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Saddle Up!

The new mountain-bike trails at Sky Mountain Park are fast, smooth and a heck of a lot of fun.

Shawn Hadley gets rolling at Sky Mountain Park.

Steep grades, abrupt switchbacks, slippery roots, sharp rocks and unsigned intersections—Aspen’s fat tire scene hasn’t been for the faint of heart or lungs, until now.

Most of our valley’s mountain bike routes began as dirt-bike or game trails, worn in over time by adventurous riders who also put in a little elbow grease with picks and shovels. The rough product satisfied hard-core riders, but left much to be desired in terms of rhythm and flow.

Purpose-built trails are changing all that. As places like Park City and Whistler prove a return on trail investment, resorts and communities are hiring professional firms to design and build trails specifically for mountain biking.

“It’s a paradigm shift in trail building,” says Charlie Eckart of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. “These trails are designed with thought and built to perfection. Everybody loves them, and they work for all abilities. We are going to be seeing a lot more of this.”

Two new trails at Sky Mountain Park, which straddles the ridge between the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, reflect this trend. Airline and Cozyline both feature smooth single-track, rolling terrain, gradual grades and banked turns designed so riders can carry momentum with minimal peddling and braking. From these trails, cyclists can connect with the Viewline Trail, which drops toward Snowmass Village.

“Airline Trail has bike park-like berms in a cross-country environment,” says local mountain-bike racer John Gaston. “It’s almost like a long pump track. It’s not technical, and it’s a great trail for getting comfortable with speed and practicing cornering.”

In 2010, Pitkin County, Snowmass Village, the City of Aspen and Great Outdoors Colorado came together to purchase 845 acres from the Droste family, turning land that was zoned for development into designated open space and completing the 2,500-acre parcel, acquired in stages since 1991, that now makes up Sky Mountain Park. Covered in serviceberry and gambel oak, the ridge offers a high-desert riding experience, meaning that trails are usually dry in early summer, when much of Aspen’s shady single-track is still covered in snow and mud.

The park will eventually have almost 30 miles of trails in total. About 6.5 of the 14 miles of planned new trails are already built. Next up? Deadline, a 2.5-mile downhill flow trail that will connect to the existing Highline Trail along Owl Creek Road and provide easier access to the popular Tom Blake Trail. It’s slated to open mid-July.

Pick up Airline Trail from Owl Creek Road (just past the airport), and Cozyline Trail near the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82. Both access Skyline Ridge Trail, which boasts 360-degree views. Most trails in Sky Mountain Park are closed to dogs and to all traffic Dec. 1 through May 15 to protect wildlife habitat. Don’t ride the area during or after a rainstorm to prevent trail erosion.