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.

Comparing Colorado Snowpack – 2009 vs 2011

I managed to take a picture of the Taylor Reservoir this June in almost the same place as when I took a picture in June 2009. Both pictures were taken while riding on bicycle tours, but the results are very different.

In 2009, the picture was taken in late June, after a winter of relatively little snow. This year, the picture was taken in mid June, after a winter of very heavy snow and a long, cool spring.

It is also clear from the pictures just how low the reservoir level was this year compared to the past.

Taylor Reservoir in June, 2009
Taylor Reservoir in June, 2009

Taylor Reservoir in June, 2011
Taylor Reservoir in June, 2011

Clouds make for more awesome pictures.

2011 Ride the Rockies – Looking Back…

About the time I crossed the Oklahoma border I knew my Colorado vacation was officially over. The temperature gauge in the truck said 105 degrees, and it got worse by the time I reached DFW (thankfully it was a bit cooler once I reached the coast). One day prior, I was standing on top of Berthoud Pass shivering in the ~40 degree temperatures after a nice climb up the pass.

Day 6 – Granby to Georgetown

My last day of the tour went rather well. After reading Ingrid’s description of her day 6, I am very glad I slept in and avoided all the bad weather. I usually wake up around 5am while camping, but hearing the rain and feeling the cold is a great motivator for not leaving the sleeping bag. I didn’t make it out on the road until almost 8am on Friday, and by that time the rain had stopped in Granby and I never had any more for the remainder of the ride. It was still rather cool, though – when I made it to Winter Park the local banks showed 44 degrees on their clocks, and the sun never really peaked out of its clouds for the rest of the day.

Day 6 was one of those days that looked rather intimidating in the route map booklet. Berthoud Pass is not small, and I had driven it several times the week before the ride. Based upon that, I assumed it was going to be the 2nd hardest climb of the entire tour. In reality, it turned out to be one of the easiest. According to my gadgets, the climb from where the pass begins in earnest, just pass the Robber’s Roost campground, was 6.3 miles with a 4.3% average grade, climbing a grand total of 1821 ft. That’s really rather mild compared to many of the other climbs we did. Granted, it doesn’t tell the full story, as a lot of the climb occurred from Winter Park to this section of the pass, but that was even a shallower grade.

Chad on Berthoud Pass
Chad on Berthoud Pass

Regardless, I arrived at the top a lot sooner and a lot fresher than I had expected. It was certainly cold at the top, but thankfully the ride organizers had one of the motor coaches waiting at the top for us with the engine running to help riders warm up some. A nice hot coffee from the lovely ladies at Gypsy Crepes, followed by the obligatory picture of the pass sign, and then a relaxing warm-up in the bus was a great way to chill out after the climb.

The descent down from the pass was one of my favorites. I knew the road well from having driven it so much the week before, so I felt comfortable going full speed down. The several 15 mph switchback corners make great bike turns, especially with the gigantic shoulders that exist on this pass. The road quality, which seemed rather horrendous in my truck, was fine and mostly smooth on the bicycle. And then there was the reality that the descent was just plain fast, with little wind, little traffic, and really long. I barely had to work all the way down to the intersection with I-70 at Empire, and even after that the “climb” into Georgetown was really more of a gentle rolling road and was a great way to end the tour.

Day 5 – Steamboat Springs to Granby

Snow on Rabbit Ears Pass
Snow on Rabbit Ears Pass

My day 5, on the other hand, was not nearly as enjoyable as the last day. In fact, it was pretty clearly the one “bad” day of the tour I had. Granted, it started out fantastic with the climb up Rabbit Ears pass. I treated day 4 as an active recovery ride, and that plus a good yoga session left me in great condition to tackle that pass, especially since it started so early in the ride. My legs felt great, my energy levels were dialed in just right, and the altitude was relatively low so I was able to get into a climbing zone and hold it, all the way to the top. Looking back at my ride data, I can say with confidence that this was my best climb up a mountain ever. It was great fun, and the views at the top of the pass were fantastic. Lots of snow left, but it was melting so fast that all the streams in the meadows along the top were raging torrents.

