Words and pics by Knight Ide.
Living in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom has its advantages, like easy access to Quebec, fresh milk and one of Â the best trail systems in North America. However, close proximity to Kingdom Trails also has disadvantages: our short season means true mountain bike addicts like me must travel south to ride but the trail snobberyÂ inherent in residents of certain Meccas makes satisfaction elusive. That is why when late November rolls around with it torturous weather, Jen, myself and our future World Cup Champion Daymien, head to sunny Sedona, Arizona.
Located in Arizona’s high desert, the city of Sedona is blessed with four mild seasons marked by abundant sunshine and clean air. The annual average high and low temperatures are 74.7 and 45.7 degrees, respectively. Characterized by massive, red-rock formations, the area surrounding Sedona is as beautiful as most of our national parks. This 19-square-mile city has a small population of about 10,000 and only 51 percent of its area is privately owned â€“ the rest is part of the Coconino National Forest.
The key ingredients for our winter destination are trail-side accommodations,Â good bike shops,Â good people, good vibes, good dirt, and lots of killer trails. Sedona offers all of the above and I break ’em down below:
- Sedona offers many lodging options – from the rustic setting of a wilderness campsite to a comfortable hotel or motel, world-class luxury resort, inn or bed and breakfast. These are all located a quick ride from the Coconino National Forest trailhead. With such close proximity to riding, and aÂ shuttle from the Phoenix airport,Â it is possible to plan a Â trip here without the added cost of a renting a car. We stayed at the Bell Rock Inn which is actually in the village of Oak Creek, about 10 minutes south of Sedona. Daymien loved that there was a pool (swimming in November!) and Jen and I loved that there was a hot tub (old tired bones!). Our ride to the trailhead took us 5 minutes and took us past the Bike and Bean.
- There are several bike shops in the area but the best are SedonaÂ Bike and Bean in Oak Creek and Over the EdgeÂ Bikes in West Sedona. They both have full rental fleets and friendly, knowledgeable staff. The staff at Bike and Bean has been fixing bikes, guiding tourists and pouring coffee since 1995. They carry Kona and Santa Cruz. Group rides are followed by free beer, on tap, right in the shop. Over the Edge Bikes (originally known as Mountain Bike Heaven) is the new shop in the old school spot. They have three pump tracks and their space is newly revamped. Stop in and see these guys before your ride and they will hook you with a guide and or map and slime your tires (recommended due to the abundant cacti that line the trails).
- The guys at both shops are real mechanics that you can trust with your bike and they’re also super friendly and hospitable. I joined a group that included Chewy from Bike and Bean and Mike from OTE. They both hooked me up with tubes after I had used my spare (again, slime those tires) and waited patiently for me to change them. The rest of the locals on the ride were just as laid back and friendly.Â Maybe its’ the sunshine but Â that seems to be the case for the majority of people who have made Sedona their home. Smiles and friendly greetings are as abundant as the red rock.
- Or maybe the laid back, friendly vibe has to do with all the “vortexes.” Many people visit Sedona to explore these vortexes, areas that have highly concentrated energies conducive to prayer, meditation and healing. The term “vortex” has taken hold because it helps to explain people’s experiences of well being at the sites. I’m not endorsing this belief but it would be impossible to exist in such a staggeringly beautiful landscape and not feel something.
- With four million tourists visiting Sedona annually, be prepared to dodge some bodies. Fortunately, all roads have designated bike lanes and every intersection is a rotary so traveling within the city is easy. The trails are multi-use so you will be sharing with hikers horses and even Jeeps and ATVs on some of the doubletrack. Despite this, it is extremely easy to get away from the crowd. Sedona has somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 miles of trails to explore and we rarely encountered anyone once we got away from the tourist hot spots. The sandstone here provides supernatural traction and they seem to have been created by some mountain bike deity that loves singletrack-width shelves, sometimes across sheer cliffs. A lot of slick-rock trails have sand but the dirt here is awesome and the singletrack is too. There is definitely something for everyone here. Jen, Daymien and I logged about 50 miles during our week stay and Day, with his little 20-inch wheels, handled it all like a champ.
- Our favorite loop was Aerie to Cockscomb, a seven-mile roller coaster with a Â flow factor that is off the charts. For inexperienced riders the Bell Rock Pathway is very wide and very close to Bike and Bean. Gravity fiends can shuttle Schnebly Â Hill and use every inch of travel on the descent. The ride I did with Chewy and crew had me scared for my life while he went up down and across everything like a mountain goat (clipped in, on a DH bike equipped with a riser seatpost). Fortunately I was on myÂ Santa Cruz, Blur LT, which is the perfect bike for Sedona. The steep head angle and high bb helped me navigate the tight stuffÂ andÂ its light weight was key for getting me up the technical, steep climbs. Most importantly, it was burly enough to pin it through the gnar on the long fall-line decent.
Sedona has much more to offer than bike riding so don’t be afraid to come with the family. You can enjoy one of the numerous art galleries, coffee shops or spas, visit a vortex, hike a red rock formation, take a helicopter ride, go on a Jeep tour, rent an ATV, cliff dive into Oak Creek, go fishing, etc.
Ultimately, this place rocks! Our family has decided to make this our go-to winter destination every year. It’s easy to get to, flights on Southwest to Phoenix from Manchester run around $300 round trip. Other epic winter riding spots like Gooseberry Mesa and Moab are within close proximity. And Flagstaff Â beckons with ultra dry desert powder a mere 45 minutes up Oak Creek Canyon.
I’m a Vermonter to the core and Kingdom Trails is world class but this Sedona is better than -30 degrees any day.