Epic Bicycle Rides – Corona Pass in Winter

I biked up Corona Pass on 1/1/2016.

What’s Corona Pass?

Corona Pass, also known as Rollins Pass, is a high-altitude mountain pass in north-central Colorado, between the towns of Winter Park and Nederland. Part of the Moffat Road, Rollins Pass was the first railroad passage over the Rocky Mountains, before the Moffat tunnel was opened in 1928. The pass was used by railroad traffic from the early 1900s through 1928, and then thereafter has been used mostly as an scenic automotive drive.

In the summertime, I bicycle up Corona Pass several times a season. It’s great to get above the tree-line on a bicycle, and the pass road itself has access to many great single-track trails such as Broken Thumb, Twisted Ankle, and Rogers Pass.

In the winter, the road turns into a snowmobile heaven.  The Grand Adventures company has the USFS permits for grooming much of the trails in the Fraser Valley, and Corona Pass is one of the major roads for their service (and for public use as well). As a result, it turns into a great road for fat biking in the winter. I’ve ridden this pass in Winter a couple of times each season, and it’s always been a blast.

The Plan

This ride had been my New Year’s Day plan for a while, but it almost didn’t happen. It got down to -20ºF overnight at my place, and in the morning it wasn’t really warming up. But, thanks to some weather sorcery, it was actually warmer closer to the mountains. I left 90 minutes later than planned – at 11:30am it was -11ºF at my place, and 15 miles away at the start of my ride it was a whopping 8ºF. Cold, but certainly bearable, especially on such a bright sunny day.

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The Destination

The road was in great shape on the way up – groomed, snowmobiled, and packed in well.

On the way down, enough snowmobile traffic had come up during my ride that the snow was really chewed up. In some respects that made for a better descent, as I had to pedal just enough to keep my heart rate up and that kept me from freezing as much.

The ride up took 2hrs 50min to cover 9 miles, with 2200 ft elevation gain with a 4.4% average grade. The descent took just an hour.

This was the first time I made it all the way to the top of where the snowmobile traffic goes. What a great adventure, and great way to start 2016.

Scenes Along the Way

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After a 3/4 mile climb over a rough snowmobile trafficked hill from the parking lot, I wound up on Corona Pass road. The Grand Adventures snowmobile rental company grooms the main road regularly. It’s a gentle grade (~3-5%) and a relatively easy climb up. The road closed sign is because the Needle Eye tunnel, on the Front Range side, collapsed years ago and they haven’t re-opened it yet. You can go all the way up from Nederland, and all the way up from Winter Park, but you can’t drive over – non-motorized traffic can make it over, though.

 

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Only light tracks left on the super packed snow.

 

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First big break with the treeline now closeby. Rogers Pass is in view, and Riflesight Notch is just ahead.

 

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The famous Riflesight Notch railroad trestle. When the railroad ran, the tracks would circle down the hill and then come out underneath the trestle from a tunnel, hence the name.

 

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A friendly snowmobiler took my picture while next to the trestle. Mt. Epworth and my destination is just behind me.

 

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Welcome to the tundra. I MADE IT! This is as high as I’ve been in in the winter on any of my rides up here. Rollins Pass is about 2-3 miles in the distance, but the road isn’t groomed in the winter (enough for me to make it on a bike, anyway).

 

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I’m still alive! Despite being very, very cold, there was no wind today – absolutely none. It was awesome up top.

 

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Gratuitous pano…

 

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Looking down towards the Fraser valley from the top. You can see Fraser and Tabernash (my place!) far below.

 

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And there’s the Continental Divide! Just a hundred yards or so away. On the otherside is Nederland and then Boulder.

 

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Looking towards Winter Park we can see the ski resort and the Riflesight Notch railroad trestle where I just came from.

 

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Looking back towards the North we can see Mt. Epworth and Rollins Pass in the distance. If you look closely, you can see snowmobile tracks the more advanced riders have made over to that area.

 

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Further down the hill. In the summer, this rock is just above the main road. The snowmobiles all wind up here for the scenic view.

 

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11,500 ft!

 

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About to descend… this hill, down towards Corona Bowl, was actually too steep to ride up, so I hiked up. Coming down, a minute or so after this shot was taking, I built up too much speed and had a spectacularly fluffy powder crash. A little less air pressure in the tires would have helped that…

 

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Back down at the Riflesight Notch railroad trestle… still early in the season so it is visible.

