Now that the lifts have stopped spinning, it’s time to peddle. Recently, we shared some of the best singletrack in ski country and now it’s pavement’s time to shine. We all know road biking is a great aerobic workout, but it’s especially good for snow sports athletes because you work your legs while taking it easy on the knees.
Unlike jogging, which maintains a constant heart rate, biking requires short bursts of intensity—great for interval training. And road biking is far from boring. The best part of a long climb is the exciting descent that follows (and maybe a hamburger joint waiting at the bottom). Just like skiing, you tend to forget everything but 100 yards in front of you. Need another reason to hit the road? From Bend to Burke Mountain, here are some of the best road rides in our favorite ski towns.
Summit County, Colorado
With nearly 6,000 feet in elevation gain, the Copper Triangle takes supreme physical fitness to conquer. Photo Courtesy of Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle.
One of Colorado’s classic alpine road rides, the Copper Triangle is a 78-mile loop cresting three passes—Fremont Pass (elevation 11,318 feet), Tennessee Pass (10,424 feet) and Vail Pass (10,666 feet). Typically starting in Vail or Copper (easier parking), the ride passes three ski areas, historic mining outposts and Camp Hale, the training grounds for the 10th Mountain Division. The scenery might distract you from noticing the total elevation gain, which is 5,981 feet. The route follows Highway 91 from Copper south to Highway 24, through Leadville and Minturn, then follows a bike path along I-70. If you’d like some support, the seventh annual Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle Alpine Classic takes place on Saturday August 3, 2013 and benefits the Davis Phinney Foundation, which supports medical research to improve the lives of those with Parkinson's.
The best part of ascending Mount Washington is knowing that you don't have to descend it. Photo by Meg Skidmore.
Some claim it’s the most difficult road bike hill climb in the U.S. and perhaps the world. The Mount Washington Auto Road is only open to bikes during the annual hill climb race (August 17, 2013), in which 600 riders climb 7.6 miles to the top of New Hampshire's Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England. The numbers aren’t pretty. The road climbs 4,727 feet from its base off of Route 16 outside Gorham, N.H., with an average grade of 12 percent. The last third of the road isn’t paved and jacks up to 22 percent for the last 50 yards. There are also 72 turns (the longest straightaway is only three-tenths of a mile, on dirt). Pro cyclist Tom Danielson owns the men's course record of 49:24. Cyclists aren’t allowed to descend the route, but on a mountain notorious for foul weather, it’s probably best. Even in August, Mt. Washington can see sub-freezing temperatures, rime ice and 30 mph winds.
Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Vermont is littered with picturesque roads that seem built for cycling, but the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is its most rural and scenic corner. It was one of the first geotourism areas in the world designated by National Geographic. Nestled between the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River, the Kingdom is marked by glacier-formed lakes and timeless villages. It’s the perfect place for a century ride, especially one linking two ski areas. Riding east from Jay Peak through Newport and the sleepy towns of Derby Center, Morgan and Island Pond, make your way to East Burke, home of Burke Mountain, then past the east shore of narrow Lake Willoughby, which offers views of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hoar.
Can you beat the train from Durango to Silverton? That's the goal when competing in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Photo Courtesy of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
The historic narrow-gauge train takes an average of three-and-a-half hours to make the 50-mile journey from Durango to Silverton. To succeed in the 40-year-old Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, that takes place annually on Memorial Day weekend, all you have to do is beat it. The grueling route climbs 6,700 feet as it summits Coal Bank and Molas passes in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It’s a great ride to do any time during the summer, but the morning of the Iron Horse, US550 is closed to cars in both directions from Purgatory to Silverton, which makes the ride that much nicer. The route follows the Animas River out of Durango and offers generous views of the San Juans throughout the ride. Beware of road damage and bumps on the descents. Make plans to take the train back to Silverton.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Climbing 3,472 feet in 8.38 miles with an average grade of 9.2 percent, Little Cottonwood Canyon offers an American equivalent of the Alp d’Huez, the infamous Tour De France climb, without the switchbacks. And the ride back down is smooth, flowing and about as much fun as you can have on skinny tires. LCC has served as the final stage of the Tour of Utah. Just be cautious of the vehicle traffic on this heavily-traveled route. When you’re done, why not tackle nearby Big Cottonwood Canyon?
The Cascade Cycling Classic winds through the Deschutes National Forest. Photo Coutesy of DBoswell Photography.
This challenging, 85-mile loop through the Deschutes National Forest and the Cascade Mountains mimics the Queen Stage of the annual Cascade Cycling Classic, the longest-running stage race in the U.S. Plus, you can start and finish at any of the 10 world-class craft breweries in town. Century Drive climbs nearly 3,000 feet from Bend to the base of Mt. Bachelor, a striking 9,065-foot stratovolcano that dominates the skyline. The route then loops around the resort, descending past 12,000-foot volcanoes, wilderness areas and high alpine lakes. Spring River Road directs you east through the conifers before the final climb on Edison Ice Cave Road. The final 16-mile stretch descends into Bend, where a cold brew awaits.
Biking Lake Tahoe clockwise will keep you on the lake-side of the road for amazing views. Photo Courtesy of the Lake Tahoe Marathon.
The ultimate loop, Lake Tahoe offers 72 miles of scenic pedaling. With only two long, steep hills, the ride is feasible for intermediate riders. Most choose to ride clockwise, which keeps you on the lake-side of the road for better views. An early start is recommended, as some sections have little to no shoulder. Another popular ride nearby is the loop formed by Highway 89 from Tahoe City to Truckee, Highway 267 from Truckee to Kings Beach and Highway 28 from Kings Beach back to Tahoe City.
When it comes to road cycling in Ketchum, it’s quality over quantity. Riding from downtown to 8,701-foot Galena Summit, the headwaters of the Salmon River, offers the perfect half-century. Turning around at Alturas Lake makes for an even 100 miles. With a consistent grade and hairpin turns, Galena is a fun and exciting descent.
Biking to the Maroon Bells gives you stunning vistas of the world's most-photographed peaks. Photo by Jeremy Swanson.
While 12,095-foot Independence Pass offers superlative qualities that are hard to beat, combining the classic Maroon Bells and Ashcroft rides offers a scenic tour of the area's most-famous valleys. The Maroon Bells, the world’s most-photographed peaks, are the prize after the seven-mile gradual climb up Maroon Creek Road. In the summer, the road is closed to vehicles during daylight hours. Descend back to the roundabout and take Castle Creek Road, which winds through spectacular scenery en route to the ghost town of Ashcroft.