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Mountain biking in the mountains ... at ski areas; ski lifts whisk you and your bike up for an exhilarating descent. The ideas is spreading in the West.

As any skier could tell you, there's more than one way to get down the mountain these days. Snowboarders, telemarkers even monoskiers are gaining on traditional alpine two-boarders, whose numbers leveled off years ago. Now ski areas are promoting another downhill option for after the snow melts: they're offering their lifts, trails, accommodations, and appealing mountain settings as enticements to mountain bikers.

Though still in its adolescence, mountain biking has become one of the most popular pursuits in the West: on any sunny weekend, near any urban area, you're likely to encounter the knobby twowheelers on any trail open to them. Ski areas expand the potential of outings beyond these brief forays onto trails just outside the city limits. In fact, you can plan an entire vacation pedaling around the kind of lofty terrain from which the bikes take their name.

Shuttles or ski lifts with special cars or racks to carry bikes) take most of the work out of gaining elevation for exhilarating downhill rides on unpaved snowcat tracks and adjacent Forest Service roads and trails. Barbecue lunches on open summit decks and at midmountain chalets offer the same chances to relax and soak up the mountain air and sunshine as they do during the spring ski season.

And on-site lodging, priced substantially lower than in winter, eliminates the need for hauling bikes around. These resorts often also have easy access to golfing, tennis, and horseback riding, as well as hot tubs and other niceties, adding to ski resorts' appeal for bikers who want a wellrounded vacation with equal measures of exertion and pampering.

California and Colorado lead the way in providing full-service vacations to mountain bikers. The 10 resorts we describe (including one in Montana, another in British Columbia) have enough marked or mapped trails close at hand for at least two or three days of biking, lots of rental bikes, and tours or lessons to introduce you to the sport or improve your skills. Daily lift tickets range from free to $15. Many resorts offer two- or three-day packages that combine lodging, bike rental, lift pass, and a lesson or tour (typical cost is about $150 per person for a two day package). Some also have day-care centers that can keep your children happily occupied while you're taking a spin.

For each resort, we list a telephone number for mountain biking information, followed by a number for lodging. Because accommodations were built with larger winter crowds in mind, you should be able to reserve for almost any time during summer. In fact, if you like to be where the action is, you might feel a little lonely at some resorts, which can seem almost deserted. On the other hand, hordes of mountain biking enthusiasts do roll into town occasionally for races and festivals sponsored by many of the resorts; ask about any such events when you reserve, so you can join the pack or avoid it. Listings (turn page) are north to south. CALIFORNIA

Northstar, Box 129, Truckee 95734; (916) 587-0248, (800) 533-6787. This North Lake Tahoe resort offers mountain biking on maintenance roads criss-crossing the downhill runs and trails of its cross-country ski area, as well as on logging roads maintained by Fibreboard Corporation, the resort's owner.

This year, for the first time, Northstar will operate a chair lift to take mountain bikers halfway up Mount Pluto. Free clinics on riding techniques, basic bike repair, and safety are given each morning. Participants on guided 3-hour tours stop at picturesque Watson Lake for a box lunch.

Accommodations consist of several condominium complexes in or near a central village. Rates include use of a recreation center's swimming pool, hot tubs, tennis courts, and exercise room; golfing and horseback riding cost extra.

Mammoth Mountain, Box 353, Mammoth Lakes 93546; 619) 934-0606, (800) 228-4947. Last year, this aptly named Eastern Sierra ski area unveiled its summertime alter ego, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Several new single-track trails and beginner routes extend the trail system to 75 miles this season.

A gondola lifts cyclists more than 2,000 feet to the 11,053-foot summit, where they can test their skills and courage by descending the notorious Kamikaze Trail (sandtrap-like "pumice pits" make for tricky riding on this and many other trails in the Eastern Sierra). Less-confident cyclists might want to first join a guide for a park orientation.

Challenging alternatives to trail riding include a timed slalom course, an obstacle arena, and a children's BMX course (like a dirt-bike course but for mountain bikes) with tight turns and big bumps.

