Mountain High

It's been a terrible snow year thus far, but at least someone is still having fun on the hill.

Local mountain bikers are basking in the warmer and mostly dry weather and enjoying the ability to ride on typically snowed-in sections of the trails and forest roads that wind through Ashland's watershed and on the timbered ridges above.

"You can do the entire Ashland Loop Road, which is usually never the case right now," said Nathan Riddle, a professional mountain-bike racer from Ashland. "It's nice being able to ride some of those trails that usually have snow during this time of the year."

For Riddle, 36, this year's slow-to-come winter isn't giving him more time to practice, he said, it just gives him more trails to practice on. He tries to ride at least once a day, no matter what, he said.

"I ride year-round. I go out and ride in the rain, I go out and ride when it's snowing," said Riddle. "The big thing that's changed for me is that it's a little bit warmer."

The same goes for 25-year-old Matt Wittler, another local professional mountain-bike racer.

"I'm so stoked to be able to go out on the weekends and train for five or six hours a day, and not be soaking wet and cold, and wanting to go home at the end of it," he said. "It's perfect."

The two riders compete in a mixture of about 15 to 20 downhill and cross-country races each year. Wittler competes for Lost Coast Brewery's professional team. Riddle, for a slew of sponsors who support his career; including Dakine, Easton and Santa Cruz Bicycles.

The riders say some of the best trails to ride are the Horn Gap and No Candies trails on the west side of the watershed and Bull Gap on the east side, which are usually snowed-in by now.

"We'll still go up in the watershed during any winter, but right now you can make it clear to Four Corners before you hit snow," Wittler said.

Before last weekend's light snowfall, Riddle said there were trails above Four Corners that riders could still use, if they're willing to cross maybe a few patches of old snow.

But below that, the trails are in premium condition, the riders said.

"The soil is tacky, and you can go so fast," said Wittler. "Your tire just grips very well when the trails are a little damp; it's way better than the summer."

The sandy, gritty granite surfaces that many of the trails are constructed on hold together better when they are damp, Riddle said, giving riders better traction than during the summer months.

"It's been a tremendous year for mountain bikers," said Bill Roussel, owner of Ashland Mountain Adventure, which runs a pair of 12-passenger vans as a shuttle service for hauling mountain bikers to drop points above the watershed's network of trails.

Roussel said a New Year's Day trail ride attracted about 125 people compared to the usual 60 or 70 who show up, and he ran AMA's shuttle service until the first weekend of January, his longest season since opening in 2008.

Roussel provided rides to 3,500 bikers this year, he said, but there are two sides of the story for him. Ashland Mountain Adventure was forced to cancel its winter ski and snowboard shuttle service Jan. 12, because of the lack of snow.

"It's sad to have to do that," he said. "I hope this isn't leading to a drought."

Both Riddle and Wittler are snowboarders, as well.

"I'm kind of bummed for them ... and I'd like to get out," Wittler said. "But for the time being, I guess I have some instant gratification."

The time might be running out for riding the higher-elevation trails, though. A series of storms is expected to hit the Rogue Valley by mid-week, possibly bringing heavy rain and snow.

"So, we're not getting a great winter for snowboarders and skiers, but on the flip side of that, there are lots of other ways to get out and have fun," said Riddle.

"I feel bad for the snowboarders and skiers, but I think we're going to get a lot of snow later in the year."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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