My 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Experience

In August of 2011 I raced my first Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike event. I was lucky enough to get past the lottery system in February, and spent most of the rest of the spring and summer preparing for the event. This is the story of my training leading up to the actual event and the details of the event itself.

Continue reading My 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Experience

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 2 – Windy Climbs on the Way to Leadville

Day 2 started out a bit nicer than day 1 – it was 10 degrees or so warmer in Buena Vista than Crested Butte, making getting ready a whole lot more enjoyable.

I decided to skip breakfast at camp and opted for the famous pancake breakfast at the first aid station – this may have been a bad plan. The first 13 miles were the hardest of my day – moderate cross- and head-winds the entire way, and a gradual climb with no respite the entire way. Couple that with tired muscles from day 1 and it was a rough way to start out the day. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way – I heard lots of complaining along the way, and some short tempers compared to day 1.

The pancake breakfast hit the spot as it always does, and gave me enough energy to head directly to Leadville and bypassing aid station 2. The ride into Leadville was surprisingly easy compared to the first 13 miles. The road grade seemed more gradual, the winds miraculously died down completely, and the temperatures were perfect.

The road quality in this section was the main issue, as we had little to no shoulder and a sandy margin beyond that. Oh, and of course the altitude continued to creep up and we did a large part of this section over 9,000 ft, eventually reaching 10,200 ft in Leadville proper.

After a nice break in Leadville, it was time to leave town, go on a short, fast descent, and then make our way up Tennessee Pass. This climb was fantastic. The road grade was very gradual making the climb up to 10,424 ft a pretty easy one.

The descent down from Tennessee Pass was fast, mostly straight, with only a little road traffic to contend with. This descent ended too quickly though, and then it was time to climb Battle Mountain. At 59 miles into the ride, and the hardest climb of the day, this climb wore a lot of us out. It was much steeper than the other climbs up the day and the temperatures had warmed enough by then to make shedding clothes a necessity. The road was narrow, rough, and with lots of traffic, but the views were spectacular.

After Battle Mountain, we had a fast 15 mile descent into Minturn, followed by another descent along US 6 into Edwards. That section of US 6 was almost entirely downhill, but there was some occasional strong winds that made the descent quite a lot of work.

The overnight setup in Edwards is nice – maybe a bit more spread out than we’d like, but everything is nice and clean. I made sure to visit the yoga class this evening to help work out some kinks after a couple of hard days of riding. We’ll see how that helps with day 3 trip to Steamboat Springs!

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/windy-climbs-on-the-way-to-leadville/764/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Preparing for the Ride

When I finally made it to 12,000 ft elevation, I thought for sure I’d feel better than I had in the past. After all, I live at sea level, and any additional time at high elevation should help my acclimation quite a bit. This year, I’ve been in Colorado exploring and training for almost a full month before the Ride the Rockies begins – I should be getting somewhat used to the higher altitudes by now. But that climb up to 12,000 ft reminded me how foolish I was to think it would come so easy. It was easy to get out of breath just doing a normal pace walk, even after all the time here.

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Land's End as seen from the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

The effects of the higher elevation on me are different than I would really have expected. Yes, if I jump right into it from sea-level, I’ll get the classic headaches and a bit of dehydration. But more surprising is how it effects my riding. I don’t see increased heart rates, and I don’t see a longer time to recover after a hard effort. What I do see, though, is a precipitous drop in power output compared to riding back home. After a season of training, that’s quite frankly annoying to see performance drop just because of a few little, er, massive mountains.

Still, it’s great fun climbing up these things, especially given back home in coastal Texas I can ride for 70 or 80 miles and see a grand total of 150 ft in elevation gain. Climbing 5,000 or more ft a day really lets you know your body had some hard work to do, and the feeling is incredible.

Rim Rock Rd High Point
The high point of Rim Rock Rd in the Colorado National Monument

I’ve been lucky enough this spring to be able to spend some extra time in Colorado and do some of my favorite rides: Durango to Silverton, the Colorado National Monument, and a loop up Grand Mesa. These are amazing rides, especially so for someone like me who doesn’t live in the state and has few chances to ride them.

The first day of this year’s Ride the Rockies is the day I look forward to the most, thanks to Cottonwood Pass. I rode up Cottonwood Pass back in 2009 on another tour, and it was fantastic fun, despite the heavy rain, fog, and new freezing weather we had the entire way up. I didn’t get a chance to ride down into Buena Vista because the ride course was shut down, something I’m hoping to correct this year.