The quality of the ride changed quite a bit once we began the descent off the pass. Instead of a lovely, fast descent, we encountered a rather stiff headwind. It really limited my downhill speed and frankly mostly ruined the I expected coming down off that pass. Perhaps that, plus the reality of 5 days in a row of hard work, put me in a bit of a cranky mood for what was to follow.

Towards the end of the descent, I hear a shout behind me about a rider passing – my first reaction was “yes!” since rarely had I noticed riders calling out if they do pass on a descent. What followed was a pace-line of 6 riders, going at least 40-45 mph (I was descending at 35). Descending in a pace-line is a rather dangerous and stupid behavior on a group ride, but what most surprised me was that in the back of the pace-line was a rider with OFFICIAL taped to his bag and helmet. He made the classic newbie-racer mistake of cutting back over to the right when he thought he was well clear of me. In reality, his rear tire brushed my front tire and nearly caused me to wipe out. I was pissed-off enough when this happened to me, but then I saw the same scene repeating itself for the next half mile of road, as the same group would continue to pass small groups and then cut sharply over to the right immediately in front of the riders they were passing. Incredibly reckless and negligent behavior on a group ride, especially from someone who should have known better – you can get away with that crap on a closed-course race circuit, but don’t do it on public roads with 2,000 other riders.

There’s an well-known truism in life that it is your own reaction to events that matter the most, not the events themselves. Certainly my reaction to the above incident put me in a foul mood for the rest of the ride. The strong headwinds didn’t help. The bad road conditions and heavy traffic on US40 didn’t help, either. But all of the normal little acts of rudeness and lack of courtesy from other riders seemed twice as bad as they normally would have. I really just did not have a good ride all the way to Kremmling. At the aid station here, I took time to chill out (a cookie is always a great de-stressor) and forget about the events that had transpired so I could focus on the rest of the ride. It helped knowing that the road direction was changing, and we were going to have a slight cross- and tail-wind for the remainder of the ride.

In fact, that rest of that day was fantastic. The trip to Granby was fast and scenic. The canyon near Hot Sulphur Springs was a joy to ride through, as all of those narrow, tall canyons tend to be. Granby itself was my least favorite town of the tour, but great beer was drunk, and good food was consumed, and all troubles were put aside.

Looking Back…

Despite the speed-bump on day 5, this year’s Ride the Rockies was my favorite bike tour to date. My training and fitness was the best I’ve done yet, and the few weeks of time I was able to spend at altitude before the ride clearly made a big difference for me. The views were stunning, especially of the Steamboat Springs area, which was a brand new part of the state for me.

There are still a few little things I think the ride organizers could do better. Having some basic medical supplies at each aid station is just a no-brainer. People forget sunscreen, lubricant and anti-inflammatories, or sometimes they just fall out of their pockets. Having a few of those things available, or even if some of the aid station vendors would realize they could sell these things, would really help out a lot of people that run into a situation where they need some. Likewise, even though the organizers do a good job pushing safety, clearly this message isn’t getting through to a lot of the riders, and the ride officials.

This post also appears on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/22/looking-back-on-ride-the-rockies-2011/1304

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 4 – The ‘Easy’ Day at Steamboat Springs

Today was the ‘easy’ day of this year’s Ride the Rockies. A relatively easy 50-mile loop in the Steamboat Springs area, or if you were so inclined, a nice day off to relax without having to relocate. A two-night stays in a single place is a great thing for riders on a long bicycle tour.

Old Sheds on the RangeThis part of the valley is incredibly scenic, with lots of beautiful countryside, ranches, and luxury homes in the hills to gawk at.

I had decided to make this ride a true recovery ride and keep my efforts to a bare minimum – the aching in my legs made this an easy decision. The first section of the route was slightly uphill, but these hills were small enough not to require too much effort. I also stopped a bunch of times when great ‘picture taking’ opportunities presented themselves. This certainly helped keep the ride effort low.

Just before the first aid station in Oak Creek, we had a long, but gradual climb to make. This was the longest climb of the day, but as we learned later, it was by no means the hardest. In fact, after leaving aid station 1 we had a long, and somewhat steep climb to make – I felt sorry for anyone who overate at the aid station pancake buffet and then had to make that climb.

