Powderhorn now open for downhill mountain biking
Rich Willis was playing a game of high-speed mountain bike chase with James Schafer.
The two Grand Junction men zipped down the blue trail at Powderhorn Mountain Resort, catching air on the little jumps, leaning into the corners and taking the high route on the berms.
It was summertime shredding at the ski and snowboard resort.
Then Willis yelled. Nothing close to a blood-curdling scream, but the kind of startled shout that comes with a near crash.
“I did almost crash,” the 38-year-old said smiling — almost giddy, after finishing the ride. “That trail flows, it’s fun. It’s got the right amount of jumps in there, the berms are excellent, there’s a good technical rock garden section, and that’s going to separate the men from the boys, that’s for sure.”
He chuckled and Schafer joined in.
Schafer, 30, loves the thrill of downhill mountain biking so much, he will drive more than three hours to fuel his need for an adrenaline rush.
“I’m impressed, they did a good job. Now, it’s time to get a season pass, I guess,” he said.
Powderhorn jumped into the chair lift-access downhill mountain biking business on June 24 and celebrated this weekend with a kick-off party.
The resort has three downhill trails including two specially built singletrack trails and the maintenance road totaling more than 12 miles of downhill fun.
High-speed lift to thrills
The current Powderhorn ownership group took over in 2011 and made an immediate commitment to putting money into the resort.
The costs for building the two singletrack trails and acquiring bike racks for the chair lifts were all part of the $5 million capital improvement project at the resort, which included the addition of the new high-speed lift.
Back in December, the Powderhorn ownership celebrated the opening of the new high speed lift, the Flat Top Flyer.
It was an exciting day that launched the resort into one of its best ski and snowboard seasons in a number of years with a 45 percent increase in visitors over the 2014-15 season.
Downhill mountain biking has now moved the resort into the summertime business as well.
Ken Gart, one of the resort’s owners, said lift-access mountain biking was always part of the plan.
“When we bought the resort and the land, our vision was a year-round resort,” he said. “The high-speed lift was a great addition for winter but it was equally important for summer.”
Ryan Robinson, Powderhorn’s marketing and sales manager, said the high-speed lift is the key to having a year-round resort.
“(Downhill mountain biking) has been a long-term plan, the ownership was interested in doing this from the get-go. We needed to get the lift in place before we could take bikes up,” he said. “The lift was a great addition for winter, but it made summertime possible.”
The lift has about 20 bike racks that are attached to every fifth chair. Cyclists hang their bikes by the front wheel on the back of the chair, then catch the next chair for the quick ride to the top.
The resort also offers downhill mountain biking gear and bikes for rent.
Robinson said the addition of mountain biking has also allowed the resort to give summertime hours to its winter employees.
The plan for Powderhorn doesn’t stop with downhill mountain biking.
“Mountain biking is probably the main thing but there could other attractions we add later,” Gart said. “Whether it’s for locals or as a destination, summer is gaining at a faster pace than winter.”
The resort will evaluate the possibility of building more mountain bike trails as things progress.
“We have a long-term plan but how quickly we put that into place really depends on visitation and feedback,” Robinson said. “So far (feedback) has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ll take those suggestions and continue to look at the future.”
The early reviews are rad
Grand Junction’s Zach Brill, 29, is a downhill enthusiast who’s ridden some of the top areas in the state. He knows that a fun bike park can start with a modest beginning.
“I was there for the opening days of Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park and there was only one trail there, and now look at, it’s one of the biggest resorts in North America,” he said. “I’ve seen resorts take off and I really hope that happens here. The potential is amazing.”
His riding partner for the day, Dan Mickelson, 37, was happy to make the quick jaunt to Powderhorn from his home in Silt.
“To just drive an hour is awesome and it’s pretty laid back. It’s a good vibe here,” he said.
As for the riding, 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Delta summed up the thoughts of most adrenaline-fueled riders on the fast singletrack trails that zip through the pine and aspen trees.
“It’s tight, man. It’s fast, it’s flowy, man that was so much fun,” he said.
The downhill thrill-ride caters to all types of mountain bikers and any mountain bike will do, but for the real downhill demons, they have specific bikes with heavy-duty frames, full suspension and smaller wheel sizes.
For Lisa Craig, 52, from Tyler, Texas, the daunting mountain at Powderhorn was intimidating; especially since it was only her third time riding off-road. She started getting a little more comfortable after her first run.
“I didn’t have a death grip this time,” she said laughing. “I didn’t feel like I was going to die at any moment.”
Final piece of puzzle
With the region — from Grand Junction to Fruita and beyond — being a mecca for mountain biking, riders can find a variety of terrain and trails. From gnarly to tame, desert, rocky, sandy and more are what the region’s trails have to offer. But there was always one type of riding that was missing: Downhill.
Powderhorn has now taken care of that.
“We really see this as the final piece of the puzzle in the whole mountain biking offering in the Grand Valley,” Robinson said. “We have amazing cross-country trails, obviously, but this is that last piece, the lift-access, alpine environment downhill mountain biking.”
Brill thinks the resort is on the right track.
“It feels like a new trail. A lot of new trails I’ve ridden feel like this with the loose dirt,” he said. “The more people ride it, the better it will get.”
There are two goals for every downhill rider: Go as fast as possible and make it to the bottom in one piece.
Brill laughed and gave an empathic head nod.
“You’re always on the edge with those two things and that’s what makes it fun,” he said.