Riding Green Mountain when it’s actually White Mountain… the perfect fat bike trail?

Green Mountain. There may not be a more polarizing trail in the Denver Metro area. If you ask people who have ridden it, you will undoubtedly get a wide variety of opinions about this mountain (a small hill, really) just west of downtown.

“Too Easy.”

“Too steep.”

“Perfect for beginner riders.”

“No, perfect for Intermediate riders.”

Never ride it on the weekends.”

“Perfect for my “cardio” training.”

“The best place for a night ride.”

“It’s where I go for a recovery ride.”

“Too many dog walkers.”

“Not enough trees.”

“Too many people.”

“Oooh, there’s deer!”

“Too many Strava users.”

The list goes on and on…

I often tell my friends: people are entitled their opinions, even if they are all wrong (but me). My wife frowns when I exercise a bit of narcissism, but I have lived long enough to know that when something evokes such a broad spectrum of responses, there are usually elements of truth in all of them. The whole is the sum of its parts… even if the complete picture isn’t perfect. Life rarely is, right?

It doesn't get more scenic that this! Heading down the Rooney Valley trail overlooking Dakota Ridge after an invigorating climb in the cold...

The truth is, Green Mountain is probably all of those things, just not all of them at once. Any trail can get too crowded with both hikers and riders. Plus, the difficulty of a trail lies not only with our experience, but when we ride it. I ride it every month of the year, both during the day and at night, but my favorite time to ride it is when no one else really can: when it snows.

This 2,400 acre parcel of open space, officially known as the William F. Hayden Park on Green Mountain, is maintained by the Lakewood Parks and Recreation. They do a fantastic job of building and maintaining the network of trails, by the way, and enforcing trail rules that keep everyone and no one happy at the same time.

There are several trails that traverse the base and four of them that meander to the 6,800ft summit, with the average climb to the top being around 1,000 feet of elevation gain. That’s no molehill, but it pales in scale to some of the mammoth peaks in the Rockies, and some seasoned riders scoff at riding something so relatively small and “easy.” Really? Really. Nevertheless, Strava climb times seem impossible to beat, so everyone rides these trails.

Not long after purchasing my first fat bike, I started riding Green Mountain every time it snowed. It was awesome, because everything looked different than I was used to, and there was no one on the trails. I mean no one, which is unusual for one of the most popular trails in a city with an estimated metro-population of 2.9 million people. Don’t get me wrong, it was cold… really cold sometimes, and those long climbs to the top, averaging 10-12% grades, were not easy in slippery fluffy stuff. I had to walk a few of the steeper pitches in deeper powder.

\But being able to ride Green Mountain when there is not another soul around is breathtaking. I usually see more deer and other wildlife. Once, I rode an out-and-back route on the Rooney Valley trail and noticed a mountain lion had been following me for quite some time… I never knew!

Even after snow, most trails are clear of deep powder and frozen...perfect to ride and go fast!

Despite being a big, bald, mostly-treeless mound of dirt and scrub grass, Green Mountain has a lot of interesting things going on. The volunteer mountain bike patrol constantly scours the trails and reports back to the city. They give lost hikers directions and maps. They help with bicycle mechanical failures. They carry extra leashes when folks violate the leash law and “forget” to bring their own. They answer questions and act as trail and city ambassadors. They call the Park Service when people get irate about “these rules,” and citations get issued. They report folks who are apparently trying to squat and live off the land. Few trail systems have that level of policing, particularly when a city sanctions a volunteer mountain biking squad to do it for them, and for us. Kudos to them.

Back to the cold, white stuff. Lately I have been seeing more and fat bike tire marks at Green Mountain, which makes me happy. For one, this niche of the sport is expanding, and with that comes support and advocacy. Hooray!! But also, it is nice to see the trail getting used, even in the winter. I enjoy solitude, but this network seems like a great place to ride with other fat tire brethren.

Why? The base is relatively flat, and is perfect for beginners or an easier ride. Base trails are also the only trails you might be able to ride if it really dumps snow. In addition, when the powder gets packed a little bit, it is a great workout to climb to the top, which offers amazing views of Denver, Golden, and the Front Range. It is not uncommon for me to get 2,500-3,000ft of climbing during a two-hour ride, which is almost unheard of on a fat bike in the snow.

Plus, it is one of only two trails in Denver where it is legal to ride at night, and is an excellent place to do it. Riding a fat bike at night in the snow should be on your bucket list.

Sometimes it is nice to pause and take in the scenery. Riding in the snow gives you time to stop and smell the, er...icicles?

I once proposed to a fellow riding buddy that Green Mountain is the quintessential fat bike trail. He seemed puzzled. What makes this a perfect fatbike trail system/network to learn on? Consider what I’ve already mentioned:

  • Proximity to a large city and all that goes with it: bike shops/rentals, post-ride coffee shops, and (ahem) medical care if needed.
  • Easy access from the I-70 interstate, and multiple points to start and end. It’s nice to have the option to bail if you start to freeze.
  • It has both smooth, gentle trails and steeper grades as you progress.
  • Mountain bike patrol may be around to assist you if you need help.
  • It is legal and safe to ride at night.
  • The trails are a blast to ride year-round. In fact, I only ride Green Mountain on my fat bike because of the traction and feeling I get on the dirt there.
  • It gets ample snow, but it melts quickly so warmer winter days can also be enjoyed there.
  • It’s a simple, easy trail network that lets you choose a variety of routes to mix things up.

If anything, it is an excellent place to learn how to ride a fat bike before you venture off into the deep alpine wilderness with hopes and dreams and a frozen water bottle.

Your turn: How about you? Do you have a trail in mind that you consider to be the “perfect” trail for riding fat bikes?

Deep powder is a lot of fun on the trails that follow the base

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