Flagstaff’s new downhill-only MTB trails were 18 years in the making

In the past two years, Flagstaff has built over 25 miles of new and rerouted trails, including two downhill-only mountain bike trails.
Meteoride Trail. Photo: Sam McLaughlin

The first legal, downhill-only mountain bike trails in Flagstaff, AZ, have recently opened after 18 years of hard work and advocacy. These two new trails include a beginner-friendly downhill flow trail known as “Full Sail” and a steep tech line known as “Meteoride.”

Full Sail opened in May, just weeks before Bean Peaks, making it one of the first gravity flow trails in a national forest in Arizona. There is some debate about whether or not Big Sister at Hawes qualifies as a “gravity flow trail” or if Hawes’ new Dirt Therapy jump line meets the criteria. Regardless of which trail system was actually first, one thing’s clear: directional mountain bike trails are on the rise all across the nation, and that includes Arizona.

An 18-year process from idea to new trails

Flagstaff Biking Organization (FBO) first began advocating for downhill-only mountain bike trails way back in 2006 with a letter “encouraging the Forest Service to recognize mountain biking as a valid user group, and especially the use of steep, technical trails,” said long time trail advocate Joe Hazel, Trail Coordinator for FBO. Several renegade downhill trails were built in the early 2000s on Elden Mountain and Dry Lake hills, and the shuttle traffic to get to the top began to cause serious controversy.

It took a lengthy 18-year process to move from that original letter to the new trails on the ground today. A big step forward happened in 2013, when ongoing efforts with the Forest Service “culminated with the 2013 Mt. Elden and Dry Lake Hills Recreation Project (MEDL) Proposed Action (PA),” according to Hazel. Unfortunately, while there was plenty of support from the community — and not just mountain bikers — the opposition was fierce, too.

“There was also strong opposition from environmental groups, especially the Sierra Club,” said Hazel. “They launched an attack campaign that slowed the process down with the main complaint being that the process was biased in favor of biking at the cost of being environmentally destructive, offensive to other recreationists, and accusations of questionable purpose. Even going so far as to promote the false narrative that the [Forest Service] was trading volunteer trail work for acceptance or turning a blind eye to illegal trail construction.”

Meteoride Trail. Photo: Sam McLaughlin

The destructive force of wildfires and long approval processes

The massive destruction caused by two separate wildfires created substantial delays in the process. The first was the 2010 Schultz Fire, which prompted a multi-year rehabilitation and forest thinning project. “Then the Museum Fire in 2019 burned 2,000 acres in the project area with subsequent post-fire flooding and debris flows which destroyed several of the illegal downhill trails — Wasabi, Prom Night, Ginger, and Double D,” said Hazel.

The Coconino National Forest was historically focused on fuel reduction and fire suppression, which further slowed the approval of new trails. Thankfully, a new District Ranger was hired in 2018 along with a changeover in staff, so the MEDL project was moved off the back burner and given priority. The revised MEDL PA was released in 2020, and after further collaborations, meetings, and revisions, the final decision was signed in April 2022.

Once the decision was signed, Flagstaff Biking was ready to get to work.

25 miles of new trail has already been built

“As part of the project, about 25 miles of new or realigned trail were built in 2022 and 2023, thus fixing broken connections and enabling countless loop options for the trail community,” said Hazel. “These are shared-use trails with travel in both directions.”

In addition, “the plan also included up to four directional gravity trails as well as several hiking-only trails. Construction started late summer/early fall 2023 on the Ginger replacement (official name is now Meteoride) and the flow trail (Full Sail). These trails are on Dry Lake Hills, and there are two trails planned on the west- to northwest-facing slopes of Elden Mountain. One is an adoption of an existing double black known as Private Reserve, and the other is proposed in the same zone.”

Full Sail. Photo: Joe Hazel

The new Full Sail flow trail

Full Sail is a machine-built flow trail that’s designed to have progressive features. “Completed in mid-May 2024, it has berms, rollers, and table tops with some rock booters and drops,” said Hazel. “The features have go-arounds, but some are big enough that the trail rating is more of a blue. The top third allows riders to get the feel for cornering in berms and staying off the brakes in order to clear the tables. The features then get progressively bigger, and the grade a bit steeper, with seamless transitions between different features. To add spice for the expert rider, the rollers can be doubled or even tripled. It’s also narrower than flow trails typically found at bike parks.”

The rocks and drops mixed into the trail are a nod to their desire to build contouring singletrack with a more natural surface than you’ll find in a bike park. Again, whether or not this qualifies as a “gravity flow trail” is debatable. That debate hasn’t stopped local riders from raving about this flowy, 2.7-mile-long, 850-foot descent.

The project cost about $135,144, which includes substantial support from the Catena Foundation. Flagline Trails LLC completed the build-out of this project.

A technical rip down Meteoride

Meteoride is a whole different beast. This raw, rocky tech line “is a hand-built natural surface technical trail that incorporates natural terrain features,” said Hazel. Meteoride is a realignment of the historic double black downhill trail known as Ginger. The rebuilt trail has lent new life to this line, as the historic trail had fallen out of use due to its unsustainable grade even before the fire completely destroyed it.

“The new trail completed in April 2024 starts off with a filter or squirrel catcher composed of two steep rock rolls,” said Hazel. “It then contours across the large Ginger drainage on the south side of Dry Lake Hills with big grade reversals and several rock rolls and booters before ducking into the trees. It makes a technical turn on a stacked rock sequence informally called the ‘dragon’s back’ before then diving down into the ‘playground’ section characterized by a steep berm leading into a rock drop with a short gap to jump followed by a large rock slab roll (aka the ‘Tongue’) and finishing on some smaller features.” In total, this burly tech line drops 943 vertical feet over 1.5 miles.

With 25 miles of new and rerouted trails already completed, including two downhill-only trails that are done, plus more trails on the horizon still to be built, it might seem like the mountain bike scene in Flagstaff has exploded overnight. In reality, it has taken over 18 years of work by advocates at FBO to make Flagstaff’s singletrack renaissance a reality.


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