It was late Thursday night on May 15 when the Village of Angel Fire Police Department in northern New Mexico began receiving complaints. Campers, trucks, vans and RVs—most with fully loaded bike racks—were slowly filling cul-de-sacs and private drives.
“It speaks volumes to the passion and dedication of the riders,” says Hogan Koesis, director of Angel Fire Bike Park.
When Angel Fire Resort announced that parking lot camping—a tradition among the gravity crowd that frequents the resort each summer—would be off limits, it didn’t stop the throngs of riders from making the opening weekend pilgrimage, some from hundreds of miles in every direction.
Director of Angel Fire Bike Park Hogan Koesis prepares for the second day of the 2014 season. | Photo by Don Stefanovich
Koesis now stands in front of the Chile Express lift, sunglasses on, coffee in hand. It’s early on Saturday morning, the second day of the 2014 season. The chairs have yet to start turning, but already riders are milling around, loosely forming something that begins to resemble a line. The lower lot is now full of campers, trucks, vans and RVs. The riders' voice prevailed. Not only will camping be allowed in the lower black lot for 2014 for only $10 per vehicle, porta-potties and dumpsters will be maintained on site. If you're not the inclined to roughing it, the resort's lodge, just steps from the lift, offers bike friendly accomodations and some sweet lift and lodging packages.
Matt Reichel stakes a prime piece of opening weekend real estate: a chateau with a view. | Photo by Don Stefanovich
Koesis smiles as he tells the story. A rider himself, and as much a part of the history of the bike park as the parking lot tradition, it’s clear he’s an advocate for the riders as much as he is for the resort’s rules and regulations.
“We wouldn’t be here without them,” he says of those that make the pilgrimage. The small village at the base of the resort in Colfax County is only home to roughly 1,200 people, yet more than 13,000 bikes are loaded onto lifts each summer.
Angel Fire Resort opened its chairlift to cross-country riders in the mid ‘90s, allowing even greater access to some of the finest singletrack in the American Southwest. Nearly a decade later, downhill racing took center stage. Hosting a World Cup Race in 2005 and a gamut of Mountain States Cup races, the mountain quickly earned a reputation among the fast-growing downhill and four-cross crowd. Koesis joined the team in 2010, and in four short years doubled the mountain’s riding to over 60 miles of trail.
"First chair, last call," makes for a widely accepted opening weekend mantra. | Photo by Don Stefanovich
The trails making up the bike park today range from the beginner-friendly flow of Easy Street, to the bone-jarring technical super-chunk of Graveyard, World Cup and Upper Boogie, as well as the massive tabletops and hips of Candyland, and the North Shore inspired wooden features of Chutes & Ladders.
“New for this year we will be building one of the sickest black jump trails in North America,” Koesis says.“Along with a super-fun, flowy, blue connector trail from summit to mid-mountain that is sure to be the most popular trail on the mountain.”
Hungry Hippos, the black jump trail, and Devinci’s Code, the blue jump line, are scheduled to be open by the end of the 2014 season thanks to the hard work of the Angel Fire Bike Park trail crew.
The Angel Fire trail crew and an arsenal of heavy equipment get the park ready to shred. | Photo by Chris Boice
A late season storm meant that the crew had just a few short weeks to get the park ready for opening weekend. They’ve reworked other trails and made various other improvements across the mountain for 2014 as well, including new side hooks on the chairlift to increasing loading capacity, reworking the flow of the crowd-favorite Boulderdash, a new bridge that reroutes Easy Street over Supreme DH and adding a few more sweets to Candyland.
This summer, Angel Fire Bike Park will also play host to the New Mexico Enduro Cup, USA Cycling Gravity Mountain Bike National Championships and Angel Fire’s 2nd Annual Gravity Games and Brewfest.
The ladies of the Beti AllRide clinic prove that double-black diamonds are no match for double-X chromosomes. | Photo by Corie Spruill
The Betti AllRide Clinic also descended upon Angel Fire Bike Park for opening weekend. Founded by Lindsey Voreis and Sarah Rawley, the clinic’s mission is to “…inspire confidence and create riders for life,” according to Rawley. More than 35 women—the “sisterhood of shred,” as Rawley calls it—took to two wheels over the weekend, led by a talented all-female coaching staff including Lindsey Voreis, Wendy Palmer, Tammy Donahugh, Angi Weston, Corie Spruill and Sarah Rawley.
The Beti AllRide 'Sisters of Shred' descend upon opening weekend in force. | Photo by Corie Spruill
A lot has changed since the first short-travel bikes were loaded onto the chairlifts in New Mexico nearly 20 years ago. Today, Angel Fire Bike Park stands as one of the largest bike parks in the Rocky Mountains and the rider-voted "Best in the Southwest" according to the 2013 MTBparks.com Riders’ Choice Awards, but Koesis and crew seem far from content. “We’re just getting started,” he says.
Mike Watrobka seeks solance in the woods of Northern New Mexico. | Photo by Don Stefanovich
After catching my breath, I drop into Angel’s Plunge, a rollercoaster of doubles and rollers that weaves between trees, punctuated by sharp, exposed switchbacks. Somewhere behind me, the whoops and hollers of the next group of riders to drop in echo through the trees. After my first two lift-assisted days of the season, my hands are permanently contorted into a sloth-like grip and I’m convinced that battery acid has replaced the lactic in my legs, but I can’t stop smiling and realize I’m not ready for the weekend to be over. As I lean the bike into another berm, I silently hope to myself that it’s going to be a long summer.
-by Don Stefanovich
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