The snow melted months ago. The skis and snowboards are packed away until November. But that’s no reason to hang up the Epic Pass and wait for winter’s return before you hit up the mountains. You just need a different kind of ride: a mountain bike. And when you take to the trails with two wheels, you might find yourself in some stickier, scarier situations than when you’re on a snowboard or skis. But there’s nothing like a challenge, so we scoured the seven Vail Resorts to dig up the toughest trails you’ll want to ride this summer.
Jam Rock, KeystoneThis isn’t your average mountain biking. Craig Simson, Keystone’s ski patrol director and a self-described cross-country convert, assures me of that when he says you can attack different sections of this downhill trail with each descent. Simson treats the features like projects, testing his mettle on a different one every run. He hits this trail in the morning and goes full throttle on its jumps and rocky forest. “Jam Rock challenges the heck out of me,” he admits. But that’s a good thing: It’ll take years before he, and you, get bored.
Where to bail: Keystone’s trails are carefully marked with pin flags at the top of the jumps. “There’s always a way around and a way out,” Simson says. But if you’re wimping out over the vertical Keystone is known for, Simson recommends any of the green trails, which are hand manicured.
Old Nine Line, VailWhen it’s covered in snow, the run cut under Vail’s old Chair 9 is anything but easy. But it’s no simple task when the snow melts either. You’ll want to bring out the downhill gear for this 0.75-mile trail that boasts very steep, technical terrain. Figure out its rhythm and how you want to hit it, and you could call yourself king, or queen, of the mountain.
Where to bail: Big Mamba. It’s not much of a downgrade, but this blue trail is new to the Vail trail system and offers switchbacks through wildflower fields and pine forests.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, South Lake TahoeHave you been jerked around on the Disneyland ride of the same name? This Tahoe trail is labeled time and again as one of the area’s toughest. It’s 3.6 miles…20 miles if you do the entire loop. It’s 2,200 feet…downhill. And it ranks among serious mountain bikers as one of the main reasons to ride Tahoe.
Where to bail: Tahoe Rim Trail. Topping off at 9,700 feet elevation, the highest trail in the Tahoe basin still won’t be a cake walk. But you can avoid most of the technical elements by riding the Armstrong Pass segment.
Game Trail, BreckenridgeBreckenridge might lack Keystone’s hair-raising descents, but this trail that’s classified more as cross-country than downhill is equally as intense. Traveling across the fall line, Game Trail is long and twisty and makes for an exhausting adventure—plus it’s a favorite among locals says Jeff Lifgren, adult general manager at the Breckenridge Ski & Ride School.
Where to bail: Peak 8 Base’s practice park. Game Trail meanders away from the Peak 8 hub so you’ll have to commit for the long haul. But if you’re not ready yet, you can work on your skills at the base spot that’s full of features for honing your skills.
Mokelumne, KirkwoodWhen you spot single track with a double black diamond designation, you either want to run and hide (that’s me) or embrace it and any carnage that comes with it. This single track is short compared to Red Cliffs, called Kirkwood’s most challenging cross-country trail. But it’s also on the non-lift served side of the mountain so you’re getting a physical workout climbing to the top and a skills session riding down.
Where to bail: Scout’s Route. Because it’s on the lift-access side, you’ll have to decide if you’re in or out before trekking to Mokelumne. Think of it this way: You’ll save yourself a queasy stomach and handlebar death grip by riding this blue.
Corkscrew, Beaver CreekWho says it’s only downhills that are difficult and even death defying? Beaver Creek might be explicit in their lack of “extreme downhill mountain biking,” but experts can appease their thrill-seeking capabilities on Corkscrew. It’s five miles of single track that gets technical as it winds through tree groves. If it’s too rough to ride, and you’re aching for a challenge, you can always burn out your quads pedaling PHQ Hill Climb to the summit.
Where to bail: Cinch. Corkscrew is accessed via this green trail, plus Cinch is one of the mountain’s recommended rides.
Boondocks, NorthstarIf Boondocks can host the USA Cycling Professional Mountain Bike Gravity Tour, then you know it has to be tough for the average joe to master. One thing is for sure: Don’t forget the armor, goggles and full helmet on this double black diamond. You’ll want them to tackle the sharp turns, obstacles and steep grade.
Where to bail: Coaster. Boondocks splits off from this blue and runs parallel before taking the tougher trail traveled. But with the largest number of lift-accessed mountain bike trails in northern California, can you really go wrong?
Need more suggestions? Check out these daring descents or ask others on the trail.