Mountain biking guide to Vail: Part 1
So you’ve been on a mountain bike but are looking to test your skills with some of our cross country and downhill trails. Since Vail is so big, we don’t have any one single trail that navigates down the entire mountain from top to bottom, so the route I’m going to describe is made up of four different trails. Each of these is extremely fun, and presents its own set of challenges and rewards.
Radio Flyer: Our route starts at the top of Eagle Bahn Gondola. After following the signs for “All BIKE TRAFFIC” you continue slightly uphill as you go past the top of chair 26. As you carry on down this access road you are given an option to go left or right. Turn to make a slight left and you find yourself at the top of what I would consider one of our most fun trails on the mountain, Radio Flyer. At the top of the trail you will be confronted with a rather daunting sign, which outlines the trail to seem a bit more dangerous than it is. Take this warning into account, but certainly do not let it deter you from riding the trail. As you drop into Radio Flyer, you will find a fully groomed, machine built trail in front of you. This means that a large majority of the rocks, and roots have been removed and the trail has been smoothed out for your enjoyment. In place of these rocks and roots you will find an endless series of rollers and banked corners to play with. The trail has an excellent flow to it, and even a beginner can make riding this trail feel like you’re on a roller coaster. Younger kids with any experience in BMX racing will find themselves right at home on this trail as well.
Lower PMT: At the bottom of Radio Flyer you are provided with two options, the first and easier option of the two is to ride down Liondown, which is the wider access road. There are no obstacles on this part of Liondown, and it will bring you to the same point as your other option. The second, and more difficult option is to ride lower PMT, which will be presented directly in front of you, and much like Radio Flyer it will be marked with a warning . Lower PMT is considerably more difficult than Radio Flyer, but is an excellent stepping stone to get you to ride some of the more difficult trails on the mountain. If you felt extremely confident on Radio Flyer and would like to try something a bit more difficult, ride Lower PMT. As you enter Lower PMT, the first thing you will notice is that it’s quite a bit narrower than Radio Flyer. The second thing you will encounter is a series of jumps. These jumps all have alternate routes around them, should you decide you’d like to save them for next time, or perhaps for never. After either riding the jumps, or lying about riding the jumps, you will find a fork in the trail. This fork provides another opportunity for more advanced riders to show off their skills by taking the route on the right and finding a rather steep and loose rock chute. Our beginner riders can take the route on the left and still tell their friends they rode a black diamond mountain bike trail. The trail then continues out onto the ski slope and traverses across a rather fast (if you want it to be) section of singletrack which will bring you back to the same access road you would have taken should you have chosen the easier route.
Lower Big Mamba: After exiting lower PMT, you will see the entrance to lower Big Mamba on your left. Big Mamba is similar to Radio Flyer, and any rider who decided to brave lower PMT will certainly find it to be less difficult than lower PMT. However, while fun and playful like Radio Flyer, it does provide a few more challenging corners which you will find to be sharper than most of the corners on Radio Flyer. Riders who are still not feeling very confident can continue down the road and skip the trail to make their way back down to Lionshead Village. Keep in mind that Big Mamba is usually more dry and dusty than Radio Flyer. This provides riders with less traction, and it is always a good idea to be cautious on your first time riding the trail. Once you become an expert you can just use your tires to throw all the dust at your friends.
Mane Lane: At the bottom of Big Mamba you will continue down the road underneath the gondola to find the entrance to Mane Lane on your left. Mane Lane in an extremely fun trail but also contains some of the most difficult sections of trail you will ride on this route down the mountain. Again, if you have felt increasingly confident with everything you’ve ridden thus far, you should give Mane Lane a try, but be sure to ride it cautiously your first time because there are a few drops and jumps throughout the trail that may take you by surprise.
Lower Mane Lane: After exiting the upper section of Mane Lane, you will ride down the road around a right hand corner underneath the gondola again and continue straight down the road. A little ways down the road you will see another sign for Mane Lane on your left. This section of Mane Lane is far more difficult than anything you have ridden yet on this lap down the mountain. I would not recommend riding this until you feel extremely comfortable on your bike as it contains some very tight, and steep sections with roots and rocks in their midst. If you go past the entrance to lower Mane Lane, you will make your next left on the road and be on your way back to Lionshead.
Author Sam Chipkin, originally from New Jersey, moved to Vail in the winter of 2012. He’s an avid downhiller who spends every day he can on a mountain bike. Follow his adventures on Instagram