If you only ride your local mountain bike trails, true skills progression will always be an uphill battle. Even if you live in a top-tier mountain bike destination, most areas primarily offer one type of riding. Think of the jump trails at Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham, Sedona's gnarly red rocks, or 18 Road's fast, flowy singletrack outside of Fruita.
No, the perfect mountain bike training ground would offer trails of multiple different flavors ranging from flowy and jump-filled to rough and technical. It would also provide a well-defined progression of trails from easy all the way up to expert, with a slew of options in between to allow riders to slowly build their skills and confidence while working through a predictable increase in trail difficulty.
While many trail riders might not consider this, a high-quality downhill mountain bike park is the perfect place to work on skills progression because it provides all of these factors and more. Unfortunately, not all bike parks are created equal, and not all bike parks provide great progression opportunities.
Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort in Colorado is not only the best downhill mountain bike park in the state (and one of the most trafficked parks in North America), but it's also the perfect training ground to progress your mountain bike skills.
Whistler-Style Trail Difficulty Progression Charts
The connections between Trestle Bike Park and Whistler Bike Park—unquestionably the best place to ride downhill bikes in the world—run deep. Shortly after the Whistler Bike Park opened for business, the folks from Winter Park journeyed to the burgeoning MTB mecca and decided they wanted to do something similar. After all, "we've been putting bikes on lifts since the early 90s," said Jen Miller, PR and Communication for Winter Park. Lift-served biking wasn't a new idea in Winter Park, but building bike-optimized flow trails was a new concept they quickly picked up on.
Whistler Bike Park's trail building arm, Gravity Logic, is now famous worldwide for building the best bike park trails anywhere. They've now built trails all around the globe... and Trestle Bike Park was their first project ever. In fact, the collaboration with Winter Park inspired Whistler to launch the now world-famous trail building company.
When it comes to skills progression, Trestle has adopted a trail difficulty and progression scale first popularized by Whistler. While not every bike park uses this same system... they should. I remember the first time I rode in Whistler and noticed this progression system, and recognized the true brilliance in the design.
First, all of the trails in the bike park are split into two buckets: "Freeride" trails and "Technical" trails. (A third category is sometimes provided for "XC," or multi-directional cross-country trails.) Freeride trails are the flow trails and jump lines of the bike park, whereas technical trails are filled with rocks and roots.
While differentiating the two types of trails is itself brilliant, the progression scales then list every single trail in the bike park, placing them on a spectrum running from easiest to most difficult. Every single trail segment has been carefully evaluated to see how difficult it is, and each trail has been compared and contrasted with the other trails on the mountain. This makes it shockingly easy for either a rider who's uncertain of their skills or a rider who's uncertain of the difficulty of the trails on an unfamiliar mountain to start on the easiest trail on the progression list and slowly work their way up through the rankings, gradually building confidence along the way.
Of course, trail difficulty ratings have been around for decades. Most trail systems follow a four-point scale that corresponds to ski run ratings: green circle, blue square, black diamond, and double black diamond. But that's only four different rankings. In a massive bike park such as Trestle, which boasts over 40 miles of downhill mountain bike trails and 70-some named trails (depending on how you count them), the standard four-point scale doesn't offer nearly enough granularity. This is where the progression scale shines: you can see what the easiest of all green trails is, or the hardest of the blue trails—etc. No two trails are identical, so the increased granularity provides riders with the perfect information to help them build their confidence.
Christine's First Day in the Bike Park
After 18 years of mountain biking, I can sometimes forget what it's like to be a new rider. So, to remind myself, I closely observe new riders that I see on the trail and ride with. During my recent trip to Winter Park, I took my wife Christine—a newer rider—out for her first day of downhilling in the Trestle Bike Park.
With the aid of the difficulty progression charts, we started out at the bottom of the freeride scale with the Green World trail. Green World is the standard starting point for all beginner riders at Trestle, and it is one of only two named trails that run continuously from top to bottom. This not only makes it a reliable beginner-friendly conduit down the mountain, but it makes following the right trail easy for those who may be unfamiliar with navigating a bike park.
With the flowy berms and mellow grades on Green World, Christine was able to quickly gain confidence that she'd be able to not only handle bike park riding but enjoy it as well. Before I knew it, we had progressed through the green trails and were riding mid-range blue trails that were well up the skills progression charts. At the beginning of the day, Christine noted that she'd be totally happy just running laps on the green trail, but thanks to a gradual progression chart, she quickly built the confidence to rip down a slew of fun, flowy, berm-filled intermediate runs.
