Bowman’s Shortcut – Commando Run – China Bowl – Grand Traverse
The Grand Traverse is, hands down, the best single-track on Vail Mountain. The 5 mile trail is a non-technical, soft single-track that winds its way through pine forest on upper Vail Mountain. What puts this trail above all others are the fantastic views of Holy Cross and the “cool” factor of dipping into three of the legendary Back Bowls – Sun Up, Sun Down and Game Creek. Best done from east to west, the trick is to find a great way to get to the top of the mountain for the start of the trail. You could, of course, grunt your way to the top using the roads and trails on Vail Mountain or you could step up the “coolness” factor by tying in a local legend called the Commando Run.
The Commando Run is a trail that runs from the top of Vail Pass, up Shrine Pass, over Two Elk Pass to the top of Benchmark and the East Vail Chutes just east of China Bowl. The trail continues down Mill Creek Road, past the bottom of Chair 10 and out at Vail Village. Also done as a backcountry ski trail in the winter, it was originally training ground for the 10th Mountain Division. The Commando Trail does have some strenuous climbs, but the views of the Gore Range and Holy Cross make it worth it. Tie the first half of the Commando Run to China Bowl with a finish using the Grand Traverse and you have one spectacular ride.
Start by shuttling a car, bumming a ride or just plain riding to the Vail Pass Rest Area. Head up the dirt Shrine Pass Road for two miles, then descend another two before turning on Lime Creek Road just past the Holy Cross view point. A few hundred yards up you will see the Bowman’s Shortcut trail off to the right. This is the start of the Commando Run. The trail is in good shape though there are some wickedly steep switchbacks. Climb 4 miles up to the “Top of the World” where you will find incredible 360 degree views of the Gore Range and Mount of Holy Cross.
Descend again and a short climb up to Two Elk Pass. Here you make a decision. Turn right for a quick, scary 2 mile 1,800 foot descent back to Old Vail Pass; turn left and head down into China Bowl; or straight ahead will climb up towards Benchmark and the top of China Bowl. My intent was to get to the top of China Bowl, but I must have missed it and ended up descending down through Mongolia Bowl and to the bottom of the Orient Express Lift. Again, a choice – continue down on the Two Elk trail and end up on the south side of Minturn or climb out of China Bowl using Sleepytime Road and end up on the top of Vail Mountain. The Minturn route would entail a 10 mile road ride back to Vail so I chose the 3.5 mile climb out to PHQ and the start of the Grand Traverse.
The Grand Traverse drops you at the top of Eagle’s Nest providing plenty of options down to Vail Village. My favorite is the new “Big Mamba” flow trail – a wide downhill trail with banked turns and fun rollers. They have not completed the trail all the way to the bottom but some good options are Hank’s Hideaway, Lion Down, or a rip-roaring ride down Gitalong Road back to Vail Village. Total distance was 23.11 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain and one epic ride.