View after leaving Oak Creek
View after leaving Oak Creek

Once we crested this big climb, we were given a great view of the countryside and a nice long descent towards one of the local mines along Twenty-Mile Road. At this point, the roads became to decend, and it was easy to make good time. We did have a couple of small climbs – a small ridge line separating us from Steamboat Springs in the distance.

The climbs over this ridge were surprisingly tough. They weren’t all that long, but the grades were rather steep. There were several 10-11% sections on a couple of the hills, even though I think the average grade for the entire climb was more along 7-8%. It was impossible to stay in the recovery zone on these hills, but I took it as easy as I could and just enjoyed the view.

Chad Climbing near Steamboat Springs
Chad Climbing near Steamboat Springs

The remainder of the ride gave us scenic roads on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs, with the same great views of the ranches along the hillsides. This really was a great route for our ‘easy’ day. The distance could have been shorter, but it was nice to get an easy 50 miles in without feeling like it was taking a lot out of you.

Hopefully all that active recovery will make the climb up the very steep Rabbit Ears Pass tomorrow go well!

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/15/the-easy-day-at-steamboat-springs/963/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 3 – Tough day, but great views

I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at the official route profile for the Edwards to Steamboat Springs ride that it would turn out to be my hardest day of the tour. Sure, the length of the route is 5 miles longer than the previous 2 days, but there were only two relatively small climbs shown on the profile, and a long downhill into Steamboat itself. A piece of cake, especially when compared to the Cottonwood Pass climb we did on day 1, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. The day started out fast and fun, with great weather, calm winds, and a nice mostly downhill ride out of Edwards. Once we hit Wolcott, the climbing began with a nice 1,000 ft climb and then a fast descent through Bond and then ending at McCoy where aid station 2 was located.

The bad news we heard about a rider crashing and later dying on a descent yesterday seemed to affect everyone I saw descending. There seemed to be a little reluctance to go as fast as the previous two days. It might have just been my own perception and awareness, but in general everyone seemed to be a lot more cautious than I have seen before.

After leaving aid station 2, we began the biggest climb of a day, a nice, long, winding climb along highway 131 heading towards Toponas. The terrain changed from high desert to a slightly more lush wide valley, with plenty of aspens and wildflowers to color the landscape along the way. This climb was really a lot of fun – the grade was just right, steep but not too steep, and it was long enough that you just needed to find your zone and keep the pedals turning.

There was a short descent after this hill towards Toponas, and this is where the trouble began. The mostly westwardly winds seemed to get stronger, and became a headwind for most of our route. The speeds coming into Toponas were much slower than I expected and once we reached aid station 3, we knew we were only halfway done with the day.

I took a long break at aid station 3, and indulged in some Nutella and banana crepes from one of the ride vendors. I’m sure it was an excessive amount of calories, probably more than I burned on the entire ride, but it was completely awesome and total worth it.

I wasn’t looking forward to the remainder of the ride, as we were going to have a headwind almost the entire way. But, I had a couple of guardian angels that showed up and made the next 20 miles amazing. A couple on a tandem that I had been hopscotching with all day passed me on a windy straight-away, and another rider and I latched on and used them as a nice, big windshield. I stayed with them until aid station 5, going at least 5-10 mph faster than I would have been able to maintain alone.

Stagecoach Reservoir
Stagecoach Reservoir

The Stagecoach Reservoir where aid station 5 was located is gorgeous, and frankly, so was the remainder of the ride coming into Steamboat Springs. This was my first time ever in this part of Colorado, and the first time to Steamboat Springs. The route through the lush valley coming into town was gorgeous, and hats off to whoever picked the route, and to making sure all the road obstacles were well marked. It remained windy, but luckily the downhill grade was enough to overcome it and I maintained a nice, fast pace coming all the way into town, even with the few rolling hills along the route.

This turned out to be my longest day in the saddle thus far at 5 hours and 45 minutes. I also wound up doing quite a bit more work than before too, pedaling out 2,977 kilojoules of work compared to 2,500 on the previous two days. Maybe that crepe wasn’t too many calories after all.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/14/day-3-the-hardest-day/871/