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Why Crested Butte Truly Is the MTB Capital of Colorado

Leading the charge through the endless aspen groves. Nic Alegre photo.

Blasting through the never-ending aspen groves at warp speed, it was easy to forget that it was 7:30 A.M. and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet. The light filtering through the trees was unlike any I had ever seen, like something fabricated on a movie set.

This time of year, the wildflowers and grassy shrubs on the sides of the narrow singletrack are so high that they can (and will) grab your brake levers, unexpectedly sending you over the bars. To prevent any unexpected encounters with the ground, I was forced to develop a technique where I would stiff-arm my brake levers. It worked charmingly well, but certainly kept me on my toes, and I was loving every second of it.

The aspen forests were in full bloom. Nic Alegre photo.

It was mid-June, at that point in the year where you really have to work hard to earn your turns as a skier, but mountain biking hasn't fully taken control of your mind yet. After one of the best ski seasons of my life, I wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel just yet and focus solely on two-wheeled pursuits. However, on a rainy afternoon in Boulder, I opened my email to find an assignment I could not decline: a week of riding bikes in Crested Butte with TGR.

Crested Butte is not particularly far from Boulder, a quick four-hour drive through the beautiful Front Range, but I had only ridden there once before. Unfortunately, it had rained so much that we ended up riding elsewhere. This time, that would not be the case. I packed the car and headed west.

The Elk Mountains, the range that splits the towns of Aspen and Crested Butte, are home to some of the best mountain biking in the Rockies. Hundreds of miles of trails weave their way through this high alpine wonderland promising incredible views, be they of the colorful wildflowers or distant fourteeners. Anyone who has ever thought about riding in the area has heard of the classic trails: 401, 403, Doctor Park, and Teocalli Ridge, high country riding at its finest. But there are far more than just those epics.

The beautiful Colorado high country had a lot in store for us. Nic Alegre photo.

After a few days of impeccable riding, I was starting to get the feeling that Crested Butte is truly heaven on two wheels. The town lives and breathes mountain biking. Everyone is seemingly always on a bike, and the trail network is beyond impressive. In between bike testing and shoots, we only had a chance to sample a handful of the trails the area had to offer, but even these short rides left a lasting impression.

What to ride

In Town
Evolution Bike Park, our basecamp for the test, has a seriously awesome network of lift-service downhill trails open June through September. In addition to the technical DH terrain, its XC trails all nicely integrate into the endless network of backcountry trails in the Crested Butte Area. Two trails in particular stood out, thanks to their varied terrain and incredible location.

Westside: This was my favorite trail from the summit of the Red Lady Lift. While technically still in the bike park, by no means would I consider it a bike park trail. It is not machine-built, but rather flows through the undulating wildflower-covered hillside for a descent that will truly test your endurance. No one part of it is particularly difficult, though some rock gardens and tight turns were quite fun. Riding it as a continuous descent will test the legs and lungs of even the best. If you are looking for a break from the jumps and berms of the bike park, take a lap on Westside to change things up a bit.

There's singletrack in there somewhere; you can ride from the bike park to town without hitting pavement once. Nic Alegre photo. 

Happy Hour/Upper Loop: What better way to end a full day ripping bike park laps with a mellow cruise all the way back into town? The trail network in the area is so extensive, there’s a way to ride from the bike park all the way to downtown entirely on singletrack. The aptly-named Happy Hour branches off Westside at the edge of the bikepark and hugs a stunning hillside south into downtown Crested Butte. It is easy riding, perfect after a long day at the park, but still challenging enough to be fun for just about anyone. Happy Hour connects to the Upper Loop trail, which continues on all the way to Elk Avenue for all your refueling needs.

The best part of apres? You can ride all the way downtown for delicious post-ride libations. Nic Alegre photo.

Out of Town
The vast majority of trails in the area snake outward from town, following the lush valleys or climbing steep ridgelines in all directions. As most of the high-alpine trails like Teocalli Ridge and 401 were still closed in June this year, we stuck to the lower-elevation trails.

Snodgrass: Just outside town, a few miles up Washington Gulch road, lies a true gem. Snodgrass is like riding between a garden and Sherwood Forest. That is if Sherwood Forest was made entirely of Aspen trees. It's simply breathtaking, and is best ridden early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the best light. One of the easiest trails in the valley, it has less than 1,000 of climbing over 7 miles but is a quick lap for all abilities from either town or the mountain.

Enjoying the early morning light on Snodgrass. Nic Alegre photo.

Strand Hill: You guessed it, more wildflowers! Luckily the trail has many open sections, including some beautifully sculpted berms and whoops, and some techy root-filled chutes in the trees. After two miles of flowy descending through the forest, the trail spits out in a meadow directly across Mt. Crested Butte. Of course, we stopped to marvel at the view, ate a snack or two, and then started ripping down the rest of the descent before we reached a canal flowing with painfully cold water, fresh snowmelt from high in the Elk Range.

The creek crossing at the bottom of Strand Hill is as refreshing as it looks. Nic Alegre photo.

Doctor Park: This one is a little bit of a drive from downtown, but well worth the extra miles, as it’s home to one of the best descents in Colorado. Much of the riding is above 10,000 feet, so bring an extra set of lungs, or be ready to push your bike up the steep fire road climb to the top. Once you reach the summit, just shy of 11,000 feet, stop to catch your breath, make sure your suspension is wide open, and hold on for the ride. The singletrack dips in and out aspen groves, alternating between smooth, flowy and fast singletrack, and gnarly rock gardens. Much of the trail is loose and dusty even in rainy seasons, which adds to the fun when pinning it through the rocky, exposed bottom section. 

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