By Kristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
You may know Steamboat Springs as Ski Town, USA in winter, but come summer this vibrant northwest Colorado community switches gears and becomes Bike Town, USA. Already awash in options, with the Yampa River Core Trail, mountain biking on Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Resort, as well as a rapidly growing downhill scene (and these are just the close-in, middle-of-town options), Steamboat residents want more. In November 2013, they passed a referendum dedicating more than $5 million in lodging tax funds for trail improvement and expansion over the next 10 years.
We were recently in Steamboat for a fun weekend of biking, along with horseback riding, rodeo and, of course, hot springs soaking.
The Yampa River Core Trail
You don’t need to be hard-core to ride in Steamboat. Families of all ages love the paved, 7-mile multi-use Core Trail adjacent to the sparkling Yampa River. Perfect for upright cruising, we rented bikes from the Ski Haus and rode all afternoon, stopping in at the Yampa River Botanic Park, looking for fishing holes, watching rafters and, of course, visiting the many natural springs that give the town it’s name.
The Core Trail will take you to historic Howelsen Hill, Colorado’s oldest ski area, and training ground for many Olympians. In summer, Howelsen is busy with the Howler Alpine Slide, horseback riding, free concerts, rodeo and popular mountain bike trails. Known as the Emerald Mountain Trails System, here you’ll find three trailheads and over 4,000 acres of public land. Although the trails are multi-use with hikers and horses, there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the steep climbs, smooth singletrack and rapid descents. It’s where locals go for a quick workout and is said to get busy during lunch and after work.
On a late Friday afternoon in June, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
The Steamboat Bike Park
The park opened last fall, in partnership with Gravity Logic, the trail development company behind Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park. With gondola access from Thunderhead, the downhill trails run the gamut, from gentle, smooth greens with easy banked curves, to ripping advanced trails full of features, including berms, wall rides, step-down rollers, drops and table tops.
Still the mountain’s most popular trail is Rustler Ridge, a challenging intermediate run with great banking, fun features and plenty of dirt. At over 4 miles, it’s long ride that locals and visitors alike love to lap. Downhill bikes, helmets and body armor are available to rent at the Steamboat Bike Shop, and we totally recommend getting the right gear and taking a lesson. Downhill biking and cross-country mountain biking are totally different sports, and you’ll have more fun if you’re on the right bike and you know what you’re doing.
Don’t want to downhill? Mount Werner is also covered with an extensive multi-use trail system with two-way mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding.
Bike State, USA?
Ask anyone who’s tried downhill biking, and if they ski or ride, they’ll tell you the same thing: it’s a lot like skiing. Okay, so dirt replaces snow, and body armor replaces insulated clothing, but the flow is similar, with weight shifts and trail anticipation.
Not surprisingly, Colorado is a center of the downhill biking scene. If you can’t get to Steamboat this summer, you can still take a downhill lesson and try this growing sport at many Colorado resorts including Winter Park, Granby Ranch, Snowmass, and Telluride. Each of these resorts, and most of Colorado’s other ski resorts, also offer extensive cross-country mountain biking.