If you asked any mountain biker what they believe the best bike park in the world is, most would say the same thing: Whistler. While Colorado easily sits in the top three states for mountain biking in the U.S., and has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, bike parks in the States generally don’t receive the same recognition. In fact, if you Googled “best bike parks in the world,” there’s a Red Bull article at the top of the page without a single U.S. bike park on the list.
Considering the mega-corporations which own resorts and the amount of money generated in the summer versus winter, lift-served bike trails have and will likely continue to play second fiddle to winter sports.
But mountain bike parks continue to grow, whether it’s ski resorts adding bike trails for the first time ever, like Granite Gorge in New Hampshire, or mountain resorts that plan to vastly expand their existing network, like Copper mountain.
I’ve been mountain biking since 2012 and riding Colorado’s bike parks just as long. After spending time at Trestle, Keystone, Granby, Vail, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Powderhorn, Breckenridge, and Copper–all of which have lift-served trails to one extent or another–I visited the IMBA Gold Ride Center of Aspen (the only Gold Center in the state) and the Snowmass Bike Park for the first time this summer. In full transparency, Snowmass did cover our lodging, food, and lift tickets, but did not give us any editorial requirements.
Here’s why Snowmass Bike Park now tops my list for gravity riding in the state.
The trails: endless flow, air, and tech
You can’t have a lift-served bike park without trails, so what is special about Snowmass Bike Park? The trails factor into this equation a number of ways. First, Snowmass has over 25 miles of bike-optimized, lift-served trails, plus an abundance of trails just outside the park’s boundaries. It’s a short connector over to the west side of the mountain to access natural trails like Government West, or the plungey, old-school tech trail Banzai Downhill. Head east and you’ll find the pedally Tom Blake trail and Government.
The Snowmass Bike Park is broken up into two sections. Starting at the base, you can take the Elk Camp Gondola halfway up the mountain and access the lower half, complete with everything from beginner to advanced trails. Then, hop on the Elk Camp Lift and reach Elk Camp at over 11,000 feet, and find another set of trails to ride. These are still progressive and attainable for some beginners, especially French Press, if you’re alright with a little speed. The trail can be fast in some parts, but it’s mostly a berm trail, without mandatory air time.
The Elk Camp Lift also provides access to two of the most advanced trails at Snowmass: Animal Crackers, a trail built for the 2018 Enduro World Series and one that tests the most advanced riders around, and Cowboy Coffee, which sits a step below Animal Crackers on Snowmass’s trail progression scale.
On the lower side of the mountain, you’ll find buttery jump trails like Valkyrie, Viking and Valhalla winding through aspen groves. They’re some of the best shaped jump and flow lines in Colorado, complementing natural trails like Gargamel and Battle Axe, tucked away under the trees, falling through waterfalls of dust, rocks, and stumps.
Having the right types of trails to suit all riders is not something a lot of bike parks do as well as Snowmass. Trestle at Winter Park has grown significantly in the past ten years, but has added primarily flow or jump trails. Across I-70 at Keystone Bike Park, it feels much the opposite as trail development has been quiet, leaving a bounty of rough and tumble DH trails.
It’s a hard act to balance for bike parks, even Snowmass. Flow trails are a gateway for new mountain bikers to explore the sport, and jump and technical trails often have two very different types of fans. But there’s enough variety to keep you rolling your bike onto the lift tray all day. I’m someone who starts to feel numb to flow and jump trails after a few hours, and the slow(er) speed tech trails keep me engaged.
Lastly, the amount of vertical at Snowmass is impressive, reaching close to 3,000ft from the top of the Elk Camp chair lift to the base of Snowmass Village. On Tuesdays, the lifts run until 7:30 p.m., later than any others in the state. Grab dinner at Elk Camp Lodge between both lifts and keep riding until you can’t feel your fingertips.
