Growing up I wasn’t much of a mountain biker. The seats are uncomfortable and compared to snow and water sports, the landings always frightened me. But my daughter (like most kids I imagine) loves riding. By age three she’s mastered her Strider balance bike – at least on paved bike paths. Earlier this year I heard stories from neighborhood parents of their children of similar ages heading to Valmont Bike Park and riding along logs and going off jumps. Sounded scary fun. Today, we checked it out.
Known as “the coolest bike park on Planet Earth,” according to Jason Vogel, The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance president, Valmont Bike Park was selected as host of 2014 USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross National Championships. The history is pretty inspiring and so was our first run at it.
We roll out of bed late.
The long days (Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, was just last Wednesday), record breaking temperatures, and some kind of spirit that’s inhabited our daughter, has caused a string of bad nights. So rather than a bright and early beginning as I always see in my mind-eye, we’re moving slow again.
Finished with breakfast, coffee, packing, and applying sunscreen, I print a copy of the trail map and we head out.
We load the bikes into the back of my Disco. I need a bike rack if this is going to become much of a habit.
We arrive at Valmont Bike Park. It is pretty empty this early, which is great, since I do have a concern of us getting run over by the more extreme bike riders who will be doing aerials and such. This is our first time exploring the park so I spend a moment reading the signs and looking at our trail map. I decide to navigate us down the long flat easy road to warm up, and then head over towards the pond. From there, I figure we’ll just see where my daughter takes us.
Starting from the Hub Plaza, we go towards the Podium and then head East on the road. The Flatirons can be seen over our shoulders. We’re flanked by bikers racing up and down mountainous dirt jumps and man made ramps, doing tricks in the deep blue sky. I imagined a cacophony of rubber, gears, and chains clashing against metal and dirt but it seems mountain bike technology has come a long way in the last two decades – the park is serene, just teeming a bit with the hum of adrenaline.
The road turns to a mushy gravel and we traverse through the weeds up to Backtrack. This is a single track of solid dirt. I’m amazed that my daughter can manage it with ease on her Strider bike.
We come along to the Eastern edge of the park and turn South, over a bridge and to the entrance of Dirt 101. Dirt 101? Perfect!
We enter Dirt 101, the trail head which is marked by a giant tree split in two, laying on its side, that makes up high walls of the track. Dirt 101 is littered with mini house rocks, hills with flagstone pathways, and a harrowing bridge that my daughter walks up and then scoots down uncontrollably (this gives her an instant and serious fright, though she recovers quickly and remains on her bike the whole time).
Dirt 101 takes us around by the pond and then to the Skillz Loop. The Skillz Loop is my favorite. Here the single track has been designed to challenge you at various skill levels, with alternate tracks to go around bridges, rocks, stream beds, and log obstacles. It meanders and loops. It turns and twists. It’s like a playground, and reminds me oddly of the downhill ski terrain at Crested Butte. It is also here where I learn how low my own skill level is. More than half of the obstacles are too scary for me and I avoid them. While my daughter also takes the low road and doesn’t go up any of the 2′ rock outcroppings (or jump off them), she is very adept at getting through this course.
We make our way back to the Platt Farm House, take a few laps on the Tot Track, and then make our way up to Dirt Jumps. A boy, who we learn is three and half years old, rocks it on the Dirt Jumps. My daughter studies his behavior. To make her comfortable, I encourage her to follow his approach, and I run alongside her for a few laps. Amazingly, she rocks the Dirt Jumps. Over and over again. And over again. And again. And one more time. Ok, I think we’re getting sunburned. Or heat exhaustion. Or both.
Around 9:30 we call it quits. Nearly an hour on the track – a lot of smiles!
- Long sleeve pants
- Backpack or other to carry water/snacks/recording equipment
- Recording equipment (camera)
- Bike rack (I need one)
- Pick a date
- Get the gear
- Check for trail conditions and updates
- Print the Trail Map
- Hit the road!
Valmont Bike Park has been smartly designed to encourage bikers of different age groups and skill sets. Check out the signage, study the trail map, and look for visual cues of where it is safe for younger kids. The park is organized very well so that there is minimal cross traffic and so you really can take a young, inexperienced, rider out for a fun morning. My daughter was just over three and had a blast on her first experience. Going early helps avoid the crowds.