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🚵‍♀️Mountain biking in high elevation🏔️ Your guide to get started!

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Photos credit: Create Your Own Adventure

Mountain biking in Crested Butte Colorado
Starting point, parking at the bottom of the mountain Crested Butte Colorado - 🏔️ 9,500 feet

There is something special about getting out and exploring trails on a bike! Trust me, I know! In this guide I will mainly focus on the importance of knowing what to expect when riding trails in high elevation and most importantly what steps to take to prepare yourself for such an adventure. You may already be super fit, have years of riding experience, have had enough time to acclimate and had proper nutrition just before you head out. If this is the case then you most likely already know most of the things explained below. If you have never done this type of adventure, or you have ridden trails before but have never ridden above 5,000 feet of elevation then I strongly encourage you to keep reading. You might ask, why should I be the one to tell you about the ways of mountain biking in high elevation? Perfectly understandable as we all want to make sure that we are receiving the most accurate and useful information from an expert in the field.

Dom & Laurie visiting Crested Butte Colorado
Visiting Crested Butte was one of the most exhilarating travel destinations for us

My wife and I spent the last 8 years of traveling the United States as digital nomads, working full time on the road and riding trails in some of the most popular biking trails throughout Colorado, Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Maine and more. Why did we choose to do that? Well, we simply love nature and exploring. Biking allows us to cover great distances while getting fit at the same time. Not to mention the views and awesome people we meet while living on the road. If you are interested in our riding stats, simply visit our 👉 MTB page on our website, we keep them up-to-date. Right on top you'll see the stats provided by Trailforks. So grab your favorite beverage and let's dig in.


Overview: What could possibly go wrong when mountain biking at high elevation!?

Taking a moment to appreciate the views and reflect
Taking a moment to appreciate the views and reflect

Let's face it, riding is fun at high elevations because it typically means sending it around trees and over rocks while having the best views around. Think of the feeling of standing at 12,500 feet on a nice sunny day with 8 miles of descending in front of you. The hard work of climbing for 4.5 miles is about to pay off. Right!?

Climbing up the service road towards the 401 trailhead
Climbing up the service road towards the 401 trailhead

However, riding in high elevation also comes with a lot of climbing, elevation acclimation, wildlife, muscle cramping, equipment troubles, unpredictable weather changes and other challenges. The point of this blog post is to hopefully prepare you to avoid a couple of situations I just mentioned. Fitness level plays a key role here.

crash on the 401 trail
A small crash through the wash bed - 🏔️ 12,800 feet

In this guide I'll walk you through important baseline steps and provide you with valuable information so that you can prepare yourself and get the most out of your time, enjoying trails with minimal risk of fatigue, dehydration, injury, and elevation sickness. The safety aspects should not be overlooked.

Analyze and Prepare: Follow these steps to prepare yourself for mountain biking in high elevation!

One of the most important questions to ask before heading out for an adventure in the mountains is this, am I ready for this type of adventure? Asking yourself this question is a great start because it means that you are actually thinking about your own safety and your friends and family that may be joining you on this adventure. Always remember, if you are the one initiating an invitation to your spouse/partner or friends to join you on this type of adventure, then you "sort of" automatically become responsible for everyone that comes along. Why you might ask? Here are a few examples; they love spending time with you and the invitation sounds fun and adventurous, they always wanted to try something like this, maybe the timing is perfect, they hope to discover new skills and abilities they never knew they had... and the list goes. But it doesn't mean that they are ready either. Without spending too much time on this, the point is that each person that wants to come along for this type of adventure should ask themselves the same question because realistically you can not be responsible for everyone at the same time. Am I ready for this type of adventure?

Analysis stage shouldn't be over complicated but it should include these important items in order to determine the level of readiness and therefore develop a solid plan so that you can have the best experience on the mountain. I suggest that you follow each analysis category in order of importance. It'll all make more sense as you read-on.

Fitness - because there is no such thing as being over-prepared

Pushing my bike up hill
Pushing my bike after already 1,500 feet (3.5 miles) of climbing - 🏔️ 11,000 feet

Taking a snapshot of your current fitness level can tell you whether you might struggle in high elevation. There are too many variables to list that could play a role in affecting performance when above 5,000 feet of elevation so I will touch on most common things to look for below. Starting with a couple of days before the ride at a minimum, its very important to keep an eye out for; nutrition, hydration, stress levels, sleep and recovery. All this may sound kind of complicated but its really not since all the important things I just mentioned are actually part of your daily life if you think about it. The only difference is that the amount of effort required to play in the mountains is far grater than the amount of effort needed in day-to-day life. Therefore, the amount of preparation to play in the mountains generally requires more preparation. Wait, what!? I hope I didn't just confuse you even more but if I did please comment your thoughts at the bottom of this blog. I would love to provide additional information!

