WBP Review: Bike Snowmass
4 Aug 2015
Writer Trey Clay
Bike Snowmass captivated our attention 2 years ago with their Expert, jump/flow-trail called Valhalla. We were super excited to make a return visit to one of the most beautiful mountain regions of Colorado, to log more laps on Valhalla, and get a taste of what’s new, fresh and happening in the bike park. Also, on tap during our visit was the 1st annual Demo-Days event. This 2-day event brings together over 20 bike manufacturers, exhibitors, and consumers to sample some of the most advanced mountain bikes that the industry has to offer. Snowmass Village is a happening place with plenty of nightlife, fine-dining restaurants, and a full-on shopping mall featuring high-end merchants.
Our approach to Snowmass Village was from the Northwest via the city of Basalt, CO., which is approximately 17 miles drive from the Bike Park. From prior experience, we knew that Basalt is the place to stock-up on groceries at Whole Foods Market and the beer & wine shop next door. Also, in the same plaza is probably one of the best bike shops around (Basalt Bike & Ski). It’s a must-do before heading up the road to ride the bike park trails. For this visit, we were bringing our monster truck-camper up to Snowmass Village with all of our worldly belongings onboard. The plan was to ride the bike park all day, and then find a quiet place to camp in our rig for the night. However, upon arriving at the parking lot, we were quickly greeted by a local condominium owner who forewarned, “I hope you’re not planning on camping overnight here in this parking lot!” Despite the fact that there were no signs exclaiming, “No Overnight Parking or Camping Permitted”, we did return from riding the bike park around 3p.m. to discover that the Snowmass Village Police had placed a notice on our camper citing the village ordinance prohibiting any form of camping at all in the entire area! So, we high-tailed it back to the city of Basalt and found a nice place to camp in the surrounding forest. The next day, within 10 minutes of our arrival back to the parking lot in Snowmass Village, we were greeted by a police officer…again cautioning us not to even think about camping anywhere in the village! Obviously, the Snowmass Village Police don’t have anything better to do than harass a couple of mountain bikers arriving in the a.m. to ride the bike park. Their hyper-focus on policing the overnight parking/camping at 10 a.m. in the morning highlights an obvious need for some type of camping area in/around the bike park for those who would rather camp than stay in a hotel or condo. Personally, we have many friends who could indeed afford to stay in a hotel or condo, but they would probably never choose to visit Bike Snowmass at all if they weren’t allowed to camp anywhere close by. For them, and us, it’s just a lifestyle choice.
The hills are alive on the only true Technical DH trail at Bike Snowmass. Michael Rainwater sends this step-down on "Bonzai" with style!
Honestly, we were feeling a bit run-down and hassled by all the traveling we had to do back & forth from Snowmass Village to our ‘legitimate’ overnight camping spot on the outskirts of Basalt. However, we tried to put those negative feelings aside and concentrate on our main purpose, which was to ride the trails and evaluate the bike park. Valhalla was calling our name, and we couldn’t wait to give it a good rip! Immediately, we noticed some small rain-ruts on the upper sections of trail and shark-tooth rocks poking out of the dirt in the berms. Thunderstorms on a daily basis had recently hammered Colorado. All the bike park trail crews have been struggling to maintain the buff conditions that we have become use to in the past. The lower sections of Valhalla were more inline with our past experience, possessing hero-dirt coursing through the aspen trees! We have to mention a brand-new feature, to us, on the lower section of trail…a monster (wooden) wall-ride! It’s awesome, but riders should be aware that it could be treacherous when wet! There’s no ‘chicken-wire’ on the wood, yet. Hopefully, the bike park will take note and place ‘chicken-wire’ on the wall-ride before someone gets seriously hurt. Overall, Valhalla is still the signature trail at Bike Snowmass and it’s not to be missed if you’re in the area.
