Twenty-five years ago, I got on a mountain bike for the first time. My husband and I were honeymooning in Crested Butte.
An early adopter of the fat tire, my husband owned the first mountain bike I’d seen and had tons of experience and confidence. So, for my first ride on dirt, he convinced me to tackle the 401 Trail.
If you mountain bike, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the 401. It’s a classic: a 13.7-mile loop with some mighty ascents and descents, along with stunning views.
It’s not the best choice for a beginner, especially one with no experience riding over obstacles like rocks and roots.
As I struggled, my newly betrothed just kept putting distance between us.
While we’ve stayed married, we didn’t mountain bike again in Crested Butte for a long time. Twenty-five years in fact.
Keep Looking Ahead
Last weekend found us at the Evolution Bike Park in Crested Butte, mounted on heavy downhill bikes, swaddled in body armor and letting gravity guide us down Hotdogger, a green DH trail.
Butter smooth, full of flow and confidence building, I hear my husband ahead of me, coaching me on.
“Just keep looking ahead,” he yells.
If he’s learned anything in 25 years, it’s that it’s better to stay and help, than to leave me in the dirt.
I smile and keep looking ahead.
Colorado’s Best Bike Park?
Despite my (literally) rocky start on dirt, I’ve actually done quite a bit of downhill biking over the past four years – at Bike Snowmass, at Steamboat, at Granby Ranch and in the Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park.
Each of these parks has it’s own personality and style, and they’re all good.
Still, with thirty miles of lift-served downhill and cross-country trails, Evolution Bike Park is without a doubt, one of Colorado’s most versatile lift-served destinations.
With an abundance of both cross-country and downhill trails in one location, there is a trail for every taste. The vibe in the park is chill. There are no wannabe superstars, and everyone is friendly and supportive. We never felt pressured on the trail.
Best of all, the trails have a clear progression, so riders build skills as they move from one route to the next.
Let’s start with cross-country. Why? Because many of us have cross-country bikes and gear, so the barrier to entry is negligible.
If you’re looking for an easy ride, aim for confidence building green trails like Primer and Painter Boy. These intersect with beautiful intermediate single track, if you want to up your game a bit.
Columbine is a gorgeous blue trail that intersects with Painter Boy on the north side of the resort. From here you can take Prospector and eventually intersect with the popular Snodgrass trail. Or you can stay on Columbine and ride back to the base village.
The hardest trails are found on the opposite side of the mountain underneath the Silver Queen Express.
All of the on-resort cross-country trails are two-way (with the exception of Trail #26, Up and Away, which is uphill only). They are open to hikers. Be aware and yield to uphill traffic whether on foot or on wheels.
The Evolution Bike Park was built in 2009 with an eye toward progression, making it a park that’s just as fun for beginners as experts.
One of the most popular trails is Hotdogger, a top-to-bottom green trail. It’s meticulously maintained, thus smooth and clear, with few obstacles and only a couple of tight turns. Rated for beginners, it’s a great place to begin embracing speed.
Before riding it, my 16-year-old was totally skeptical. He wanted to go straight to Luge, an intermediate run. Reluctantly he agreed to do one lap with me first.
When we got to the bottom, he was all smiles. “That was really fun. Let’s do it again,” he said.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that I’m a timid while he’s aggressive. On this trail, we were having fun together.
And while I might be slower than my son and husband, they didn’t mind, as we each kept our own pace.
I just kept smiling and looking ahead.
Other Evolution Bike Park Trails
After Hotdogger, we rode Awakening, another green DH trail, with a little more pitch. To get to Awakening, we took two cross-country trails, Primer and Painter Boy, which are definitely rockier.
Next up is Luge, perhaps the easiest of the blue trails. A sweet flow trail, Luge has sharper turns and steeper banks.
Frequency is next, yet steeper still, with downhill approaches to tabletop jumps. Super smooth, it’s a confidence builder that gets you ready for the Park’s advanced runs.
Of the black runs, my family did only one: Avery. And they loved it. A combination of butter smooth trail, with rocky sections and roots, Avery introduces harder features like rock drops, logs and bridges. The essence is still flow, but the drops are larger and more challenging.
From here, the trails continue increasing in difficulty, culminating in some ridiculous descents and features on extreme trails like the aptly named Psycho Rocks. Although we didn’t see anyone riding the double black trails, we met a collegiate coach who informed us that these routes are used in competition.
Full Service +
As with any sport, you want the right gear. If you’re going to ride the DH trails, get on a DH bike.
Crested Butte rents Specialized DH bikes, body armor and full-face helmets, or as my son puts it, “the storm trooper gear.”
Body armor is comfortable and necessary (trust me, I’ve taken a fast face-down fall). Don’t pass on it. Plus, if you can, wear a stiff soled boot or DH shoe, not sneakers or bike shoes.
In addition to gear, consider booking time with a coach to learn the fundamentals before heading out on your own.
When You Go…
Summer may be turning to fall, but the Evolution Bike Park is open 7 days a week though September 13th. After that the park is open weekends only, through the end of the month.
Special events in September include the Grand Traverse Mountain Run and Bike on September 5-6, the Mount Crested Butte Beer and Chili Festival on September 12 (the same weekend as the Pearl Pass Bike Tour to Aspen) and Vinotok, a week of pagan harvest celebration that begins on September 13th and ends on the 19th with the ritual burning of the Grump (I’m not kidding).
Sanctioned collegiate mountain bike racing takes place September 19-20, and the fall season ends with the Crested Butte Film Festival on September 24-27.
In addition to biking, take time to hike to the summit of the actual crested butte, the peak that towers over the town and resort. Take the Silver Queen chairlift to the top and follow the well-marked trail to the top. It’s a 3 mile round-trip that takes about an hour.
The views are stellar and you’ll likely have the peak to yourself. The last chair down is at 2:45 p.m. If you miss it, as we did, hike an additional two miles to the Red Lady chair, along a mountain service road.
Look for raspberries along the way.
Head up. Eyes Forward. Keep looking ahead.
More Crested Butte:
- Crested Butte: Great Family Skiing From Beginner to Extreme, March 10, 2011.
- Why We ALL Love Skiing At Crested Butte, Colorado, November 30, 2010.
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