Outlier Offroad Festival debuts in Vail Friday | VailDaily.com

Outlier Offroad Festival debuts in Vail Friday

Melanie Wong
Gretchen Reeves hustles through a meadow on Vail Mountain, which will host both an enduro and cross-country race during the Outlier Off-Road Festival.
Justin McCarty | Weekly file photo |

When it comes to mountain biking, Colorado has had a longtime love affair with the sport. But when it comes to having a spot on the map as far as major mountain-biking festivals and industry events, such as the Sea Otter Classic, Crankworx or Interbike, the Centennial State is largely left out — until now, that is.

The Outlier Offroad Festival debuts in Vail Friday through Sunday and includes demos from a multitude of brands, a cross-country race, a lift-accessed enduro race and a number of food and cultural events. It is expected to bring in hundreds of racers and follow hot on the heels of the industry’s biggest annual event in Las Vegas.

Read on to find out about what Outlier is bringing, as well as all of the other hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems you should be sure to ride in the Vail Valley.

Let the races begin

Outlier is bringing a number of firsts to the Vail Valley, but one that organizer Mike McCormack is most excited about is the cross-country race on Saturday, which will feature a never-before-raced course.

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“We’ll start out of Lionshead Village, and racers will go all the way up Mill Creek Road. The Grand Traverse (which follows the ridge of Vail’s Back Bowls) is involved, too. It’s a big, fun loop with three different distances offering something for all abilities,” McCormack said.

The best part about the course is the unparalleled views and real “backcountry” feel to the riding.

“We get to ride on terrain where the views are totally unique, and as far as I know, there has never been a race on the Grand Traverse,” he said.

The enduro race is Sunday and features three lift-served stages rich with vertical drops and flowing downhills on Vail Mountain. According to organizers, the course, which will be revealed on race day, is perfect for a 5- or 6-inch travel bike, but is possible on an XC bike. It will be the first downhill race at Vail since 2001.

McCormack sees that as a big step for an area that once hosted the World Mountain Bike Championships.

“I think it’s sort of a warm embracing of cycling by the town and resort. They want to show everything that the area has for both summer and winter. This is a nod toward that,” he said.

Vail Mountain Senior Director of Mountain Operations Elizabeth Howe said the Outlier will wrap up the summer with a signature event just like the GoPro Mountain Games kick the summer off in June.

“The Outlier Mountain Bike Festival is a great way to showcase our mountain trail system at Vail and will bring people to the resort during one of the most beautiful times of the year. The fall festival will provide guests with a fun new event to experience at the resort during a traditionally quieter time of the season,” she said.

And let’s not forget demos. People looking to check out the 2016 bikes can test ride their hearts out on Saturday and Sunday, and there’s an option that includes lift service.

A valley of hidden secrets

Attendees at the Outlier Festival will be kept busy with all that Vail has to offer, but if you have time, then venture farther into Eagle County to find some great trails.

There’s no better time to do it, because fall is mountain biking time in the mountains. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp and cooler, and you’ll likely have many of the trails to yourself. Riders can choose from a diverse slate of ride options within a 25-mile stretch of Interstate 70.

“Eagle County is just great for riding, with Vail at 8,000 feet, all the way down to 6,000 feet in Eagle. In between, you have Beaver Creek, which I think is the most magical place to ride,” said local rider and Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association member Robb Hamina.

Over the past couple of years, Avon has built a network of 11 miles of singletrack at the West Avon Preserve. Don’t be fooled by the mileage, as you can easily spend a strenuous three hours on these trails and not have ridden everything.

The trails offer mostly intermediate routes and a wide selection of terrain, depending on your preference for the day. There’s the rolling Avon-to-Singletree Connector if you are out for a shorter cruise. If you’re feeling more ambitious, then try the lung-busting Saddleridge climb. You’ll be rewarded at the top with one of the most-loved downhill trails in the valley — Lee’s Way. (Trail maps are at the trailhead.)

Beaver Creek doesn’t always get attention as a mountain-biking destination, but the beginner-level Village to Village trail combined with Allie’s Way, which winds through mystical aspen forests, is a don’t miss. Just be prepared for some climbing to get there.

A little bit of everything in Eagle

Then there’s Eagle, which has been hailed as a hidden gem for singletrack. The town has poured thousands of dollars into new trails and infrastructure over the past five years, and it shows. There, you’ll find sagebrush and gypsum-dirt riding, reminiscent of Fruita’s 18 Road trails.

“We have a little bit of everything, from Fruita-like riding to some high-alpine stuff. You see all elevations here,” said Charlie Brown, owner of the Mountain Pedaler bike shop in Eagle. “What’s unique is that you can park anywhere in town, or ride from any house or restaurant, and get to all the trailheads within 10 minutes on a bike. It’s quality, smooth singletrack and some hard climbing to go with if you so choose.”

Brown’s favorite epic loop is known to locals as the Half Hardscrabble Humper. For a full-day ride riddled with flowing singletrack, a lot of climbing and some long descents, hit up Pipeline, Wolverton, Firebox, Mike’s Night Out, Easy Rider and Abram’s. (See http://www.eagleoutside.com for trail maps.)

The newest additions to Eagle are family-friendly rides that have a high fun factor for all levels. Check out Haymaker and Boneyard for the best of beginner to intermediate riding.

“We’ve really seen the family-friendly stuff grow in the past years. Now, on any given normal riding day, you’ll definitely run into kids as young as 8 or 9 out there on the Haymaker trails. It’s great,” Brown said.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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