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Downhill biking in Angel Fire Bike Park

I could barely speak by the end of my first run down the mountain. As the waves of adrenaline and awe hit, the most I could manage to stammer out between deep breaths of crisp New Mexico air was, “I did it? I did it! I was going so fast! Let’s go again.”

I’d skied down mountains (this very one, in fact); I’d raced down Alpine slides, whipping through aspen and spruce trees. I’d mountain-biked; I’d road-biked. But nothing prepared me for downhill biking at the Angel Fire Bike Park.

Unlike mountain biking, there is no uphill climb—it’s pure downhill action, all the way to the exhilarating end, as you hurtle from an elevation of 10,600 feet, right to the base of the chair lift another 2,000 feet below. It was 20 minutes of weaving across open fields of igneous rocks, whipping into berms that slingshot you from one side of the mountain to another, jumping boulders and wooden mini-ramps that toss you into the air before bouncing you back down on bikes with outsized shock absorbers, the likes of which you normally see in the X Games.

The experience reminded me more of BMX racing than anything else. I was kitted out in layers of hard plastic armor provided as part of my rental package for the day. “Is this your first time?” the pros in the shop kept asking as I was outfitted with a bike adjusted to my height and experience level, a heavy-duty helmet, and pads that included a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle–style back piece to ensure I wouldn’t be breaking my spine.

“Yes, can’t you tell?” I laughed as I nervously tested my hand brakes, waiting for that first chair-lift ride up. “You’ll fall,” they all chuckled. “But don’t worry—everyone falls!”

As we headed up the mountain with our bikes strapped into the lift ahead of us, my guide, Hogan Koesis, the manager of the park as well as its designer and architect, explained how the place had come to exist: as a way of taking advantage of the mountain during the summer, when the ski resort town of Angel Fire had been previously dormant.

Today, Koesis said proudly, “it’s the largest bike park in the Rocky Mountains,” and no longer quiet during the summer months. The mountain was crowded with riders looking to make the most of the dwindling season, though Koesis and I had the easier trails to ourselves (like ski slopes, the routes are designated green, blue and black, according to difficulty level). After I tackled two green trails with ever-increasing confidence, Koesis grinned and said, “I think you’re ready for a blue!”

 

Downhill biking might be my new favorite thing, tumbles and crashes notwithstanding. 🚵🏻🔥🔥🔥

A post shared by Katharine Ermis (@kshilcutt) on

Halfway down that blue trail—a tough one named Boulder Dash—my confidence got the best of me. I crashed and burned in a spectacular wipeout that drew cheers from other bikers taking a break in a nearby open field. Thanks to my Ninja Turtle pads, however, I was unharmed and ready to keep going—which I did, before crashing once more. Though I was still unscathed, Koesis plopped me back on an adjacent green trail to finish.

At the bottom, I parked my bike in the shop to take a lunch break at the adjoining lodge. “You fell!” hooted the bike shop pros. I looked in the mirror and saw myself, covered in dirt, a clod of it sticking out of my helmet, my pants ripped above my kneepads. I had definitely fallen. “Don’t worry about it,” one of the guys chuckled as he took my gear for cleaning. “It’s no fun if you come to the park and don’t fall—then you don’t have a story to tell.”

Indeed, it’s a story I’ve shared many times over, reliving that elating, exciting day on the mountain with every telling.

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Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park

Pro Tips:

Stay

  • Angel Fire Resort offers rooms at the main lodge, as well as condos, chalets and cabins, starting at $139/night.

Do

  • Book a fly-fishing expedition through the Angel Fire Resort, whose guides will take you on a scenic tour of the Cimarron River.
  • Take a tour at Enchanted Circle Brewing (20 Sage Ln., 505-216-5973), which ends with a stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range.
  • Go shopping in neighboring Eagle Nest, whose charming main street is lined with boutiques and antique stores.
  • Visit Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, where a stunning mid-century chapel and various artifacts are preserved in the midst of the majestic Moreno Valley.
  • Go hiking, hunting or fishing at Carson National Forest, which offers an abundance of opportunities within its rugged, wild animal–filled 1.5 million acres.
  • Enjoy the free Cool Summer Nights Concert series in Frontier Park every Friday from June 24 to September 2.
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The Cool Summer Nights Concert Series is held every Friday through September 2.

Eat

  • At Hail's Holy Smoked BBQ, the brisket is smoked and the kolaches baked fresh every day by an expat Texan and his wife.
  • The Lift Café & Market, inside the main lodge at the Angel Fire Resort, offers Hatch chile–laden breakfast sandwiches that will wake you up before you hit the mountain.
  • Don’t miss Angel Fired Pizza, where the Smoke House pie comes topped with bacon, roasted garlic and smoked Gouda.
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