Keystone Bike Park opens to downhill rippers

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Jack Affleck

Today, Keystone’s ski terrain turns to downhill biking territory when its 30 bike park trails (and four alley drops) open for the season.

Eventually, the park will have seven additional trails, but that’s a plan to be executed this summer and beyond, ski patrol director and bike park manager Craig Simson said.

The bike park team has been cutting deadfall on the trails and prepping routes for the weekend’s opening – which is an event unto itself. The opening weekend celebration offers free donuts and hot chocolate in the morning at the gondola as well as live music from Line 2 out of Denver in the evening at River Run Events Plaza.

Riders can get their bikes inspected free at Keystone Sports before taking to the trails to ride in today’s Ascent Race. Kids can enter to compete in the Strider Cup, meant for children ages 2-5. On Sunday, the Yellow Designs BMX group comes to River Run Village for a stunt show.

Today, downhill biking extends to the top of the mountain.

“Usually, we can only open from midstation down because of the snowfall. … The winter wasn’t so great, but now we can really rock,” Simson said.

One highlight this year is the rerouting of Paid-in-Full, which is a steep downhill trail that follows the fall line. Rated black, the trail heats up with riders speeding down.

“It’s so fall line, it gets brake-bumped really bad. It’s kind of like washboarding,” Simson said.

Now, the trail winds in and out of the woods to reduce the bumps. It’s more of a flowing trail, but it’s still difficult, Simson said.

“We’re just changing the character of the trail,” he said.

Simson is also excited about the support he and his team got from Vail Resorts this year by way of a mini excavator, a powered wheelbarrow and more – all the tools they need to “get to remote locations and make huge changes all over the park,” he said.

The trail crews also added a new pump track at the base area. The loop of rollers and berms, tight corners and small jumps allows riders to navigate the base area without hauling their bikes up the mountain. Riders can entertain themselves if the lifts close or if their companions are having lunch.

“We’re ready to rock,” Simson said of the bike park.

At the end of last season, the park enlisted guides and coaches to add a new dimension to customer service.

“We have a rep of being really difficult, and there’s certainly places at our bikes park that are difficult and challenging, but we also have greens and blues just like the ski area. With some coaching, you can go up there,” Simson said. “Whether you’re a brand-spanking-new beginner or just someone who wants to re-up their skills, now you’re in good hands.”

Simson strives to have seven bike patrollers on duty at any given time and at least 2-3 guide-coaches on hand.

Downhill mountain biking is still gaining traction across the country, but Colorado is now one of the most lift-accessible downhill bike locations, Simson said. Parks range from southern Colorado to Steamboat to Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park to the Keystone Bike Park – making it possible to do an entire vacation based on downhill biking.

“It looks like the industry is creating bike bums like ski bums, which is cool. I’m one of them,” Simson said. “It only brings more bikers our way.”

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