Our Most Memorable Mountain Bike Trails of 2021

The Singletracks editorial team shares their most memorable trail rides from 2021.

Creatively shaped dirt ribbons interlace the places we play; in the home of other animals and skyscraping plants, we enjoy movement backed by balance. Mountain biking is the best, and the staff here at Singletracks wants to celebrate our favorite activity with some trail stories from the 2021 season. Our crew is spread across vastly different parts of the earth, and we all have some favorite places to play.

Here are some of our favorite trails we rode this year. Have you ridden any of them? If so, are they as good as we said they are and what would you add?

Gerow’s top track

Those ribbons that interlace with trees across the slope aren’t something I’m able to choose a favorite from. There is, however, a trail that brought me clarity and confidence at once this season. Lupine trail in La Thuile, Italy, is a piece of singletrack that holds a warm corner in my heart. The wide-open alpine start is fast and rough, with gaping views of Monte Bianco and the surrounding peaks on all sides. It sounds like marmot whistles and nearly always smells of coming snow. The trail dips into the trees about a third of the way down and quickly doubles the steep factor to become one of the trickiest tracks I’ve slid down in Italy.

I have ridden this trail every season for the past few, and in 2021 it reminded me why I chose to return. There were a few instances where I needed to sit beside it and chew on cumbersome life questions. The damp scent of loam and larch felt like aromatherapy for my busied brain. Additionally, this trail has always challenged my bravery meter, with its carpet of roots on wall-steep slopes that offer no shortage of “where’s the grip” moments. It begs a healthy scoop of confidence and another helping of just-let-go that isn’t always at the ready. This past summer I bonded with Lupine and we rolled together with neither fear nor thought. It felt like a soil gift when I arrived at the base to realize that the flow state found its way to this special path in the woods. As ever, thank you trail builders!

Jeff Barber’s trail jams

Photo by Paul.

I don’t remember which trail I rode on my most memorable ride in 2021.

Of course Strava knows all and tells me it was at Morningside Nature Preserve, but the one-mile-long singletrack loop itself isn’t all that memorable. While the neighborhood park contains one of the closest bike-legal trails to downtown Atlanta, the trails aren’t really all that notable. Except this year, a ride at Morningside marked the return to regular Tuesday night rides after a yearlong, pandemic-induced hiatus.

Coincidentally I received my first Covid vaccine two days prior to that ride on March 30. Our last group ride had been almost exactly a year ago on March 17, 2020. Throughout the rest of 2020 and into 2021 I connected with friends here and there for one-on-one rides. We caught up on work and family news, and then conversations inevitably turned to the others we were missing. “Have you heard from anyone else in the group?” And of course the next question was always, “When do you think we’ll all be able to ride together on Tuesday nights again?”

In a lot of ways I’ve oriented my life around the idea of riding the best mountain bike trails in the world, and for many years the excitement of exploring the next one was all that mattered to me. I still get a huge thrill out of rolling down a fresh ribbon of dirt, taking in new vistas, and challenging myself on steep, rocky descents. But I’m realizing that all of that is really just a thinly veiled excuse to get together with friends, and to spend time with loved ones. This year I celebrated my friends’ marriage with a group ride in the mountains, biked singletrack with my younger brother for the first time, rolled on gravel to grab lunch with my wife, and convinced both of our kids to go for a mountain bike ride or two with Mom and Dad. That last one in particular tends to be much easier said than done.

I’ve ridden hundreds of different mountain bike trails in my lifetime, and while I can remember most of them, some of the earliest are beginning to fade from memory. It’s the rides with friends I’ll remember the most, even if I can’t always say which trail we rode.

Tuesday nights are back and not only am I seeing familiar faces again, I’ve made new friends while exploring some new trails as well. Most importantly, I’m making new memories too.

Matt Miller’s memorable trail – Fireswamp, Deer Valley Resort, Park City

I haven’t spent much time in swamps. Once on a kayak trip through some bayou in New Orleans. Our group’s biggest fear of course was gators, but it was too cold in the year and we didn’t see a single one. Other than that, the water swamp was a relatively safe place, granted you know how to swim. There’s no swimming in fire, and reading the name Fireswamp on the Deer Valley Resort trail map implies that you might be in the thick of a hellish ride. Fortunately when I visited this summer, a rider I met on the lift visiting from Israel was as curious as I was, so we rode into the swamp together.

Deer Valley rates the upper section of Fireswamp as Extreme, and I’d agree. It was a little out of my paygrade. Not only are you trying to squeeze through and over Volkswagen-sized boulders, some of those boulders broke down into smaller rock and are moving as you ride, and in turn, they move you.

But the lower section of Fireswamp is where things get real sweet. The trail is steep, with an average 18% grade, with drops, notchy roots, and it’s completely wooded so you’ve got to watch your line. But the sight lines are good and the trail is a perfect balance between tech and flow that lets riders challenge their comfort with speed and technicality. I probably rode it three times that day.

Climbing up Big Mesa on Navajo Rocks. photo: Matt Miller

To contrast the advanced nature of Fireswamp, I rode Navajo Rocks in Moab for the first time this fall. Hunting for more beginner-friendly or even intermediate trails in Moab can be like hunting for gators in New Orleans in November. There aren’t many, but Navajo Rocks had mellow climbs, that varied and undulated throughout the ride. There are technical sandstone climbs with plentiful traction and some great views and a few rippin’ descents too that make it fun for everyone.

Your turn: Which trails did you love this year?


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