The mountain bike park cross-continental tour rolls on with a stop in the Southwest. The region's drier weather and sandy singletrack might not be the most ideal riding conditions, but it doesn't hold riders back from tearing up the handful of quality lift-serviced parks that dot the area. The Southwest has some of the highest elevation riding in North America, adding an added degree of toughness to the athletes that call the region home. Take a peek at what the guys down south are working with as we explore the top five mountain bike parks in the Southwest.
It's not necessarily traditional lift-accessed terrain, but Nevada's Bootleg Canyon, in Boulder City, outside of Las Vegas, does have shuttle services available so we're making an exception—it's that good. One of only 18 IMBA-designated "epic rides," Nevada's bike park representative features nine downhill and 15 cross country trails totaling over 35 miles and 1,000 feet of vertical. Almost all of the terrain at Bootleg is advanced (despite signs claiming "intermediate" options), including trails like Elevator Shaft—a steep shot that averages a 22 percent grade. Designed by trailmaster Brent Thomson, Bootleg has the unique problem of being almost too hot to ride in the summer, so prime season is November to June. For those that hate to see mountain bike season end, Bootleg Canyon might be the ticket for you. It's also worth noting that Bootleg is only 45 minutes from the Vegas Strip.
4. Pajarito Bike Park. Los Alamos, New Mexico
Pajarito is often overshadowed by nearby Angel Fire, but the resort in the Jemez Mountains by Los Alamos has miles of freeride and downhill trails worth making the visit. Just 45 minutes from Santa Fe, the area was severely damaged by the Las Conchas Fire a few years ago, but it has slowly returned to form. With over 1000 feet of vertical, Pajarito offers long rides that wind through eerie burn forests. There are a series of technical options like Mother's Milk, which features several North Shore inspired setups including a gnarly corkscrew. The fires damaged the trails but they didn't dent the spirit at Pajarito as the small area continues to host its Pajarito Summer Fest—a $15 festival that has unlimited beer tasting from 20 breweries and a free lift ticket. We're not sure if that's a great combination, but it sure sounds like a good time. Unfortunately Pajarito is only open for lift-accessed riding on select Saturdays, and therefore gets bumped further down our list.
Day Pass: $25
3. Snow Summit Bike Park. Big Bear, California
With the amount of quality mountain biking trails that exist in Southern California, it's a little surprising that there is very little lift-accessed terrain in the region. One place that's worth a visit though is Big Bear's Snow Summit. Snow Summit opened with three runs this year and has a five-year expansion plan that will add several more. Constructed by the guys at Gravity Logic (think Whistler Bike Park), Snow Summit's trails are flowy, fast, and technical and therefore have 45lb limit. Two express lifts shoot riders to the top where they can choose between the area's two advanced runs—Cruiser and Miracle Mile—and Snow Summit's new intermediate option, Westridge. Freeriders have plenty to work with on Miracle Mile, including a diving board, endless berms, and ten jumps. It's worth noting that, in typical SoCal fashion, trails are sandy and best hit after a solid rain.
Day Pass: $32
2. Angel Fire Bike Park. Angel Fire, New Mexico
New Mexico's Angel Fire Bike Park brings some serious heat with over 50 miles of downhill and cross-country trails cut into the heart of the rugged Southern Rockies. 2000 feet of vertical is just the start for downhill enthusiasts as flowy singletrack and big-time jumps keep riders up off their seats all day long. Nearly half of the mountain is advanced level terrain—the Candy Land jump line and Supreme Downhill singletrack are rites of passage for any regional rider—and the summit peaks out at 10,650 feet, so expect some lung burners. For those looking to ease into things, Angel Fire introduces a new intermediate trail, Angel's Plunge, for 2013. Also, build your skill set at any of the four skill parks at Angel Fire, including a slalom course and a park for practicing your drops. On top of supreme riding, the park has one of the longest running seasons in North America with riding starting in mid-May and stretching until mid-October.
Day Pass: $30
1. Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Mammoth Lakes, California
When it comes to classic lift-accessed downhill on the West Coast, no conversation is complete without Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. The California area features close to 80 miles of downhill and cross-country terrain, crowning itself, "the biggest bike park in the West." High-altitude rippers like Kamikaze helped put the area on the map, and its recent dip into freeride as kept Mammoth relevant with massive jumps and features on trails like Twilight Zone and Recoil. The Panorama Gondola makes access easy, and the Discovery Chair opens up the Discovery Zone—one of the only peaks in North America dedicated 100 percent to beginner riders. Because of the arid summer climate trails can suffer from soft turns, but after a rain, Mammoth's riding is hard to beat. 2013 is an important one for the guys and gals at Mammoth, as it marks the return of the Kamikaze Bike Games—a multi-discipline event that draws some of the best riders on the West Coast. Even still, day passes are pricey, so get there early to get your money's worth.
Day Pass: $47
Honorable Mention: Ski Apache, New Mexico
The southernmost bike park in the U.S., Ski Apache opened up a new six-mile downhill trail this year and has plans for future expansion. The area is within easy striking distance for anyone out of Santa Fe.
Day Pass: $27