Geared for Adventure

Mountain Biking on Vail Mountain

Use this singletrack seeker to find the ride for you, whatever your preference.

By Cindy Hirschfeld June 24, 2021 Published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Ben Garty white-knuckles the downhill on Fred’s lunch on Vail Mountain.

Image: Scott Bellow

Just as Vail has distinguished itself as the valley’s original ski resort, the area was also among the first local destinations for mountain bikers, who have pedaled the summer trail network since at least the early 1990s. These days, 26 trails for varying abilities—47.6 miles in all—crisscross the mountain’s frontside and, in a couple of instances, lead to the Back Bowls.

Unlike some resorts that emphasize downhill-specific mountain biking—where riders on sturdy steeds tackle huge jumps and steep wooden ramps and bridges—Vail’s trails are more conducive to cross-country riding. That said, 20 routes allow only descending traffic (designated as “freeride” on the trail map), so you can get into the flow without having to worry about dodging other bikers pedaling up.

Many locals ride up the mountain to access the trail network, but there’s no shame in using the bike haul on Gondola One and the Lionshead Gondola (open daily through Sept 6 then Fri–Sun only through Oct 3), especially if you’re acclimating to the altitude or riding a heavier bike. As of last summer, e-bikes are allowed on Vail Mountain trails, too (but only of the Class 1, pedal-assist variety), which certainly boosts one’s uphill capability.

If you choose to pedal your way up,  the preferred route is on Gitalong Road to Post Road, a climb of 6 miles up to Eagle’s Nest; the route affords good views of the mountain’s western flanks.

Short and Fun

From the top of Gondola One, find your bliss by descending Sidekick to Golden Gate, two buffed-out, green-rated trails that traverse the front of Vail Mountain for 3 miles through fragrant fir trees, thick stands of aspen that carpet the trails bright yellow in fall, and open meadows. A few rollers and berms along the way let you practice your bike-handling skills.

With its sweeping vistas of the Back Bowls and 14,005-foot-tall Mount of the Holy Cross, the Grand Traverse has long been one of Vail Mountain’s signature trails. In midsummer, the wildflowers—rosy paintbrush, blue-purple larkspur, yellow arnica, and more—really pop. Keep an eye out for grazing sheep, too. From Eagle’s Nest, the easily navigable route gradually climbs across Game Creek Bowl, then winds around Ptarmigan Ridge and Sun Down Bowl before ending about 4 miles later at the 11,250-foot summit of Vail Mountain, where three ski lifts converge. Ride it out and back, or connect to Mid-Vail Escape to return to the frontside. New this summer: the trail will extend to the Two Elk Lodge, with 2 miles of additional singletrack slated to be finished in September, just in time for the aspens on Golden Peak to light the mountain on fire.

Fast and Flowy

Radio Flyer is the mountain’s most popular bike trail, and for good reason. Descending 1,257 feet from Eagle’s Nest, almost 2.75 miles of quintessential flow are punctuated by plentiful sculpted rollers—including a 147-yard, giggle-inducing section of 34 rollers that’ll give both your bike’s suspension and your arm-absorption skills a workout. Toward the end, a few small tabletops serve as a grand finale. Connect to Hank’s Hideaway for another 1.8 miles of meandering trail through towering aspen groves.

Heather Pugh negotiates one of the many curves on Big Mamba, which traverses the frontside of Vail Mountain over three miles.

Image: Scott Bellow

From the top of Fred’s Lunch near Gondola One, linger over the far-reaching views into the snowcapped Gore Range to the north, then get set for more than 2 miles of serpentine but not-too-technical singletrack. The trail’s twists and turns are nothing compared to the undulations of Big Mamba, which squiggles its way down from Eagle’s Nest for around 3 miles of swoopy, banked switchbacks.

Epic Ride

Get your legs and lungs working by climbing Mill Creek Road all the way up Vail Mountain—a steady grind over 9.6 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Leave the resort’s trail system by taking Two Elk Connector for 2 miles (including a short hike-a-bike section) to Two Elk Trail, a classic, old-school descent—rooty, rocky, and narrow in spots—down a creek drainage that ends 7 miles later south of Minturn near Cemetery Road. After you take a couple laps around the town’s new bike park (see p. 79), follow the road (and tradition) for a mile or so back into town and savor a frosty brew and a mountain of nachos at the town’s venerable Minturn Saloon. Then pedal north to Dowd Junction and past Meadow Mountain, and follow the (mercifully flat) paved bike path along Gore Creek back to Vail.

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