The dirt on downhill: Keystone bike trails cater to experts, beginners
July 12, 2013
"Whew, this is the first time I've ever wanted a full-suspension," Josh Fritts said, about a mile into our first trail at Keystone's lift-served bike park.
Used to more cross-country-oriented trails, the Front Range resident found Keystone's downhill focus a big change of pace, especially on his hardtail, front-suspension Kona bike.
"I haven't done anything like that in years," he said.
We charged down the easiest line on Let It Ride trail to start our day. By the end of the first top-to-bottom run, we'd already covered around five miles of well-maintained downhill singletrack, and it was already starting to feel like a solid workout.
Keystone's trails drop over 2,300 feet from the top of the gondola, weaving back and fourth through wooded sections and across ski slopes. A single run can be an undertaking. A full day is enough to quench the thirst of even the most avid biker.
From big drops for the extreme rider to the flowy beginner singletrack — it's all there on a network of 55 trails.
Keystone officials said that in the last few years they've made a concerted effort to improve trail flow and create paths more friendly to those new to the sport, while continuing to serve their more extreme riders. The results are clear. They really do have something for everyone.
The easy route is definitely beginner friendly, while still exciting enough for an experienced rider to charge through with some speed.
Adding speed keeps it interesting for more advanced bikers, said Marshall Fletcher, park assistant manager. And they'll have the endurance to do it a number of times. For those new to downhill biking, he said they often find themselves pretty worked after a single run. That's one of the reasons they developed a beginner program that shuttles riders half-way up the hill. On weekends, getting out at the gondola's middle station is also an option.
Confident in our warmup run, we hopped on the chair for a second run. At the top we realized our intended line on an intermediate blue trail was closed for maintenance. Fritts and I looked at each other and contemplated jumping straight from green to an advanced black trail. Maybe not the most prudent choice, but as experienced bikers, we decided to give it a try. It was a decision that would soon prove to be ambitious on a hardtail. Heading down Cowboy Up we found ourselves in the middle of a gnarly boulder garden that would challenge pros in next week's enduro. We did our best to avoid an over-the-handlebars dismount on the technically challenging section.
From there it was on to TNT, a much more manageable black that eventually turned into the blue intermediate Logger's Way.
"Good lord, I feel like I have T-rex arms, useless," Fritts said, feeling the burn from bumps that were hardly dampened by his minimal front-suspension fork. "I don't know how someone could do this all day," he said with a smile as we worked our way to the end of our second lap.
After a beverage break we took in another lap on some intermediate terrain that was a solid balance between our earlier choices. We called it a day when our arms started to feel like they'd been through electroshock therapy.
Fritts described the terrain as "manageable" on a hardtail, but decided he might look into a full-suspension bike for the next time around.
Biking 101: Keystone's softer side
While Keystone has played host to two major downhill-focused mountain bike racing series in the last few weeks, the Big Mountain Enduro and the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series, they've also made an effort to cater to more than just serious downhill junkies. There's certainly plenty of terrain still geared to the more extreme biker, like their famous "drop zone," but in the last few years they've also worked on appealing to those new to the sport, said Fletcher.
"We want to appeal to the core ridership, but we also want to introduce newcomers to the sport and cultivate progression," said Laura Parket, a spokeswoman for Keystone Resort.
Last year the bike park added a lesson and clinic program that serves everyone from the first-time biker to the advanced-intermediate rider looking to touch up their skills.
The family friendly program offers bike 101 and 201 classes, as well as private clinics tailored to the individual rider.
The 101 program teaches basic mountain biking skills and works it's way halfway up the mountain, with a van shuttle, for a run on the beginner course.
Bike 201 builds on the basics for a run from top to bottom. Parket says the lesson program is increasingly popular.
More information on programs and ticket prices is available through http://www.keystoneresort.com.
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