An avid skier and mountain biker in Aspen, Steve Karczewski has become known for hucking big cliffs and sending it down jumps, both on the snow and the dirt. But what makes Karczewski a little different is that he does it all with one leg. When he was just two years old, he lost his left leg above the knee to cancer. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most respected athletes in the Aspen area.
Karczewski likes to joke that “two legs is too easy,” all the while making some really technical downhill mountain biking look easy in itself. “Biking gives me that feeling like skiing,” he says. “I am a real ski bum, but I am becoming more of a bike bum. Now I’m feeling like I want to bike all the time.”
Here, RootsRated spoke to Karczewski, who’s a bike rental technician for Four Mountain Sports and has lived in Aspen for the past eight years, for his take on favorite trails, the local MTB scene, and why he likes downhill so much.
Since you’ve been in Aspen, how have you seen the mountain biking scene change?
I have really seen the bike community develop, especially just in Snowmass alone with the lift access to the trails. The trails are getting very popular.
I came for the winter and stayed for the summer, as they say, and the progression to biking just made sense. I have ridden bikes my whole life, including BMX and mountain biking. But I came out here from the East Coast, and there’s really nothing like this there. I was really interested in the gravity-fed trails. I like taking the lift up and taking the bike down, instead of biking up. I think it’s a little easier and definitely more fun.
What are the challenges of biking with a prosthetic leg?
My leg has been this way my whole life, so it’s normal for me. It’s how I have always biked since I started BMX biking when I was just a kid and just learned to balance comfortably. It might seem harder to others, but it’s no problem for me. I don’t bike any differently than an able-bodied person, except maybe I don’t need shin and knee pads. I will admit, though, I don’t like pedaling uphill as much, as I have to work a bit harder, which is probably why I like down-hilling so much.
Tell us about your work.
Four Mountain Sports is right at the base of the gondola access to the trails. We get to rent bikes to tons of stoked people who are visiting and want to do some down-hilling. I fix the bikes up, and I get out there a lot whenever we have a break to ride the trails here.
What makes Snowmass so unique for biking?
At Snowmass, there are two types of lift access trails, flow and natural. The flow trail, Valhalla, is really the signature trail. It’s a black trail, like a “black diamond” in skiing. It has jumps and berms and is really well-maintained and manicured. It’s flowy and smooth, and it’s a jump trail.
And then we have more natural downhill trails, like Viking and Vapor. Those trails have more natural terrain, roots and rocks, very little manicured but straight downhill. These are rated blue squares. And Verde is a green beginner trail. It’s kind of a combination of both, it’s smooth and well-maintained and helps people get out there and learn the bike and get comfortable on it. Downhill mountain biking is really a different sensation than cross-country or road biking. The bikes are different and your body position is different.
What do you recommend in Snowmass that’s not lift access?
We have a lot of singletrack in Snowmass as well. The Rim Trail is a hiking and biking trail. Also a new trail system they started building a couple years ago is Sky Mountain Park. It is a massive network of trail and some really fun singletrack, plenty of ascents and descents. A lot of the trails in Sky Mountain Park are machine-made, with smooth banked turns that create perfect switchbacks for climbing and let cyclists really fly downhill.