Arapahoe Basin just opened its newest mountain bike trail and invites you to help us ride it in!
The completion of the upper half of Wheels Up--a bike-only, downhill-only trail--means you can now enjoy a roughly 4-mile loop on the frontside of the mountain, with a scenic, singletrack climb and bike-optimized descent. Read on for details about this new trail, our future mountain biking plans, and an interview with one of the project leads -- a longtime A-Basin skier who also helped create our winter terrain in Montezuma Bowl and The Beavers.
Following a year of interruption due to the replacement of the Molly Hogan lift and COVID-19, we continue to make progress on our master mountain bike trails plan. Wheels Up now starts at mid-mountain at Black Mountain Lodge and is full of berms, rollers, and optional lines. This playground of a trail was built specifically for bikes and is both suitable for intermediate riders (all features can be rolled) and extra-fun for advanced mountain bikers. Please note the upper part of Wheels Up is still very fresh with lose dirt, and there are several mandatory rock features along the whole trail.
Wheels Up is just a glimpse of a bigger picture. In a few summers, A-Basin will be home to a 10-mile, backcountry-style ride that will offer mountain bikers a phenomenal, high-alpine experience. Still to come is a descent trail from the top of the Radical ski run (off the upper part of Pali Road), a climbing trail from mid-mountain to the summit, and a directional, bike-only loop through The Beavers terrain.
The future of mountain biking at Arapahoe Basin
Summit County is home to many scenic, adventurous trails. But, you would be hard-pressed to find any one group that is purposefully designing big backcountry rides specifically for bikes and then professionally building them from scratch in mountainous terrain. That’s exactly what we are doing.
In true A-Basin form, riders will have to put in the work to reap the rewards. We will not be offering bike haul or bike rentals. The model of progressive loop systems served by lifts that most ski areas utilize does not work with our space constraints, our lift infrastructure, or our efforts to minimize environmental impacts. Besides, our neighbors are doing lift-served DH very well.
A backcountry- and cross country-style “epic” ride is much more our style. A-Basin is the starting point to access a locally famous trail called Lenawee. That trail is only 3-ish miles long and requires a shuttle to complete the loop, but countless people every summer put in the effort to pedal from our base around 10,780’ to our summit at 12,456’ for the chance to experience Lenawee Trail’s astoundingly scenic, puckering, wild descent (pictured below).
Those Lenawee riders were a big inspiration for this trail project. It also helps that many of us working at A-Basin are adventure-seeking mountain bikers, ourselves. Just as we do with winter terrain--because we love to ski and snowboard--we are working to create challenging, beautiful, and really fun trails that we want to experience over and over.
A-Basin and COO Alan Henceroth have been thinking about summer activities and bike trails since the 1990s. When Joey Klein--a former A-Basin night janitor and legendary IMBA trail guru--created Argentine North Fork Trail (the main singletrack trail from the base area to mid-mountain), he also designed a precursor to the new Wheels Up downhill trail. It never came to be but, as trail building grew more sophisticated, Alan never stopped thinking about the possibilities.
“This will be one of Colorado's best trails once we’re done with it. A nice ascent and a stunning descent,” said Alan. “This will be a destination trail, not just another bike-haul network. Think Monarch Crest or Mary’s Loop. We want The Beavers Loop to be a trail that you just have to go ride.”
These new trails were designed and are being partially built by IMBA Trail Solutions with the involvement of Joey and Mike Repyak. Mike helped conceive A-Basin’s Montezuma Bowl, Beavers, and Steep Gullies while working for SE Group--where he spent 15 years designing base areas and winter terrain before transitioning to the mountain bike world. He is currently the director of planning and design for IMBA Trail Solutions, and a former colleague from my tenure at IMBA.
A few weeks ago, I found Mike in our parking lot, sweaty and with a cold beverage in hand, happy as could be after a few laps of Wheels Up. I asked Mike to give me the rundown of the Beavers Loop Trail project (as it's known, for now) and what it’s been like getting to design trails at A-Basin in both winter and summer.
Why did you want to take on the bike trails project at A-Basin? What is unique about it?
Alan is my favorite client of all time. And the experiences A-Basin provides fit so well with this kind of trails plan. This is also an opportunity to design and build a bike-optimized experience in the high alpine that isn’t accessible anywhere else right now.
When I lived in Summit County [Colorado], I rode Lenawee, Two Elks, Wheeler, and Monarch Crest every fall. Those were in the back of my head for this project.
Old-school backcountry trails exist but are not bike optimized. It’s unique to do a purpose-planned, purpose-built trail system in the high country. Because it’s not lift served, we’re not just packing a high density of trail into a lift zone. Instead, the goal is a super-spectacular scenic loop in The Beavers that will get you great mileage. Where else can you get an experience like that where you finish at a bar?
Talk about the construction of the trails. What is “bike-optimized,” anyway?
What is driving us is providing an experience that all of us collectively want to see in The Beavers--one that we want to make sure is top-notch. With a machine, we can build a 3-foot natural corridor that will quickly blend into just an 18-inch-wide trail. This is not going to be 12 inches of deeply cupped and rutted trail.
Bike-optimized means a trail has undulation, great drainage, proper flow, and good sight lines. Bike-optimized means a trail was purposefully planned, designed, and built to harness modern bike geometry to provide an experience that an old, traditional trail does not provide. It is a side effect of sustainable trail development. Turns out, sustainably built trails are super fun. You can air off rolling grade dips that are there to shed water, for instance.
What are differences and similarities with building winter vs. summer trails?
Similarities are around planning and designing for progression. You’re generally looking at a bell-shaped curve when thinking about ability levels. Mountain biking came a lot later and the trails world has very much followed the path of the ski industry with signage, trail ratings, and other stuff.
In my experience, it’s much easier to design ski trails because you follow the fall line. With mountain bike trails you have to work on the contour. The grade tolerances are also a lot smaller to build something sustainable. Beginner terrain for skiing is typically an 8-12 percent grade; intermediate is 12 to 25 percent, and so on. Mountain bike trails are in the range of 3 to 15 percent for almost all of them, beginner to advanced.
What’s it like to come back and ski and ride on trails you were a part of?
Even before I was working on your summer trails, I would always go back to say hi to Alan and go skiing. To be able to go back and reconnect with friends and see projects get implemented is so fulfilling.
In college, I was told that maybe 25 percent of my landscape architecture projects would get built so don’t get emotionally attached. But 60 to 70 percent of trails designed get built. It’s awesome to see smiles and hear hoots and hollers on trails that we built and it is so satisfying to ride them with friends.