Biking Glenwood's South Canyon


Megan and I planned to ride Snowmass Bike Park on Friday, but the weather had different ideas. A soaking rain had the park closed most of the day. If you have never ridden Snowmass in a rainstorm then I am really sorry for you. You have missed out on a lot of character building. Granted the dirt is absolutely magical after the rain stops and has enough time to soak in just enough, but until that happens it is more of a Voldemort type of magic. Some how the dirt is slicker than grease, but sticks to your tires so bad they won't even turn.

That left us with a few options. Hunter creek rides well in the rain, in some ways it even rides better. Smuggler road is firmer and not a sunny-side furnace as usual at mid-day, however the radar said the farther down valley we went, the better the weather. The farthest trail system down valley is South Canyon. We had only ridden there once and it was only half open, but it was good so we figured we would give it another go.

The downside of South Canyon is that it can be hot. Like bad hot. Even overcast and raining above Basalt the temperature at the parking lot was 82 degrees. That is doable, but usually it is an after work or spring/fall location, not a middle of the day in the summer trail. The overcast sky's made it work though.

The three trails established in South Canyon so far are Tramway, Lightning Bug, and Coal Camp. Coal camp is really 4 trails, but who is counting. You start just across the Colorado River bridge at a small parking lot on Tramway, a mild to moderate climb. Nothing is technical, but there are just enough steep spots to let you know you are earning the downhill, but nothing that will slow you down too much. On the way up you will intersect the downhill only Lightning Bug three times. At the end, the middle and the top. This allows you to knock out a few quick loops of either half of Lightning Bug, or the whole thing.

At the top of Tramway you have two options. You can descend Lightning Bug or continue up Coal Camp. At this point Coal Camp is a green trail which can be ridden as a quick green loop with minimal elevation gain through deep oak woods. The up is a nice bike path-esque pedal and the down consists of consistent burned corners connected by very pump-able or jump-able doubles. It is a great spot to have a nice little spin or work on that cornering technique without any stress.

If you continue up past the uphill to downhill intersection Coal Camp turns from a one way green to a bidirectional blue trail. It becomes considerably steeper, but no rocks and very well compacted firm dirt. Really a XC riders dream come true, but the steep spots let up and roll just enough to keep the rest of us from getting grumpy, in fact if rides quite nicely all the way up through tall pines without much underbrush. It is a really cool environment.

Just before the summit there is an intersection with the downhill only side of the upper loop, but more on that later. The summit is a large flat spot, perfect for hanging out and having lunch with views all around that reveal South Canyon is much more expansive than one would think from the interstate.

The downhill from the summit is the freshest dug trail and to be honest needs riding. It will be a fun trail once it has seen a few more tires. When the trail opened earlier this season after trail work it was when the heat had started driving riders up to higher elevations. At the moment the dirt is granular and the weeds are tall thanks to the earlier season moisture. There are a bunch of side hits and optional drops intertwined with the gut of the trail. They are hard to read on the first go due to the overgrown bushes and lack of soil compaction. My advice is to take it slow and keep the eyes open until the options become more obvious. This one is going to get good once it is ridden in.

Once you hit the aforementioned intersection and you are back on the bi-directional trail things are a bit different. That undulating climb becomes a featured fast flowing descent with a bit of opportunity to scare one's self. There is a consistent downhill grade with a few large whoops, firm dirt and a long line of sight. It is kind of a chose your own adventure downhill. If you stay under control and tap the breaks every now and again it is pretty leisurely, but if you give it a few pedal strokes and stay off the breaks it can get a bit hairball. It is easy to get going too fast for your own good. There was at least one spot where I was two wheel drifting over a roll and thought I might end up talking a terrifying yet efficient unintentional shortcut to the bottom.

After the blue downhill on the bi-directional segment comes the downhill segment of the green loop. Again, great fun, great rhythm and no effort. Once this dumps out into an old redneck campsite you hit the real payoff. The pièce de résistance. The lump of chocolate in the bottom of the Drumstick ice cream cone. The toy in the serial box. That last bit of juice you have been saving in the bottom of the Fla-vor-ice Popsicle. That is the Lightning Bug descent!

Lightning Bug isn't atypical from the usual crop of downhill flow trails except for the fact that it doesn't let up and doesn't repeat. The common criticism of the flow trails that are cropping up everywhere is that they are a predictable and regular pattern of banked corners and mild gap jumps that don't seem to pay any mind to the terrain they were built upon. Lightning Bug doesn't fit the mold. The corners take skill if you are at speed. The doubles aren't clear-able on the first go unless you are really on your game and the features really fit the trail. You also have the opportunity to loop the upper, lower or full descent without going out of the way.

After Lightning Bug you are back on Tramway for a few more fun corners and a few interesting rock features on the side that haven't been worked in yet.

Really South Canyon is top notch and will get even better with the planned development. For now, we need you. The trails need some riding in (especially Coal Camp) so when you look out the window and the clouds are set in and the wind is just on the wrong side of goose bumps, head down to South Canyon and have an awesome time.

Evan Winn
Ride Demo Days