Ride Report: Emerald Mountain, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

After spending a week hunting for a place to live in Salida, we were eventually successful! Yeah, I know, you figured that out already

After finding our future home, Summer had to hop a plane back to Georgia, as her work was getting intense, and she also wanted to attend a family reunion. While we had both been working during the past three weeks we were on the road, things were really going to start amping up for her with the beginning of the school year.

However, it was the beginning of August, and since we weren’t able to move into our new place in Colorado until the beginning of September, I didn’t want to return to the 100 degree heat and humidity in Georgia any sooner than I had to. So, I dropped Summer off at the airport and picked up Max, a good friend of mine from Georgia, on the same day.

Max and I headed back toward the mountains, with the destination of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I had heard much about Steamboat, but never had a chance to so much as drive through the area. Finally, it was time to check the scene!

On one of our first days in Steamboat, we wandered into a bike shop to ask for trail recommendations. All the people we spoke to initially told us the same thing: Ride Emerald Mountain. We even had one local tell us to “ride everything at Emerald, and then go from there.” So, we planned an epic loop to hit most of the best singletrack that Emerald has to offer.

We began our route by climbing up the front side of the mountain, mostly on the Lupine Trail. At first, it was hard to determine which turns to take on the lower mountain, but after a few false starts we hooked up with the main climb and began ascending. The lower trails were very exposed and quite hot, but the higher we climbed the more trees we encountered, providing a welcome relief from the sun.

Exposed lower trails.
Welcome shade

We slowly gained elevation as we spun up the mountain, and that elevation eventually affording us an amazing view of the town of Steamboat and Steamboat Ski Resort:

While most of the climb was buttery smooth, with just a few rocks mixed in, we stumbled upon the one truly challenging section on the mountain: Little Moab. While you can bypass this steep, rocky ascent, we decided to hike-a-bike up it and bomb back down.

After a fun diversion, we continued our climb. As we neared the top of the mountain, we entered some aspen groves, and the dirt composition transitioned from dry and sandy to tacky and loamy.

Our plan was to drop down the backside of the mountain on the Beall Trail and then climb back up on the Ridge Trail (we found out later that the locals usually descend Ridge Trail and climb Beall Trail). However, as we reached the top of the mountain, we saw some ominous storm clouds closing in:

View off the back side of the mountain; clouds closing in.

We were operating on limited time this week, so we decided to just go for it and drop down the backside into no man’s land.

The descent down the back was fantastic! As we whipped down the mountain, whooping and hollering, I still couldn’t help but think about the possibility of getting stranded on the backside, a mountain away from town, in the middle of a thunder storm.

Descending the Beall Trail.

After a rip-roaring descent, we arrived at the bottom and connected across on the gravel road to our intended singletrack climb. After less than a quarter mile, I started to hear a horrible grinding noise from the rear end of my bike, and my rear hub imploded: I couldn’t pedal, and we had about a 5-6 mile climb before we could descend down the front side of the mountain.

I detached my chain, and dropped back down to the gravel road. According to the map, the best thing to do at this point would be to circumnavigate about 7-10 miles around the base of the mountain, back into Steamboat. What a bummer!

Thankfully, near the bottom of the trail, I bumped into a couple of other riders that were just finishing up. I explained my predicament, and they were nice enough to give me a lift back into town. 10-mile walk in a potential thunderstorm, averted!

General Impressions

Having trails as beautiful and as expansive as those on Emerald Mountain, easily accessible from the town of Steamboat, is a true luxury! However, the recommendations we’d received at shops in town left me a little disappointed after my ride. Sure, we hadn’t ridden everything there was to ride, but we had enjoyed a healthy 18-mile sampler. And, from our vantage point on Emerald Mountain, we could easily tell that we weren’t truly in the big mountains, which are located just to the east of Steamboat. Surely there had to be trails in those mountains that were bigger and more epic than Emerald?!

Spoiler alert: there are! It took us a couple of days to get a real route recommendation, but eventually I was able to score the goods! While I think Emerald Mountain is a great resource for the Steamboat locals, and while it’s worthy of a day of riding if you’re spending a solid week or more in Steamboat, this isn’t the place to go if you’re going to be spending just one or two days in the area.

Perhaps the local shops just send people there because it’s convenient? Maybe they think the average idiot that wanders into their shop asking for trail recommendations isn’t capable of tackling the high-alpine riding in Steamboat? Whatever the case may be, if you only have one or two days to ride and you’re willing to log lots of miles at over 10,000 feet, don’t listen to those guys: stay tuned for my Rabbit Ears Shuttle ride report.

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