I consider myself a capable biker, whether I’m cruising city paths or cross-country mountain trails. So I was eager to push the limits during my first attempt at downhill mountain biking—a sport that’s more X Games action than rolling hills. A few hours into my lesson at Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park, which opened in 2007, I’m ready to tackle something more difficult than the straightforward root- and rock-covered tracks. That’s when my instructor, Bob Barnes, points to an eight-foot-tall, U-shape feature. Similar to the corner turns on a roller coaster, the wooden planks swoop up off the ground and around; I’d enter on one leg of the “U,” and as I hit the curve, I’d have to ride sideways, almost parallel to the ground, counting on gravity and speed to get me safely to the other side. In other words: exactly the challenge I was looking for.
To spring-load my start, I hike my bike back up the trail about 100 feet, take my hand off the brake, and let it fly. But my speed picks up a bit too quickly, and instead of coasting around the curve like I’m supposed to, I shoot straight up, completely missing the turn. I stop abruptly, my front wheel precariously balanced at the edge of the planks, which, thankfully, keeps me from flying over the structure. After regaining my composure, I manage to inch my way down, shaken but otherwise fine.
Despite the scare, I can see the appeal of downhill. Traditional mountain biking demands a grueling, upward grind before the payoff. But the sport’s speed maniacs have found a way to fast-forward to the fun part: Take a chairlift up, and enjoy the breeze while gravity helps you out on the course. Winter Park is one of the first resorts to offer lift-accessed mountain biking—and Trestle is the country’s largest bike park program. Take a lesson and you’ll spend the morning navigating more than 40 miles of mountain trails, obstacles included. The course is manageable for any level: Almost everything can be bypassed via a side trail or ridden over rather than jumped.
For a thrill-seeker like me, there are few things more exciting than standing at the top of a mountain knowing there is only one way down. So when Barnes asks me if I want to call it a day after my less-than-successful first attempt at the “U,” I grab my beefy two-wheeler and trek back up to the starting point. With a better grasp on the brake this time, I can feel my tires grip the upslope of the wood, and I whip around the planks, making it to the other side flawlessly. It’s all downhill after that.
If You Go
If you don’t have a downhill-specific mountain bike, rent one—along with a full safety getup: full-face helmet, chest protector, and shin and elbow guards. Bring your own gloves.
Be in control, but let the bike do the work. Instead of clenching the frame between your knees, let the bike move freely to better absorb the bumps, rocks, and curves. Ease into the brakes as you ride banks and turns.
June 16 through September 23
$89 (2.5-hour lesson) to $199 (private full-day lesson) with bike rental. We suggest the $99 Trestle 200 package (3.5-hour lesson, lift ticket, and bike and gear rental)
The Colorado Freeride Festival (July 26 to 29) in Winter Park pits the world’s best mountain bikers against each other in different disciplines—including pond skimming. Bonus: It’s free.
Take I-70 west to Exit 232 (U.S. 40/Empire/Granby). Drive over Berthoud Pass and park at Winter Park Village.