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You already knew the mountain bike trails in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley were rad. Now, it’s official.
The Roaring Fork Valley — home to Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs — is Colorado’s first gold-level ride center, the highest designation given by the International Mountain Bicycling Association to mountain biking regions around the world. The valley is one of just seven regions globally to earn the designation.
It’s not just about awesome mountain biking trails, though the Roaring Fork Valley has plenty. (There are more than 300 miles of singletrack here, plus more than 85 miles of singletrack just outside the ride center boundaries and hundreds of miles of high-alpine doubletrack roads and paved paths.)
It’s also about having different types of trails and difficulty levels, as well as amenities and attractions for time spent off the bike, including bars, restaurants, lodging, shops and other things to do. Bike shops, guides and instructors and bike rentals also factored into the designation.
In other words, it’s a place worth planning a vacation around, no matter your mountain biking skill level or what types of trails you like to ride.
Colorado is also home to two silver-level ride centers: Steamboat Springs and Vail Valley.
“What it does for the community and for the entire Roaring Fork Valley, in a very shorthand way, is to describe the quality and the variety and the depth of mountain biking here,” said Rose Abello, tourism director for Snowmass Tourism. “Just like when you say something is five-star, five-diamond, all those kinds of things. That shorthand says, ‘Wow, that’s really good.’ ”
A gold-level center has it all, “from backcountry adventures to lift-served gravity trails, from expert-only to family-friendly,” according to IMBA, the Boulder-based nonprofit that’s been working to improve mountain biking since 1988. These top-rated regions help break down some of the barriers to entry into the sport, help people improve their skills and generally broaden the demographic of mountain bikers by making it fun, accessible and challenging for all types of riders.
Looking for a challenge? Check out the 60-mile Aspen Snowmass Mega Loop, a difficult singletrack trail that gains 8,190 feet in elevation. Want more of a leisurely ride? Though the paved 42-mile Rio Grande Trail doesn’t really require a mountain bike itself, it can take you from Aspen to Glenwood Springs (or vice versa), as well as connect you to other trails.
Many organizations worked together to achieve the designation, including the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Aspen Snowmass, Basalt Chamber of Commerce, Carbondale Chamber and Tourism Council, Snowmass Tourism and Visit Glenwood Springs, plus an array of local businesses, clubs, city and county government offices, land managers and volunteers.
Working toward the shared goal, the various groups built new trails and maintained and bolstered existing trails, all while balancing growth with sustainability and environmental preservation.
That collaboration and hard work helped propel the valley to the gold designation.
“While it’s an important and valuable message for us to communicate externally to get people to come here, it’s also a great source of pride internally within the valley,” said Abello.
The region became an IMBA bronze-level ride center in 2014 and decided to keep working toward the gold designation, submitting a self-evaluation and supporting documents in 2018. Two IMBA employees visited the region last July to review the trails in person.
While the minimum mileage required for each trail type (traditional singletrack, bike-optimized and gravity bike trails) and difficulty level (beginner, intermediate and advanced) is pretty straightforward, the reviewers were there to evaluate a more subjective category: quality trail experience. In other words, how are the views? What’s the ambiance like? Does a route connect to other trails? How is the signage? How easy is it to get to the trail? How well was the trail constructed?
In the end, Roaring Fork passed the test to join an elite group of mountain biking destinations.
“The palate and the nose these guys have for quality trails is pretty incredible,” said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. “They ask really nuanced questions that all lead to, ‘This is a great trail. This is an awesome experience. This is a worthwhile destination to seek out.’ ”