The first snows may have already fallen, and the lifts are no longer carrying bikes to the top, but Park City’s year is far from over. In fact, it’s just getting started. Again. For the second time this year. Like many ski resort towns, Park City has been homing in on the perfect balance of summer to winter activities. But the real secret is just how good it is during the fall.
No I’m not talking pumpkin spice lattes by the fireplace at the lodge (though if you wanted to, I’m sure that could be arranged). I’m talking about the best dirt, incredible colors, perfect weather, constantly improving trails, and a restaurant scene that will leave you coming back for more.
After traveling to Park City on a consistent basis for the past handful of years, it’s been fascinating to see things change in regards to mountain biking. Changing for the better, and changing with each season…
It seems like we’ve been traveling to Utah a lot recently, specifically the Salt Lake City/Park City area. Much of that has to do with how much the state of Utah and local governments are trying to attract businesses focused on the outdoors. Big players like Scott Sports, ENVE Composites, QBP (briefly), and others now call the surrounding area home partially thanks to financial incentives, but also because Utah really does have a lot to offer for the employees of those businesses. Due to the proximity of multiple companies and the variety of trails and resources, we keep getting invited back for events like ECRM’s Press Camp which is always a great time and an excellent opportunity to check out new product.
This one was a little different though. Instead of a specific company inviting us out to launch a new product, this time we were invited to sample the good life by the Park City Area Lodging Association and Mountain Biking Park City. All of this was made possible by the Summit County Restaurant Tax Grant which is an interesting concept. Basically, there is an extra 1% tax on all meals at restaurants in Summit county. That money goes into one giant fund, and then government or non-profit organizations can apply for grants in order to promote tourism within Summit County. Since Summit County includes all of Park City, the grant is a perfect opportunity to promote mountain bike based tourism. Combined with the grant money, the trip included in-kind donations from Park City Lodging, White Pine Touring, MTN Ranks, and more to stretch the funds and invite as many press outfits as possible. On this trip we were joined by other writers and freelancers from around the globe, some who have been coming to Park City for years, others who it was their first time.
Perhaps best known for events like the Sundance Film Festival and posh ski resorts, you might not think of Park City as your next mountain bike vacation. But maybe you should. Named the world’s first Gold Level Riding Destination in 2011, Park City still has that designation after being reevaluated in 2015, and the incredible trail network continues to grow. Now with over 450 miles of trail, all accessible from town, anyone from complete beginners to the most skilled riders can find terrain to their liking.
In just three days of riding we were able to touch an incredible amount of trail that perfectly highlighted the riding possibilities. But to get there, first we had to stop at White Pine Touring. One of Park City’s premiere outdoor shops, White Pine would be our base camp and the source for most of the bike rentals for our group (others were from Park City Bike Demos). With no idea what to expect, I showed up to a decked out Rocky Mountain Altitude with a custom build. Scott House, our guide for the week and the Communications Director for JANS/White Pine Touring, said it was a custom build through their partnership with SRAM. Starting with an Altitude 790 MSL frame, the bike got a Rally Edition worthy suspension upgrade with a 160mm travel Pike, Monarch+ in the rear, and an X01 drivetrain.
Better still, unlike a lot of rental bikes I’ve come across, this one was in great shape (the same could be said for all of the bikes from White Pine Touring and Park City Bike Demos). Jumping on a bike that you can trust with your life is a big part of the price of rentals – remember that when you’re questioning the $65 a day rental fee. Ideally, you’d show up to Park City with your own bike – but if you have to rent, either White Pine Touring or Park City Bike Demos seem like a great place to start.
It also happens to be located right on a paved bike path that will take you straight to the trails. Our first day of riding started with a mellow cruise up Skid row to Lost Prospector, eventually making our way over to Snowtop, and then looping back down to Skid Row and ending at the shop. Just under 16 miles, this ride could be shortened or made longer and would be a perfect ride for riders of all skill levels. More beginner riders would probably want to cut the ride short, but the trails never get far from town and offer a mix of mellow climbs and fun descents that could be ridden on almost any mountain bike. In spite of the fact that you don’t get far from civilization, there are still great views to be had, and you can finish your ride with a great lunch at Sammy’s Bistro directly behind White Pine Touring.
