkies will be hard-pressed to find more challenging rides in the state, Winter Park is staying true to its philosophy of inclusion by building a swath of beginner and intermediate trails at Trestle, such as the bumpy Long Trail and smooth Green World. The easy Little Vazquez trail even takes riders on a mellow ride into town. This spring, Trestle opened its Green Hornet beginner area, which features trails for kids. The resort is also planning a major expansion on the resort’s Vazquez Ridge, which will open up additional intermediate trails.

With all these improvements, and more on the way, it’s only a matter of time until Winter Park becomes a destination for mountain bikers of all levels—gnarliness included.


Three Great Winter Park Rides to Try Now

For the newbie — Givelo/Northwest Trail: The flat 5-mile out-and-back is perfect for new riders looking to graduate from dirt roads to singletrack. From downtown Fraser, ride 1 mile west on CR 73 to the Givelo trailhead at the John Work Arena rodeo grounds. Ride west along CR 73 until the trail hits the Northwest Passage trailhead, where you turn right and ride until the end at CR 50. Retrace your route.

For the intermediate — Serenity/Blue Sky: Aspiring racers will love this 7.2-mile loop that climbs into the Winter Park Resort trail network and finishes in town. From downtown Winter Park, the loop climbs along the Fraser River into Winter Park Resort, and then proceeds onto the Long, Serenity, Lower Cherokee, Tracks, Little Vazquez, and Blue Sky trails.

For the experienced rider — Buck Creek/Broken Thumb Loop: This 17-mile loop soars 2,100 feet into the mountains east of town and contains steep climbs and rocky, punishing descents. From downtown Winter Park, ride uphill along the Fraser River bike path and turn left into the Lakota subdivision. The Arrow trail leads you to forest service road 128, which takes you to Buck Creek Road, where you take a left. After climbing the road, turn onto the Broken Thumb Trail. Another option is to climb Rogers Pass Trail to the top of Rollins Pass, and take a look down into the Denver/Boulder metro area.

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