Van-assisted tours can take you to lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, and ghost towns in the vicinity. Or tour nearby public lands on your own, using maps with detailed descriptions and difficulty ratings of unpaved road routes, and arrange for a van to pick you and your bike up at the end of your ride.

Mammoth Mountain Inn has 214 rooms at the base of the mountain. Snow Summit, Box 77, Big Bear Lake 92315; (714) 866-4565, (800) 445-2223.

Team Big Bear Mountain Bike Center takes over the summer operations at this ski area in the San Bernardino Mountains, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. For the first time this summer, mountain biking will be allowed within the ski area boundaries on a new single-track trail; the trail supplements a 60-mile system of marked national forest roads and trails accessible from the top of Chair 10.

Two types of tours, each about 2 hours, are available weekends and holidays (and weekdays by reservation): a 5-mile ride around the beginner loop at the base of the mountain, with instruction on shifting, riding, and braking techniques; and a 9-mile rolling ridgetop ride that affords scenic views of San Gorgonio Wilderness and Big 13ear Valley. For other guided rides that follow a different route each weekend, call the bike hotline at (714) 866-4621.

More than 200 two- and three-bedroom condominiums at the base of the ski area are available by the night or week. For other nearby accommodations, call the Big Bear Lake Visitors Authority at (714) 866-7000.

COLORADO

Steamboat, Box 774408, Steamboat Springs 80477; (303) 879-0880, (800) 922-2722. This large resort offers lifts on its Silver Bullet Gondola to a combination of new single-track and road-width trails built for novice and intermediate riders. An extensive new rental bike fleet will be split between shops at the top and bottom of the mountain. Guides are available for biking tours. At mountaintop restaurants, riders can dine on barbecue lunches, four course dinners, and Sunday brunch.

Bike paths lead from the ski area through the lush Yampa Valley, and roads and trails of Routt National Forest can take you to hot springs, waterfalls, and lakes. Several bike shops in Steamboat Springs sell maps arid run guided tours.

Horseback rides will also be available on the ski mountain this year. An 18-hole golf course, Yampa River whitewater, and spring-fed pools offer additional diversions. At the base of the mountain are dozens of condomniuin complexes and hotels.

Winter Park, Box 36, Winter Park 80482; (800) 521-2453, 453-2525. Already renowned for its wealth of mapped mountain biking routes (billed as the world's largest system), the appealingly wideopen Fraser Valley will have even more trail mileage this year when Winter Park Resort opens its new high-speed quad lift and 44 miles of new trails to mountain bikers, as well as a summit terrain garden. The ski area's trails link up with more than 600 miles of mountain biking routes mapped by the local Fat Tire Society; almost half have been marked with numbered posts. Routes are shown on large signs at trailheads in the town of Winter Park. Fold-up maps showing routes color coded for difficulty are also available. To explore unmarked trails, you can join rides led every Thursday night by knowledgeable riders.

Tour operators provide alternatives to the lift for gaining elevation. Mad Adventures (726-5290) will transport you and your bike to a summit so you can ride back to town.

The ski area's diversions include a bobsled-like ride and miniature golf course; whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and golfing are nearby. For a taste of the valley's still-thriving ranching traditions, grab a plate of barbecued steak and corn on the cob and a bleacher seat at the local rodeo, held every Saturday night in July and August in the small town of Fraser. Iron Horse Resort Retreat has the only mountainside lodging at the ski area itself-, call (800) 621-8190. Call the Winter Park central reservation number above other nearby accommodations.

Vail, Box 7, Vail 81658; (303) 949-9090, 800) 525-2257. One of the first ski areas to open its lifts to cyclists, Vail continues to add to its trail system this year with the opening of the first leg of the Grand Traverse, a nearly level trail that will eventually encircle the ski area at the 10,200foot level. Both a gondola (equipped with special carts for hauling bikes) and a chair lift elevate bikers 2,000 feet to midmountain trailheads for single-track and road rides. An exhilarating coast down the 5 1/2-mile Village Trail enjoys views of jutting Gore Range peaks before traversing shady stands of aspen.