Now let's look at some specifics. Just like any sport discipline, being active consistently is key when it comes to building endurance and maintaining it. Eventually if we do it long enough we start to notice gains. In contrary our fitness level declines if we aren't keeping up. Another important aspect of preparation is to have the ability to track and measure your progress. There are many ways to accomplish this. For the purpose of this blog I will provide you with a list of tools that I have been using for years now that helps me capture the desired data which gives then gives me the ability to develop a desired plan.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Tactical watch - (this blog post is not sponsored by Garmin)

I use this device to capture all of my sport activities. The data is then synced with my phone using the Garmin app. The Garmin Connect app has the ability to collect the data and then suggest training plans according to my fitness level. Amongst so many great features that this watch has, couple of essential features are wrist based heart rate, stress level, oxygen levels, hydration and so on. I strongly recommend any device that has such features if you are thinking about tracking and keeping up with your fitness levels.

Safety - it's important to know your abilities

Views of the 401 trail
Views alone are worth the trip - 🏔️ 12,500 feet

In my 8 years of riding trails around the United States, I have come to this simple rule of thumb. As long as you can comfortably ride intermediate level trails in the area you are riding (typically marked as Blue on Trailforks) which generally consist of; moderate rocks, roots, small drops, it should be more than enough to have a great riding time and staying fairly safe. Let's not forget to also leave room for improvement. Riding terrain that is slightly over your current comfort level will naturally push you to progress overtime. Furthermore, riding with a slightly higher skilled friend should help you improve overtime as well. A healthy dose of competition or motivation can greatly improve morale and build character. Trust me on this one! Try it yourself and let me know if it worked for you.

Lastly, I always recommend respecting trails and terrain because over-confidence can come with risks that can cause serious injuries. The last thing you want is to be injured in a remote environment without any cell service. Besides, you came out to have fun after all. This is also a good time to remember the level of responsibility when inviting someone to come along I had mentioned above.

Equipment check - even if your bike is behaving normally, I suggest a quick check before you head out

Top of the 401 Trail in Crested Butte
I always recommend bringing spare parts and an emergency kit - 🏔️ 12,800 feet

If you ride frequently chances are you have experienced trouble with your bike. Funny thing is that it always happens when you're having the most fun. I know that's when it happens to me! But the fun doesn't have to end there. I strongly recommend to always carry spare parts and an emergency kit whether you're riding locally or embarking on a challenging adventure. Some people would ask, "ok but why would you carry all of that on your local trails?" The simple answer is, you may be able to help someone else on the trail. I know I have! In my early days of mountain biking I remember the times that I needed to be saved. So when you're able to help someone else out for a change, its a great feeling.

Time to have some fun: Let's review and get going!

So I have covered a good amount of information to hopefully help you get started on your adventure. For some of you this may be a lot of information so I have summarized a short list of things to remember. Now, its finally time for you to get out there and enjoy your adventure. As always remember to invite a friend, stay safe and create your own adventure.

  1. Fitness

    1. Working out and riding your bike regularly will greatly reduce the risks of fatigue and muscles cramping, assuming that you are staying properly hydrated while incorporating proper nutrition.

    2. Its best to take adequate time needed based on your fitness level and prepare especially if you have never ridden above 5,000 feet.

  2. Safety

    1. Knowing your abilities and staying realistic to your riding comfort is half the battle.

    2. Allow room for improvement and progress gradually. Patience is key!

    3. Always carry emergency supplies in case you or someone that is going with you needs help.

    4. Make sure to let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back before you head out, especially if there is no cell service where you are going.

  3. Equipment check

    1. Best practice is to simply check your bike before every ride. Also, bring spare parts and educate yourself how to fix your bike if needed.

  4. High Elevation acclimation

    1. Ideally you would want to spend a couple of days at the elevation that you are planning to visit before you go out for a ride.

    2. Increase your hydration from what you are normally used to during this time to help with acclimation.

    3. A couple of most common affects of elevation sickness are: headache, dizziness and lightheadedness.


Our visit to the Crested Butte Mountain and the 401 trail has inspired us to design and offer you a choice of these awesome iPhone and Samsung phone cases. Also feel free to check out our store for Digital Nomads Edition, MTB Edition as well as our logo branded products.


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