Photos by Jeff Swigart, Michael Raney, Emily Walley and the author.
There’s no denying the pull of Sedona’s aura for mountain bikers. Aside from being on nearly every “top 10” list of mountain biking destinations in North America, we all recognize the mystique of the city’s gorgeous red rock landscape and copious singletrack. As such, many of us are simply looking for a good excuse to visit this bucket list destination. Fortunately, the Sedona MTB Fest was just the motivation for more than 700 attendees to make the journey to Sedona this past weekend.
We spoke with riders from Canada, Washington, D.C., Nebraska, Montana, California, Maine and everywhere in between. Some folks had previously visited Sedona’s red rock country and others found the Festival to be the perfect opportunity for a first-time visit.
In 2012 and 2013 the Verde Valley Cycling Coalition (VVCC) hosted smaller, regional versions of the Sedona MTB Festival. This year Michael Raney and Jason First, co-owners of Over the Edge Sports Sedona, partnered with Matt McFee of Hermosa Tours to promote the event. Together they brought on Tenesha Milucky as Event Coordinator and pushed the event to a national level. “The festival grew out of the idea that we wanted to have fun in Sedona, and I think we met that goal,” said Raney. “We wanted to invite people to come ride with us and have an awesome time.”
Participants were able to buy one-, two- or three-day passes for $50, $80 and $100 respectively. These festival passes included unlimited shuttle access, bike demos, a couple of free beers, a souvenir pint glass and live bands nightly—we really dug The Invincible Grins. Folks interested in camping were able to purchase a $250 pass that included everything above plus camping at the Chavez Crossing Group Camp Friday and Saturday nights. Hermosa Tours provided coffee and breakfast each morning for campers, which was a very nice touch. Chavez Group camp offers running water and pit toilets.
We found the Chavez Campground to be a great option for its beautiful location with the soothing Oak Creek to lull you to sleep at night and its centralized location. The expo area and shuttle pickup was just a short 1.6-mile ride away. Perhaps the best part of camping here is the proximity of the incredible Hogs trails just across the street.
Sedona’s centrally located Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village hosted an exhibitor area with 29 venders and hundreds of demo bikes from brands large and small, along with regional vendors and a beer garden.
The newly formed VIDA MTB Series offered one- and two-day women’s clinics as part of the festival as well. The $310 registration included all festival activities and professional coaching Saturday and Sunday. Stay tuned for a full report on the VIDA clinic in coming days.
Though many of Sedona’s best trails are just a short ride out of town, the Festival’s shuttles expedited getting to the trailhead, allowing visitors to ride more trails than they otherwise might. These shuttles served the Dry Creek Trailhead (Chuck Wagon and Mescal trails) to the west of town, Schnebly Hill Rd (the infamous Hangover and Munds Wagon trails) to the east of town and the Village of Oak Creek (Slim Shady and Highline trails) to the south.
In addition to the riding areas mentioned above, the newly adopted Hogs network is a must-ride. This system is a mix of new and old school trails with a ton of flow. If you’re game for black diamond and double-black diamond trails, be sure to ride High On the Hog, Hog Heaven, Hog Wash and Pig Tail trails.
One piece of advice for anyone visiting Sedona; mind the trail rating system. Trails rated black diamond and double black diamond are very technical and will have exposure. Be honest with your skill level and start off on the green and blue trails to get a feel for the terrain.
In terms of trail infrastructure, the biggest news is the Forest Service’s recent adoption of Sedona’s most famous illegal trails into the official system. For years, rogue individuals built some of Sedona’s most iconic but illegitimate trails, stressing both the local mountain bike community and the Forest Service. The community was divided; rogue builders believed the Forest Service would never adopt these trails, while VVCC President Lars Romig felt the best path forward was to work in cooperation with the Forest Service. “To move forward in a sustainable path I felt success was needed in getting these iconic trails into the system,” said Romig.
Romig and the VVCC found allies in the Forest Service. “This group has strong community ties throughout the Verde Valley and was able to help with public involvement, give critical feedback on the route proposals, participate in field trips, keep local bikers informed and offer volunteer trail work,” said Jennifer Burns, a recreational staff officer at the Red Rock Ranger District.
“As far as Hogs, Highline and Hangover, the Forest Service had a lot of informal feedback from the public (hikers and bikers) that they really liked these routes,” Burns said. “So, we chose to ‘decide’ through National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) if we should remove the routes (and naturalize them) or add them into the system.”
Thanks to the Forest Service’s decision to incorporate them visitors are now able to enjoy these world-class trails because they’re signed and mapped. Festivalgoers flocked to Highline, Hogs and Hangover trails this weekend and they sure were stoked. For perspective, during my last visit to Sedona in 2012 none of those trails were part of the official system.
Everyone we spoke with this weekend was thrilled with his or her festival experience. “Great venue, great trails and great people!,” said Simon Pinto of Calgary, Alberta. Like Pinto, nearly everyone we spoke with said they’d be back next year and will be recommending the festival to friends. It quickly became apparent this festival is a top-notch way to make your first trip to Sedona. The extensive demo bike opportunities and the shuttles alone are worth way more than the cost of entry. Best of all, the festival is an unparalleled way to plug into the Sedona community in a way that you simply wouldn’t be able to do on your own in one weekend.
We had an incredible weekend at the Sedona MTB Fest and I’m sure you will too. Stay tuned to the Sedona MTB Fest website for the announcement of next year’s dates and don’t dally on booking your accommodations. Hope to see you here next year.
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