White Pine Touring guide Shaun Raskin-Deutschlander rides a wooden roller at the Trailside Bike Park in Park City, Utah.
White Pine Touring guide Shaun Raskin-Deutschlander leads the charge on some beautiful aspen-lined Park City, Utah singletrack.
White Pine Touring Director of Marketing Scott House weaves through the aspens in Park City, Utah.
“We’re number one.”
I’d been in Park City, Utah for less than an hour and Scott House, White Pine Touring guide and marketing director, was already proclaiming Park City’s trails to be the best.
House—and Park City tourism propaganda—touted a list of attractions that only served to ignite the cynical journalist in me. More than 400 miles of trails, lift-served riding at three resorts and the world’s first ever International Mountain Bicycling Association Gold Level Ride Center. Yeah, sure, sounds a little too perfect. Those 400 miles of trails? Probably just a bunch of sanitized, four-foot-wide, “multi-use” thoroughfares. And what the hell is a “Gold Level Ride Center” anyway? I couldn’t even find the designation on IMBA’s website without help from Google. Hmm…Moab is only four hours away. Maybe it’s not too late to find a rental car.
My mind began to change, though, as I dropped in on some six-inch-wide singletrack off an alpine ridge. Lost in the beautiful view, I clipped a pedal on the inside edge of the narrow hand-cut trail which snapped me back into focus for the ensuing wormhole of stellar singletrack. Buffed-out descents tempt you to skip braking entirely as you pump your way through whoopy rollers, slingshoting from one slightly bermed corner to the next. One descent, “Twist and Shout,” surprised me with switchbacks featuring butter-smooth straightaways funneling into tight corners packed with rooty drops. There’s nothing quite like hauling ass into a semi-blind corner before realizing there’s a mess of roots and a foot-and-half drop smack dab in the apex.
With climbs topping out over 10,000 feet, I was feeling the altitude, but most climbs ended well before tunnel vision set in. Vistas of the eastern slope of the Wasatch were the reward before sliding into yet another psychedelically-colored descent through the changing aspens.
One wonderfully gradual singletrack climb called “Team Big Bear” reminded me that Park City hosted NORBA and World Cup races beginning in the early 1990s. Turns out Park City has been at this trail building thing for a while. While there are certainly plenty of newer, machine-cut trails, there’s also plenty of raw, ’90s-style narrow singletrack that occasionally plummets down the fall-line in a very IMBA-unlike fashion. Despite this, the sheer volume of trails meant that braking bumps and blown-out corners, even in September, were rare.
On the other, flatter side of town sits Trailside Bike Park. Making maximum use of a 150-foot hill, Trailside offers options for every rider to test and progress their limits. I was instantly jealous. Why isn’t there something like this in my town? Littered with wooden features, drops, jumps, endless berms, and a dedicated return trail, Trailside offers a template for mountain bike advocates everywhere. This is how you take a modest hill and turn it into a tool for the riding community, giving everyone a place where they can gain the skills needed to ride any trail.
Built and maintained by the local public parks district, Trailside is an example of the holistic way Park City has approached mountain biking. In the midst of a string of shitty winters and with the specter of global warming looming, many ski resorts are looking to begin or expand summer operations. Mountain biking is a natural fit, and resorts across the West are cutting new trails. The difference in Park City is that the trail system is a sprawling network of trails across private and public land that just happens to span three different resorts. You’re welcome to ride the lift or not. You can ride right from town and earn your turns the hard way. Feeling lazy? Book a cheap shuttle to the top of 9000-ft. plus Guardsman Pass and choose your own adventure down. The 20-mile Mid Mountain trail stretches across the area allowing for dozens of different loops of varying difficulty. It’s the sheer variety and interconnectedness that makes the Park City trail system unique.
The next day found me donning a full face helmet for a day of lift-served downhill riding at Canyons resort. After a morning of lackluster laps on standard bike park fare, I followed local pro Eric Porter‘s wheel into a selection of his favorite trails. The grin spread across my face as we marched through dense trees, popping from one perfectly paced jump to the next. The grin faded and I broke out in a sweat as we dropped into the new advanced Double Down trail. Porter made it look easy, sailing over the massive drops and gaps. I tried to not shit my pants. Truly sphinctery trails in Park City? Check.
Park City won me over completely during my last day on the trails. We started down a rocky spine with the Wasatch panoramically spilling out in front of us before sliding into dense trees and drifty corners that steadily tightened as we raced down. We climbed past abandoned silver mines before slaloming through another beautiful grove of aspens—grips clipping bark as tires fought for traction. Spitting out right into downtown, we stopped by the local dirt jump jam. Groms sailed through the air with the nonchalance of a life spent on two wheels in the dirt. Younger siblings scooted past on push bikes as their moms chatted in the shade. Organizers tossed out swag like it was Halloween candy.
The former silver mining town is no stranger to big events, hosting the annual celebrity-packed Sundance Film Festival and a good chunk of the 2002 Winter Olympics, but it’s managed to maintain much of its small, mountain town feel. Local ordinances have kept mining-era shacks and buildings preserved right in downtown, except now they house spendy restaurants. The High West Distillery, which can be found in a 1907 house and livery stable, also claims to be the “world’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro distillery.” It’s luxury and high-end hedonism wrapped up in the trappings of the old west. Somehow, it just manages to avoid total kitschiness.
My preferred day on the trail is long, hard, adrenaline-soaked and miles from civilization, but lunch at the Silver Star Cafe made me rethink that a bit. Handfuls of energy bars usually get me through my typical rides. Not in Park City. Turns out, I hadn’t had to eat a bar all week and now I was eating great food just spitting distance from gorgeous singletrack. Initially disdainful of Utah’s 3.2 percent draft beers, I was now enjoying multiple pints of “adult Gatorade”—as one White Pine guide called it—without worrying about drunkenly tomahawking myself down the trail later.
Still, lunch rode a little heavy as I followed House’s wheel up a hot climb and promptly onto a chairlift at Park City Mountain Resort. I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty drifting upward through the trees as my lunch digested in peace. I can’t remember whether I even pedaled once on the CMG descent back into town. I do remember not being able wipe the shit-eating grin off my face.
All Photos: Max Whittaker