Midmountain amenities include a bike rental shop, barbecue deck, and restaurant, as well as a mountain bike terrain park resembling a miniature golf course, fraught with obstacles that test your ability to stay in the saddle. New this year are full-day guided tours that take riders through the mountain's back bowls.

Overnight biking trips from Vail to 10th Mountain Trail huts, as well as backcountry day trips, are offered by Bikemeister; call (800) 274-0636. You can visit one of the privately owned huts," Shrine Mountain inn, perched at 11,209 feet on a short ride from Vail Pass; the inn serves excellent lunches and prix fixe dinners in summer. This and other rides in the area are described in a guidebook available at local bike shops.

Beaver Creek, a sister resort 10 miles to the west, also operates a chair lift for mountain bikers and is developing a trail system (call the Vail information numbers below left for details).

Vail's base village bustles more than most ski areas with cultural and outdoor activities in summer, and provides a wide range of accommodations, from large luxury hotels to'bed-and-breakfasts.

Copper Mountain, Box 3001, Copper Mountain 80443; (303) 968-2882, ext. 6322, (800) 458-8386, ext. 1. From Vail, you can follow a paved bike path over Vail Pass to this well-groomed resort. A chair lift carries riders and their bikes up to 11,200-foot Solitude Station, where you can rent a bike if you didn't bring one up with you. From there, ride 2 miles to the 12,050-foot summit and breathtaking views of Ten-Mile Range peaks, or coast down to the base on mapped maintenance roads zigzagging across the downhill runs. The resort also supplies maps showing routes through canyons and over passes in the surrounding national forest, including a section of the Colorado Trail, and will provide a shuttle for guests who want to take one-way backcountry rides.

Lodging options range from hotel rooms to four-bedroom townhouses. Resort guests have access to the Copper Mountain Racquet & Athletic Club's tennis and racquetball courts, weight-training room, and lap pool. The resort also has its own stables, and the highest 18-hole golf course in the United States. Purgatory, Box 3496, Durango 81302; (303) 247-9000, ext. 5102; (800) 5250892. Fat-tire fanatics converged en masse at this San Juan Mountains resort last fall when it hosted the first World Mountain Bike Championships. The courses created for the event have been incorporated into the ski area's chair lift served, 38-mile trail system. Unintimidating marked trails for beginners have also been added at the base of the mountain this year. More than a hundred miles of old stagecoach roads and other backcountry routes fan out from Purgatory. Many of the best are described in a San Juan National Forest booklet available at the resort and at bike shops in Durango. Day tours of varying difficulty are also offered. In addition to hauling bikers, the resort's chair lift serves a bobsled-like alpine slide. Horseback riding, fishing, tennis, and volleyball are among other activities available at the resort. You can stay at the 152-room Purgatory Village Hotel-which has an indoor outdoor pool, steam room, sauna, and hot tubs--or rent one of hundreds of mountainside condominiums. More ski areas for biking vacations Besides the ski areas in California and Colorado described above, these resorts in Montana and British Columbia also cater to mountain biking vacationers: Montana: Big Sky, I Lone Mountain Trail, Box 1, Big Sky 59716; (406) 9952324, (800) 824-7767. A gondola takes riders up Lone Mountain for downhill rides, while other routes lead to waterfalls and lakes in Gailatin National Forest. Golf, tennis, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting and kayaking are also available. Accommodations include hotel rooms in Huntley Lodge and five condominium complexes. British Columbia: Whistier/Blackcomb, 4010 Whistler Way, Whistler, B.C. VON IB4; (604) 932-3928, (800) 634-9622. The astonishing vertical measurements that attract skiers to these adjacent mountains also make for great mountain biking. Cyclists can take a gondola up Whistler or chair lift up Blackcomb for guided or self-guided descents on routes ranging from novice-friendly access roads to technically challenging single-track trails. They can also ride on nearby crosscountry skiing trails, and on hundreds of miles of trails throughout Whistler Valley. The European-style base village contains several hotels and condominiums.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
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Date:Jul 1, 1991
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