Charging down the mountain on two-wheeled beasts, armored up in full-body pads and covered in mud are downhill riders from Angel Fire’s biking trails.
When the snow melts and the trails open, downhill mountain bike riders from across the U.S. flock to the quiet town of Angel Fire to try and get as many runs down the slopes as possible before the lifts close or the summer storms roll in. Riders of all ages suit up and gear up for the thrilling ride down the snowless ski slopes to push 20 miles per hour through dirt, over jumps and down the steep slopes of the mountain to catch that rush of adrenaline before grabbing the chairlift and repeating the process.
“It made sense to have cross-country trails with a lift access, but the disciplines have changed,” said Hogan Koesis, Angel Fire Bike Park manager. “Now the mountain is more catered to the downhill riders.”
The mountain, which has been voted the best downhill bike park in the Southwest region by MTBparks.com for four years in a row, is open from mid-May to late October and has trails from beginning levels to expert. Open during the regular season daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., riders can pick up a pass for $49 – or $39 for youth and seniors – to enjoy the mountain for the day. Though riders have unofficially been using the mountain for downhill for some time, the official park at Angel Fire Ski Resort has been open for more than six years. Since then, trails have been maintained and created specifically for use in the sport.
Combining regular mountain biking with an extreme downhill aspect, downhill riding takes participants flying down the mountain in a fast-paced, high-risk scenario that requires focus, skill and bit of fearlessness. Downhill riders are often seen clad in pads from the chest to the legs and wear full-faced helmets and goggles for added protection. Once they have completed a lap on their run of choice, riders use specially designed chairlifts to load their bikes and ride back up the mountain for the next run.
“It’s a totally different style of riding,” said Kent Meyer, of Austin, Texas. “It’s fun, it’s fast and it’s a good adrenaline rush.”
Meyer makes the nearly 11-hour drive several times during the summer to ride what he considers to be one of the best downhill courses in the country. After riding bikes most of his life, Meyer took up downhill riding around five years ago and also participates in other extreme sports, such as skydiving. Often spending up to a month in Angel Fire to ride every day, Meyer has made the trip to the mountain a routine in his summer and said his time spent riding usually runs from early in the morning to the evening hours both on the trails and around town.
The culture is built into the mountain during the summer, as many of the cars in the Angel Fire Resort parking lot are either equipped with bike racks or have riders resting outside their vehicles between rides. At most courses, specialty shops are set up to cater to the needs and services of the riders and even allow rental bikes and rental packages for those looking at trying out the sport. While the activity may seem fun and exciting to newcomers, veterans of the extreme ride caution those interested and encourage them to ease their way into downhill riding.
“You can really hurt yourself up here,” said Jordan Cisneros, of Taos. “Crashing off some of the jumps would be pretty bad. I took one last year and broke a rib. Start off simple and just work at it.”
Cisneros said he has been riding for several years and finds downhill riding to be one of the most exciting activities in the area. Together with friend Grayson Naylor, the two make the trip from Taos to Angel Fire every summer to tackle the mountain’s trails. Both have endured several injuries, ranging from minor to serious due to the sport, but say that it is well worth the risk.
“The sport is amazing,” Koesis said. “If you ride cross-country, don’t think you’re engaging in an activity that is subpar. Experience is all about repetition.”
There are several variations of mountain bike riding and downhill tends to be what extreme sports junkies tend to gravitate to. Gravity bikes, or mountain bikes with rear suspension, are the preferred type while going downhill due to the wide range of motion on the bike provided by the suspension system. Normal front suspension mountain bikes are not necessarily recommended for downhill riding or those wanting to try out downhill for the first time. Rental bikes and gear packages are available at the Angel Fire Bike Shop, as are several repair services, including suspension repair.
Though the sport presents its danger with the speed and other factors, those who ride say that newcomers are hooked after the first trail.