Few are the moments a human can start at the top of a 2,000-foot hill and cruise down in a manner that feels like flying. That’s the promise of downhill mountain biking—at least according to its acolytes. The dubious, or the well-initiated simply looking to drool over a new ride, will flock to Angel Fire Resort for Memorial Day Weekend, when the largest bike park in the Rockies kicks off its summer season with Demo Daze.
Fleets of bikes available for free demos come from Yeti, Santa Cruz, Specialized, Scott and Jamis. For the price of a lift ticket, riders can access more than 60 miles of trails, and that's just in the downhill portion.
Not into downhill? (Fair—some riders think it feels much more like flirting with death than like flying.) Another 40 miles of cross-country trails wend through the valley, some of them taking off right from the ski area parking lot.
"The pitch is really just getting away from the norm and trying something that's a little different," says Hogan Koesis, bike park manager for Angel Fire Resort. "People of all ages and abilities, if they make a leap of faith and try it, they generally like it."
New riders at Angel Fire may, however, be a little surprised by just how vast the terrain can be.
"People are taken off-guard by how lost they get. It's not just a handful of trails where it's a one-day experience; it's at least a weeklong experience, and one where if you don't have a guide, you can get pretty lost the first couple days," he says. He then quickly adds, "Not lost in a bad way, just lost from the trail options. It's all signed. There's so much to ride that you get overwhelmed. If you're just here for a day, it's like, good luck. Good luck finding the trails you want to ride, because there's such an array."
In the six years he's been at Angel Fire, he's seen families dabble and return, addicted. Some people go all-in, buying houses to access the bike park.
"It's really exciting to see that shift," he says.
Part of what has worked is how the town has received mountain biking in general, taking care to welcome the culture and staff a good trail crew that keeps trails well-maintained.
"There's a lot more that goes into it than just, 'Build it and they'll come,'" he says. "You have to have a trail system that's worth fighting for."
Events have worked to draw people in, but he contends it's the trails that keep them coming back. That it's a system a new rider can get lost in is key. If you have just a handful of trails, riders move on quickly to the next mountain town. Angel Fire also works to constantly improve trails, adding material or culverts, building new jumps and berms. This season will see the opening of a new trail, DaVinci Code, and new wood features and bridges thanks to a recently acquired sawmill.
If there's something bigger at play here, it is perhaps a community-building effort that keeps people in a ski town through the summer months, equally drawn by its appeal as a biking destination.
While Santa Fe has lots to please those motivated to pedal uphill, or use an RTD bus to deliver them to the top of the Winsor Trail, niche "gravity riders"—those who purchase the 1 percent of bikes made specifically to run downhill—have to look elsewhere for their lines. Lifts here shut down in April at the end of ski season and re-open in October for leaf-peepers, leaving the ski basin primarily hikers' territory in the summer months.
Is downhill riding really for everyone? Koesis points to two older ladies in their mid-60s, who come up to Angel Fire every other day, between days spent golfing, to take a couple laps on the beginner-level trail, and then call it a day. "We see both ends of the spectrum," he says.
Like any sport, it has a learning curve. And like skiing, it has trails labeled green, blue or black according to level of difficulty.
"Once you figure it out, it's a whole lot like skiing and snowboarding—it feels like you're floating," he says. And here it is again: "It's like flying. It's actually kind of quiet, and really peaceful."
Saturday and Sunday May 27 and 28. Lift tickets: $39-$49.
Angel Fire Bike Park,
Highway 434, Angel Fire,