In mountain towns, nobody wishes for a bad snow year—but mountain bikers tend to make the best of things.
Home of the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame, Crested Butte's trails were dry and tacky when we visited in late June. After a warm-up day riding closer to town on Tony's Trail, Upper Loop, and Strand Hill, it was time to head for the 401, an iconic Colorado high country ride with a deceptively mundane name.
Starting from the base of the ski area, our small group descends toward town, making a hard right onto the Lupine Trail. The intermediate-level rip is a relatively new addition to the area trail system. And it just got better: A new section spills out on Slate River Road for the slog up to Paradise Divide. The crux of the climb is a 4.7-mile grind that gains 2,000 feet of elevation and averages an eight percent gradient with several pitches above 15 percent. The locals call it Slate d'Huez, a nod to the famous Tour de France climb. That is an example of excellent nomenclature.
After passing the summit, several minutes on fire road bring us to a junction with the 401—where the real fun begins. Climbing steadily on singletrack through shaded forest for about 15 minutes, we encounter just one snowy section that forces a brief dismount. We pop out of the woods into a high alpine meadow with spectacular 360-degree views. No one in our group is a first-time visitor, but the awe never fades.
Then we remount our bikes for the plummet down a perfect ribbon of twisting trail. The lack of spring moisture leaves parts of the descent dry, loose, and dusty, but this four-mile romp drops 1,600 feet through wildflower meadows with old school flow. It's 20 minutes of pure joy on a bicycle. Maybe we could rename it the Orgasmatron. For now it's still the 401. —Jason Sumner
If you go: Check out Crested Butte Mountain Resort's Evolution Bike Park. The 26-mile trail system is an ideal training ground for honing skills before tackling backcountry trails like the 401.