Among many of Santa Fe’s splendid qualities is our extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Though Santa Fe receives snow throughout the winter, it is not so much to prevent the avid outdoor enthusiast from exploring the nearby Sangre de Cristo via the Dale Ball trail system conveniently located just a short ride from downtown. I’m not alone in my love for these trails; USA Today named Santa Fe in their list of Top 10 Mountain Biking towns in the U.S. in October 2013; just a few years ago the International Mountain Biking Association hosted a city-wide event.
Being such an enthusiast, I try to hit the trails just off of Upper Canyon road three times a week on my trusty mountain bike. Because the trails are used much less this time of year I am guaranteed a quiet, rejuvenating adventure. I may come across the occasional hiker, and the even more rare mountain biker (as trail courtesy dictates, I always yield to hikers, runners, horseback riders, and a climbing biker with a smile and “enjoy!”). This means I often see the shyer wildlife of Santa Fe. So far this year I’ve come across a family of deer venturing down for some food, and a roosting owl. In Idaho, where I am from and developed my love of the mountains, I have had the pleasure of riding upon fox, elk, raccoon, and eagles during my winter excursions.
The cool air, and slightly snowy trail make for a subtly different experience than spring or summer rides. For one, it is best to ride in the early morning, or evenings to avoid the afternoon melting and mud that comes with our 20-30 degree temperature shifts. This is both to make the ride easier, but also to respect the trail by not eroding it further when it is in its more fragile state. The riding style changes a bit to avoid the nasty fall from an unexpected patch of ice. Whereas in the summer I will lean into a corner more, I ride in a more upright manner during the winter, making sure to try and keep the center of my tread continually in contact with the trail, especially when I enter a blind corner.
Naturally, I wear a little more than the typical bike jersey and shorts-I layer up with a long-sleeve wool undershirt (or a synthetic, wicking blend for those adverse to wool), and a pair of cross country ski leggings underneath my normal outfit, finishing it with thick winter socks and a dual layer of warming gloves covered by full-fingered mountain biking gloves. My helmet is my constant companion, not only protecting my head, but also working in tandem with ear warmers to keep my brain warm and cozy. Sunglasses go without saying with Santa Fe’s sunshine, but they also help prevent your eyes from drying out in the cold air, especially on the descent. As always, you can never drink too much water while visiting Santa Fe; a winter’s ride is no exception-I’m a big fan of the water pack on the back, laden with tools, an extra tube, pump, a snack, and my cell phone in case of an emergency. A small tip is to apply some Aquaphor on your lips before riding to prevent the discomfort of cracked lips.
Just last weekend, I rode from downtown to the trailhead for trail #24 off of Cerro Gordo road. There is a small parking lot at the head for those that choose to drive to it. It rambles up, changing its number a few times until it hits Hyde Park Road. I then cut over to the Paseo Del Norte Parking Lot where I jumped on trail #9 and looped around the mountain a few times, enjoying the breathtaking view over the Santa Fe valley. Finally, I backtracked, heading down to trail #24 and back downtown. But not before I took a few pictures of the views afforded by my efforts!
I particularly enjoy the Dale Ball trails because of the way they loop together with short sections so I can create a custom ride each time depending on my lungs’/legs’ ambition and the complexity I want that day. The Dale Ball Trails are definitely an intermediate to advanced experience for bikers, though hikers of all levels can enjoy them. For the mountain biker just starting out, I recommend the La Tierra trails just off of the Santa Fe Relief route (US 599). Just a 10 minute drive away, they too have a series of short loops ranging in technical skill and steepness. For the adventurous biker, I recommend Atalaya trail, located just behind St. John’s College. Steep, Rugged, and technical, it will challenge the most experienced rider, but will equally award with the best view of Santa Fe you can get!
Most bike shops in town have maps of the Dale Ball system as well as La Tierra, and can give you more winter riding tips. I recommend Mellow Velo for guests of Inn of the Governors given they are located just five blocks from the Inn and have a well-maintained fleet of rentals and a tenured staff who is friendly and knowledgeable. Another respected alternative is New Mexico Bike and Sport, located at the corner of Cordova and St. Francis, just a few doors down from Trader Joes. For more information about Santa Fe mountain biking, group rides, trail conditions and maps, visit www.santafefattiresociety.org.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the Trails! Sam Gerberding