By Stephen Sebestyen
There is a certain sense of déjà vu, getting off a chairlift in the middle of sumer. You see the lift tower, raise the bar, and know you have done this exact exit ritual hundreds, maybe thousands of times before, but just can't shake the sense to feels different without skis on your feet. The run/stumble off the chair and down the ramp is admittedly awkward in comparison to the usual, easy sliding exit, but the moment the lift attendant hands you your bicycle, something else clicks, and it all feels right. If home is where the mountains are, and you are waiting on the hearth.
I have always thought that ski slopes look different out of season, devoid of snow and packs of brightly-clad skiers carving turns, giving way instead to greenery and large boulders usually hidden below the snow. Standing atop Winter Park Resort in mid-June, I realized that while the mountain aesthetic is different, the appeal is the same, and people ride the chairlift for the same reason, to let gravity fuel their folly.
The Trestle Bike Park, which operates across a large swath of the Winter Park and Mary Jane mountains, is the largest lift assisted mountain bike area is Colorado, and one of the finest in the nation. Trails, ranging from novice to expert criss-cross the mountain, some visible from the lift and others cutting in and out of the trees. Rock gardens, wooden ramps, elevated bridges and similar features are littered throughout the trail networks providing stoke-filled zones to designed test rider abilities and push the limits of their mechanical steeds. While there are some rocky sections and technical aspects, the whole of Trestle is built with impeccable skill and attention to detail by people who ride similar terrain on the regular. The resulting trails inspire a great amount of confidence, by providing riders with the right berm height, speed, and runout to nail features and have enough time to set up for the following.
If Trestle sounds intimidating, fear not. In addition to the multiple bike shops and rental facilities at the base that offers the latest bicycle technology and protective gear, they offer a variety of ability based classes designed to match individual skill, from first time downhillers to World Cup athletes. Bob Barnes, director of the Ski and Ride school for both summer and winter, takes great care to ensure that every person who seeks it is given the right knowledge and skill to make it down the mountain in style.
For a change of pace and riding experience more akin to mountain biking's origins, take a half hour drive north to Granby Ranch. Nestled in the beautiful mountains bordering Rocky Mountain National Park, Granby is a smaller ski area that also turns their lifts for downhillers during the summer months. The trails around Granby are looser and rockier, keeping riders focused for short, intense runs down the mountains face. Wnat to earn your descent? A good portion of the single track also provides uphill access.
If gravity fueled downhill riding isn't your cup of tea, try tapping into the wealth of cross-country trails within riding distance of Main Street. The literally hundreds of miles of cross country trails surrounding the town of Winter Park and Frasier wind all over creating a seemingly endless web of interconnected single track. Loreum Ipsum
Included are cross country race classics like Tipperary Creek, which can keep your lungs and legs busy day, as well as a number of shorter, family fun flow tracks that can be knocked out in closer to an hour. While the trails close to downtown are well signed and marked for ability level, the more remote systems lend a more adventuresome appeal, and while a GPS can always get you home, there is no replacement for getting a local to show you the goods.
The locals, in addition to being great trail guides and purveyors of secret stashes, are the backbone of the cycling community. Many of the favorite trails in Winter Park are maintained, and have in some cases been initially dug, by the community. The sense of respect for the trails and comradery between the cyclists that employ them is not only immediately apparent, but inspires visitors to do the same.
The true gem of riding in Winter Park, be it laying down technical lines at Trestle Bike Park, picking tight lines through Granby Ranch, or counting miles through the endless cross country trail network, is the absolutely stunning variety of terrain. No matter the skill level, desire for trail conditions, or number of gold medals won, there is something for you in Winter Park.
If You Go-
Rise And Shine: New York Style Bakery and Eatery, where everything is made fresh in house daily, including the Corned Beef Bennedict and Boston Cream Doughnuts (Yum).
Hernando's: Not your typical pie, Hernando's does justice to the pizza lover in us all. The pies may be large, but you'll want one all to yourself.
Carvers - Simple, clean, and classic breakfast dinner. Pick up a cinnamon roll or two for the table, and dont skimp on the coffee.
Stay: Long term vacation rentals as well as single night hotel rooms are available hillside at either Fraser Crossing or Founders Pointe from the Winter Park Lodging Company. Great for an easy walk to the lift in the morning, and downtown Winter Park is less then 10 minutes away.
See: Concerts are held in the downtown park every Thursday over the summer, ranging from blues to rock music.