Ah, Aspen, home of the late Hunter S., the Winter X-Games and the best-educated county in the U.S.A., Lance Armstrong’s new training ground, a place where people still wear fur and jet in for the weekend while displaying “Live Simply, So Others May Simply Live” bumper stickers. But forget those stereotypes. Aspen is badass. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the folks who work in downtown Carbondale (if you can find them in the office between rides, climbs and ski tours). When the spring hits, this place is a proving ground for outdoor athletes looking to rack up a monster day of crosstraining by combining some spring snow turns with their bike ride. So make like the locals. Here’s what we recommend.
The spring skiing options surrounding Aspen are endless but most of the action focuses on a few choice spots where you can combine some corn (or possibly powder) turns with other outdoor pursuits. Once Highway 82 opens up around Memorial Day, no place is more popular than Independence Pass-for good reason. Most of the action takes place in Fourth of July Bowl, which is why you should avoid it unless you can beat the crowds and catch the corn just as it starts to fructify. The real goal here is 13,988-foot Grizzly Peak, a default 14er that takes less than 2,000 verts to ascend from the parking lot and serves up steep, pucker-inducing couloirs and long runs. If you want more of a challenge, skip the Pass and head up 12,965-foot Mount Sopris, which looks bigger as it towers over the valley. Gear up for a 4-hour skin from the parking lot and do it in a day or enjoy the trip and camp at Thomas Lakes. From here, the summit is easy to tag and the turns in Thomas Lakes Bowl are easy to lap. If you are looking for more extreme terrain, drop off the backside of the peak into the steep, and quite dangerous, Laundry Chutes, but be sure of the conditions and your abilities first. Finally, there are the crowd-free goods up in the West Elks around Marble… but we have been sworn to secrecy where they are concerned. We suggest you make friends with a local and put out some positive vibes. For true expert advice or even avalanche training courses, hire a guide from local legend Dick Jackson’s Aspen Expeditions (877-790-2777; aspenexpeditons.com).
Though you have to wait for some of the area’s signature rides to melt out, you will find plenty of spring riding at lower-elevation spots like Red Hill, Basalt Mountain and The Boy Scout Trail. Another early season option, the Prince Creek trail is one of our favorites, a 15-mile out-and-back with 1,800 feet of elevation gain and rolling singletrack on the descent. The photo-op highlight is the ruins of an old Monte Carlo on the trail that you can ride up and over. For extra credit, combine a ski down Sopris with a ride down Prince Creek to town. Contact The Gear Exchange (970-945-8500) in Glenwood Springs or Aloha Mountain Cyclery (970-963-2500; alohamountaincyclery.com) in Carbondale for more beta and trail conditions.
Lance Armstrong trains here (on the road and the dirt). Get it. Again, talk to some locals, get ready to hammer and use your imagination. If you want to avoid traffic, the paved Rio Grande Trail runs 44 miles from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, and offers the opportunity for Euro-style touring. Leave your car in Glenwood and stay at hotels along the way in Carbondale and/or Aspen (the only downside is that it sees a ton of recreational use, so this is not a good choice for race training). One of our favorite spring options is to bike Highway 82 up Independence Pass in the spring when the plows have begun to clear the blacktop but before the road officially opens to motor traffic. Again, Gear Exchange and Aloha Mountain Cyclery can help you plan a ride, tune your bike or sell you a new one.