Drop-tastic features abound on "Bonzai". It only gets steeper and gnarlier around the next corner in 'Hells Kitchen'. (Rider: Michael Rainwater)
Snowmass offers an abundance of XC/All mountain style trails that can be ridden by utilizing their 2 Gondolas on the mountain. However, there are only 4 ‘Downhill Only’ trails that are part of Bike Snowmass (bike park). First off, it’s good to know that riding the Elk Camp Gondola to mid-mountain (~10,000ft.) accesses 3 of the 4 downhill trails that are officially part of the bike park. Viking is an intermediate rated trail that descends 2.7miles from mid-mountain towards the base. The day we rode it, the upper section was rocky with occasional root bundles and in desperate need of better drainage, as we encountered muddy/wet conditions. Further down Viking, carrying maximum speed will reward the intermediate rider with a few step-ups, step-downs and tabletops. Next up is a beginner trail called Verde at 3.8 miles long. It’s a super-smooth, fast, rolling, and buff ride that is suitable for beginners and ‘newbies’ alike. Finally, the beloved and aforementioned expert trail Valhalla travels 2.75 miles down to the base from mid-mountain through an aspen tree-lined wonderland!
Alex Eppler looking through the turn on this iconic feature (of which there are many) on "Valhalla".
To experience truly stupendous alpine views, disembark from the Elk Camp Gondola at mid-mountain and ride your bike around and down beside the Elk Camp Restaurant building to catch the Elk Camp Chairlift to the 11,325ft. summit! This is where the intermediate rated and appropriately named Vapor trail begins. It descends 2.6 rocky and rough miles back to the mid-mountain station. Besides Valhalla, we feel that this trail has the most potential to attain legendary status. However, the nature of the terrain is mostly rock and difficult to work with. As it stands, Vapor wants to be a machine built, intermediate-flow trail, but it misses the mark in our opinion. With all that rock, it just doesn’t flow well at all, and the lower half of Vapor turns into a fall-line single track trail that’s mostly one long rain-rut with loose rocks lying in wait to catch a front wheel. However, on a positive note, the trail crew (in cooperation with Gravity Logic) is on a mission to re-route and machine-build lower Vapor into a proper intermediate flow/jump trail as we speak. If we had one wish for Bike Snowmass, it would be for an expert technical-DH trail from summit to base. As most bike parks know all to well, the US Forest-‘Circus’ works in slow and mysterious ways. So ‘don’t hold your breath’!
Trail crew getting after it on this new revision: Lower half of "Vapor" gets a much needed update!
Recently, Bike Snowmass hosted a round of the Big Mountain Enduro race series. One of the stages treated racers to a run down a trail called Bonzai. It’s not listed on the official trail map, and it’s not regularly maintained, but it’s scary-fun! Steep and technical DH terrain with a couple of significant drops and step-down features is the nature of Bonzai. It’s just too bad that it’s difficult to access via some XC trails from the Gondola and/or lift and requires some climbing. We were lucky to have been able to enlist a couple of the trail crew to give us a shuttle ride up to access the best parts of Bonzai and guide us through the super gnarly bits. Again, the mantra here with Bike Snowmass is “great potential” but with a long road ahead to be considered great. As it stands, we were somewhat disappointed with the lack of progress since our previous visit 2 years ago. There’s just not enough good downhill to justify more than 2-3 days worth of riding at the bike park. However, like we mentioned before, there are a plethora of XC rides to entertain mountain bikers for a longer stay.
Michael Rainwater pushing back up on this section of "Bonzai" to do it again.
Judging by the rider turnout and the difficulty we had in acquiring a demo-bike to test-out on the trails, the 1st Annual Demo-Days event was a great success! Next year, there will surely be more bike manufacturers showing up and hopefully bringing a larger staple of bikes for consumers to test. On a side note, the relatively new XC network of trails called Sky Mountain Park which is just outside of the bike park in Snowmass Village is a great resource for XC riders desiring a good 30-45min climb to then rip down an intermediate flow/jump trail called Deadline. It’s a hoot!
Discussing the latest in bike technology. Demo riders had plenty of great trail slayers to choose from at the 1st Annual Demo-Days.
"Double-Freakin'-Rainbow...what does it mean?!"
This is a great wall-ride to test the limits of Newtonian Physics.
Getting sideways on this sender step-down courtesy of "Valhalla". (Rider: Michael Rainwater)