I haven’t visited a Colorado mountain town that isn’t uniquely pretty, and Aspen and Snowmass Village are in a class of their own. Whether you’re driving into town from I-70 and Glenwood Springs and are flanked by mountains in the Roaring Fork Valley or come from Leadville, up and over 12,095ft Independence Pass and down through the canyon, the scenery stuns.
On our first ride in Snowmass, we parked at Buttermilk and took RFTA public buses with our bikes up to Snowmass Village to ride the Tom Blake trail over to the Government trail and back to Buttermilk. Crested Butte, Snowmass, Breckenridge all have amazing aspen groves, but I quickly realized why this town jumped at the name. The groves are enormous and plentiful.
Valkyrie and Valhalla are spectacular trails, but half the fun for me was speeding through thickets of the skinny, white trunks.
The Government trail also has a handful of vistas overlooking the valley and shaded forests perfect for riding on a hot day. Plus, this is a great trail if you want a great descent and don’t want to buy a lift ticket.
But… if you do buy a lift ticket, ride up to the top of Elk Camp for a ridiculous view of Maroon Bells and the Elk Mountains.
Aspen is one of only three Stateside locations to ever hold a world-level enduro race, both in 2016 and 2017. Regional enduro organizers like the Big Mountain Enduro and Revolution Enduro have been returning since. You can usually find a top-notch race to register for every summer.
But if you’re not ready for that level of commitment, Aspen has Tuesday night downhill races during July and August. It’s $25 to register, excluding a lift ticket, and the course changes every week. You’ll find a line of locals and anyone else who wants to tie on a race plate at the start line. Events like this usually foster healthy competition in the community and help develop young riders into stewards and ambassadors of the sport.
With an average single family home value of almost $15,000,000 in 2022 and an airport where you’ll see more private planes than cars in its parking lot, Aspen does not have a reputation for affordability. For what the mountain offers though, the $57 lift ticket is more affordable than both Keystone ($70) and Trestle ($89 at window).
With a grocery store and several restaurants around Snowmass, it’s possible to stay within Snowmass boundaries during a visit. Food is priced similarly to other Colorado mountain towns. It’s not the cheapest but not too expensive either. Find a slice of pizza or calzone at Tasters or the wagyu bolognese at Limelight.
Lodging around Snowmass Village is in the “reasonable” category too with several options under $200 a night. Check out Woody Creek or Aspen for more or just camp for free up Lincoln Creek like we did for a night. It even has river access. We stayed at the Crestwood and had a full kitchen, a key to the hot tub, and a shuttle driver to get around Snowmass. Some rooms go for under $300 a night and could sleep up to four people.
If you’re looking for a more primitive experience, Lincoln Creek is about 20-45 minutes from Aspen depending on traffic and has free dispersed camping. It’s quiet, pretty, and you can wake yourself up quickly in the river. Snowmass has a guide to more camping around the valley here.
If you haven’t been to the area before, you might think you’re just driving to Aspen, but it’s important to know that Snowmass Village is a separate municipality, with its own population, fire department, and little ecosystem. For basically being an expanded resort, it’s one of the most comprehensive resort villages I’ve ever seen with nearly any type of dining available and a small grocery store. Some residents happily stay within the boundaries of Snowmass Village for most of their time.
About 15-25 minutes away from Snowmass, depending on traffic, is Aspen, with plenty of dining from casual to fine. If you need a day off the bike, raft or stand up paddle on the Roaring Fork River or find a show at Belly Up, which has hosted everyone from Adam Sandler and Dave Chapelle to Snoop Dogg and Stone Temple Pilots. Not many mountain towns have a venue like that.
This one’s a bonus, but the Snowmass Rodeo was the best thing we did off of the bike. It’d been a long while since I’d been to a rodeo and I forgot how great of a spectacle they are. Aspiring cowboys try to hang on to a scrambling sheep as long as possible for the mutton bustin’, partners bolt out of the chutes to lasso a calf together, and athletes and bronc riders grip and flail while their horses try to eject them. It’s not only a great reminder of the ways of the Old West and how it lives on, but also fascinating as a scored competition with a high degree of skill.