The trail progression signs aren't a gimmick—they truly work.
Progression: Not Just for Beginners
Even though much of this article may sound like it's tailored to beginners, it's worth noting that "progression" isn't just for new riders—it's for anyone who wants to improve their mountain bike skills.
Personally, sending big jumps is one of my main hesitations on bike park days. Oftentimes, it seems like the risk/reward ratio just doesn't make sense. While getting sick air is fun, the possible debilitating injury from one jump gone wrong doesn't seem worth the risk.
However, I've spent much more time riding park this season than ever before, and I'm finding myself slowly gaining more confidence on bigger and bigger hits. Yet again, Trestle provided the perfect training ground to slowly build my jumping skills. Where some other bike parks might only offer one or two jump runs, Trestle offers an entire spectrum of jumps, again providing incredible granularity in the skills progression.
By using the progression chart, intermediate jumpers looking to master black diamond-sized jumps can find the trail that pushes them outside their comfort zone juuust far enough, work to master the jumps on those trails, and then move up to the next one. Personally, some of the jumps on Upper Rainmaker and the newly revamped Spicy Chicken were right at the limits of my comfort zone, providing stretch opportunities to hone my skills and bigger hits on lower Rainmaker to truly push myself.
Trestle's Massive Rental Fleet
Whether you don't have a bike of your own or you don't want to subject your personal rig to the beat down that a bike park can dole out, Trestle offers the largest mountain bike rental fleet in Colorado, filled with a wide range of mountain bikes to try out. While the fleet does include some full-blood downhill bikes with dual crown forks, it also offers a wide variety of enduro bikes that are a bit more approachable to the average rider.
These aren't shitty clapped-out fleet bikes, either. Trestle offers a wide selection of top-tier brands, such as Trek, Rocky Mountain, Intense, Guerrilla Gravity (RIP), Propain, and Eminent. You can choose from either a standard-level rental bike or opt for a "premium" bike from one of these renowned brands. (They also rent junior bikes, too.) "These bikes are expensive, so it's a really good way to get into it without making a huge commitment if you are coming from the cross-country world," Jen astutely noted.
Trestle also rents all the other gear you might need for a day of downhilling, allowing you to get kitted in protective gear from head-to-toe. The best thing is, "you don't have to rent offsite. You can do everything right here," said Jen. After popping into the bike shop several times over my week-long trip, I can attest that the sheer scale and efficiency of the operation are truly impressive. If you so choose, you could literally fly into Denver International Airport with no bike gear whatsoever, drive up to Trestle, and get fully kitted out and on the trail by the time the lifts start spinning at 10am.
Top-Tier Professional Bike School
While many bike parks provide mountain bike skills coaching, Trestle is renowned for having one of the largest and most professional bike schools in the nation. "We have full-time instructors—that's what they do," said Jen. "A lot of them have former competitive backgrounds. If it's speed that you're after getting down the mountain, they can help with that. We have some clinics [for] banked turns, how to navigate more technical terrain, things like that to build your skill," she continued.
As Jen alluded to, the bike school offers a wide range of options. You can either join a group lesson or book a private lesson with more tailored instruction. You can also join a clinic that's focused on learning a particular skillset.
The coaches are truly top-notch riders. I got out for a day of shredding with two of the coaches—Fia and Christian—and they're absolute rippers who can also translate their skills into easy-to-understand verbiage for new and improving riders.
Getting Started at Trestle
With over 40 miles of downhill trails, including some of the biggest jumps in the state, the folks at Winter Park acknowledge that sometimes it can still feel intimidating to get started. For Trestle first-timers, Jen recommends that "if you have never downhill mountain biked, hire an instructor and rent the gear—the right gear. I know this from a professional perspective and also a personal one. I have some kids, and I took them up there not knowing, and it was a bit of a shock. It is super fun. It is a great way to get out on the mountain. I love it. But it also can be a little intimidating.
"Believe what the trail [difficulty] says, know your ability, and then hire an instructor," she concludes. Sage advice, even from someone who admits to not spending much time mountain biking.
We're all at different places in our mountain biking journeys, and whether or not Trestle will be intimidating or inviting depends on the individual. However, the incredible effort that Trestle has invested into building purpose-built mountain bike trails, rating those trails on an easy-to-understand difficulty spectrum, providing one of the largest rental fleets in the country, and employing top-tier coaches, when you head to Trestle to mountain bike you know that you'll be set up for an incredibly successful learning and progression opportunity.