Take 5: Local MTB coach puts The Colorado Trail bike-packing on her bucket list
Some people dream of hiking all 500 miles of The Colorado Trail. Anne St. Clair dreams of biking it.
The trail, which spans from Denver to Durango on a mix of singletrack, dirt road and everything in between, is a classic multi-week hike for adventurous types. But multi-week mountain biking trek? It’s not as easy as it sounds — and that’s exactly why it’s sitting high on St. Clair’s bucket list.
“You can always step it up with a bigger, harder adventure,” said St. Clair, who rides a Santa Cruz Bronson most of the time and hard-tail Why Cycles model for bike-packing trips. “In taking on The Colorado Trail, if I can make it work, it will be about seeing how proficient I can be on the bike: Can I move through terrain and accomplish that goal, even feel good at the end (and) rip into Durango?”
Last year, St. Clair and a friend completed a portion of the trail from Breckenridge to Silverton, piecing together a route of their own making with connecting trails along the way. It was part biking, part navigating and part backpacking, and easily one of her favorite memories from last summer — or any summer, really. She can’t wait to finish the entire thing.
But as usual, life gets in the way of a multi-week biking trip, especially when there’s still rent to be paid. Luckily, St. Clair’s day jobs keep her wheels spinning in the mountain bike community: bike guiding in Moab, bike coaching with the women’s VIDA MTB Series and race organizing with Maverick Sports, the local outfit behind today’s Summit Mountain Challenge debut in Frisco.
It’s all biking, all the time for St. Clair, at least in the summer months, and that’s just fine with a 33-year-old who moved to Summit County more than a decade back and has since fallen in love with all things singletrack.
“After graduation I biked across the country, not really knowing what to do next, and a few of my fellow riders and I decided to try Breckenridge for a ski season,” St. Clair said. “I’m still here.”
Of her many bike gigs — she also races in her free time, whenever that is — St. Clair has truly fallen in love with the VIDA MTB Series. Launched in Summit County as Beti Rides in the early 2010s, the clinic series has grown to include seminars, rides and weeklong getaways spread across the country and globe. New this season is private coaching with International Mountain Biking Association-certified instructors like St. Clair, and so even though VIDA won’t host any local clinics this season, she and a half-dozen local coaches are available for one-on-one and small-group sessions all summer.
Before the true start of mountain biking season, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with St. Clair to talk about her Colorado Trail mission, the VIDA philosophy and why it never hurts to just ride your bike for the fun of it.
Summit Daily News: It’s been a few years since we last caught up with you. Where has biking taken you in the past season or two?
Anne St. Clair: That’s a fun question (pause). I’ve been really motivated by the evolution of opportunities in our industry, so for a long time I strictly guided mountain bike trips — multi-day trips. Over the years, I’ve been getting more involved in coaching and local programs with kids in Summit County, and new race events. I also work on race crews for those, and it seems like there’s always something new and exciting happening, with a new generation and new people and new ways to get involved.
On my personal time, I’ve been combining the skill set I’ve built into bigger objectives, like multi-day bike-packing trips, where you’re fully self-sufficient and doing navigation. You need to problem-solve mechanical issues in the field and take care of yourself. That’s been pretty fun.
SDN: Let’s dig into that: Where did you go the first time you went bike-packing and what was it like?
ASC: I just feel like it presented itself as a culmination of all these things I’ve enjoyed from multi-day mountain bike tours. You run into so many logistics and I’ve been trained to figure that stuff out, knowing how to be prepared, and that worked with the physical conditioning I’ve done. You learn to cover miles proficiently on your bike — riding something that’s technically challenging, but you still feel confident. To move through miles all day long, day after day, became the ultimate satisfaction for me.
SDN: Do you have any bike-packing trips this summer?
ASC: Last summer we rode The Colorado Trail from Breckenridge to Silverton. We didn’t have time to do the entire thing, but this year I’d like to do the entire thing if I can. It’s just the problem of timing. Last summer, with the windows I had, we put together out own routes. A friend of mine did a quick overnight from Marble to Crested Butte and back, and then I did an overnight on the Vapor Trail (near Salida), which is a 125-mile loop that also has a race. But there are still a lot of things I’d like to do — things that are logistically easier to do.
I also like to research what other people are doing and I’m seeing all sorts of cool routes, like one that connects the Colorado Trail down to Vegas. The Arizona Trail also appeals to me, but again, it’s hard to find the schedule for it.
SDN: Along with personal riding, you’re also back as a VIDA MTB Series coach this season. How did you get started there, and did you ever think it would turn into a long-term thing?
ASC: Really, it’s the community of women in Summit County that roped me in. A good friend of mine mentioned that plans were being made and a coaching certification course was coming through IMBA, the International Mountain Biking Association, and I jumped on that right away. At that time I’d been guiding for eight or nine years, but you always want to be better at what you’re doing. That really helped me help others improve their skills and I was pumped to take that training course with other women in the community.
Coming back, the thing that’s stood out to me about clinics is (pause). It’s hard to explain. It really does create community. It’s not about a specific skill — when you’re there for the weekend, you get everything. You have women-specific bikes and female mechanics and professional female athletes talking about training, giving you the inspiration. It’s more than just a skill-based day.
SDN: What do you like about the VIDA and IMBA approach to training?
ASC: When you’re guiding, it’s all about creating positive, memorable experiences in great places, and this is another way to motivate people to pursue that. The goal is to make riding more fun, and even I am trying to improve my skill set. It’s not about getting on top of a podium or being a better competitor — it’s more about giving people a way to fall in love with the sport. It certainly becomes that.
SDN: Over the years, what skills have you worked on?
ASC: For me, it’s about building my skillset to have skills at the ready. I might, on one day, spend a lot of time working on a gap jump, where I scout it, follow someone into it, all with the goal to have that skillset ready so I have the confidence to assess my speed, the takeoff — all of those things — on a trail I’ve never been on before. It’s all about bettering my flow and how much fun I’m having out there.
For me, it’s also not really performance based. I think a lot of people think that clinics are only for racers — we’re only getting better to be better in a race environment. But there are so many ways that getting better can help you. Ripping down an advanced trail and getting to play off that feature, without interrupting my flow, is something I enjoy progressing toward.
SDN: Are you working on any particular skillsets this summer?
ASC: Always more of the same thing: just feeling comfortable on bigger jumps and new trails. You can always step it up with a bigger, harder adventure. In taking on The Colorado Trail, if I can make it work, it will be about seeing how proficient I can be on the bike: Can I move through terrain and accomplish that goal, even feel good at the end (and) rip into Durango? Can I have strong legs and love the trail because I took care of myself? Can I finish in one piece and ride smartly? Is that a word?
SDN: It is now. What’s your biggest piece of advice for newcomers or even veterans who want to build their skillset?
ASC: There are so many ways to come at that question. You could say, “Start with flat pedals,” or sometimes I just tell people it’s good to have a foundation, but it’s worth it to just get out and ride your bike. It’s fun to train and work on skills, but in the end it’s a bike ride — it’s fun. I like to find balance in all things. Progressing should be fun.
I’ve seen both sides, where we’ll do a basic skills session before a multi-day trip and people will light up — even people who have been riding for years — and that is so cool to see. It’s fun to coach people, but I also think sometimes people fall down the rabbit hole too much. I just like to ride.
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