Fully stuffed it was time to hit the lifts to work off lunch. A quick pedal across town and it wasn’t long until we were riding the Crescent lift for some warp speed runs down Mojave and Crescent Mine Grade. While not overly technical, these trails fall into the category of the faster you go, the harder they are. An almost perfectly linear descent of more than 1,700 feet, you do have to watch your speed for riders and runners coming the other way, and for rocks (evidenced by the point we had to stop to fix three flat tires). If IMBA epics are more your style, you can also use the Crescent or Town lift to access the Mid-Mountain trail – a 22.9 mile loop.
Yes, if you want to use the lifts, you’re going to have to pay. But in a town mostly above 7,000, it could be well worth it if you’re not used to the altitude. Not to mention that if you’re looking for a place to stay, outfits like Park City Lodging have Mountain Bike specials that include 2 free lift tickets for Deer Valley Resort and two free bike rentals. In the slower months of the spring, summer, and fall, you can actually find reasonable rates for condos that will let you ride right out to the trails or take the free Park City bus that will shuttle you up the mountains!
Almost all of the riding I’ve done in Park City has been incredible, but our second day in town was extra special. Everyone knows that Park City is great in the winter. I’ve also seen first hand that it can be beautiful in the spring and summer. What I didn’t know? Just how good it can be during the fall. Seriously. I want to go back right now just thinking about it. It certainly didn’t hurt that we hit the weather jackpot and just days before our arrival heavy rains turned moon dust into hero dirt. Even our local guides were going on about how good it was. Between the amazing trail conditions and fall color just starting to pop, my second ride on the WOW trail will be hard to beat.
Short for Wasatch Over Wasatch, the WOW trail will soon connect Wasatch and Summit counties and should end up around 22 miles and drops down the Wasatch back into Midway, UT. Earlier this year, I had a chance to ride the WOW trail right after it had been officially opened. Since then the trail has continued to improve as it gets ridden in, and more continues to be added. With the right guides, you can drop in from the top of Deer Valley Resort, or make your way over from Empire Pass – assuming you have a ride waiting for you at the bottom or plan on a long ride back up. You can also park in Pine Canyon at the trail head with a State Parks pass, then climb up WOW and ride back down. There are also ways to shuttle the trail with a drop off point near Lake Hardy. The actual WOW trail currently sits at around 9 miles, but building continues. High speed fun eventually gives way to a lot of tight, somewhat awkward switchbacks near the bottom, but the entire ride provides breathtaking views made all that much better by the fall foliage. The ride isn’t really all that strenuous, but as our guides reminded us – you are in the back country. Compared to the relative ease of being picked up by the medical staff at Deer Valley, medical evac off the WOW trail wouldn’t be cheap or easy. So enjoy the views, and the trail, but ride smart on the way down. Our ride from Empire to Midway ended up just over 17 miles and with a moving time of 1:38.
Of course, your ride will always be better when it ends at a spot with big jumps, a pump track, and catering from Vessel Kitchen, but I’m afraid this was a very special occasion. Eric Porter was nice enough to host post ride festivities at his house (again), and frankly, it doesn’t get much better.
If you’re still on the fence about making Park City your next mountain biking destination, you’re probably thinking, “yeah but the beer’s 3.2%, and after a big ride I like to party.” While there is little doubt that Utah has some strange laws regarding alcohol, having a good time or finding a good drink was never an issue. I’m not entirely sure what the current liquor laws are for Park City, but between a number of Squatters Hop Rising Double IPAs, a full tasting menu of whiskey from High West, and plenty of sake to wash down the incredible sushi at Shabu, there was no shortage of beverages.
Which leads us to the only real problem with visiting Park City. By the end of a long day on the trails, you’re starving and while you could use that kitchenette in your condo to cook for yourself, the tantalizing selection of local restaurants will tempt you to empty out your piggy bank for one unbelievable meal after another. If you’re looking for a recommendation, the trout at the Silver Star Cafe is impeccable, and the Wagyu Beef Hot Rock at Shabu is a treat for all of your senses (who doesn’t like cooking raw beef over a scorching hot rock?). Of course you can’t forget about brunch on Sundays at the Stein Eriksen Lodge where the bloody Marys are a meal in themselves. Don’t have a big budget for dining out? Eric Porter demonstrated proper chair lift burrito technique which not only gets you fed on the cheap, but makes more time for riding. Rad!
Dinner at Shabu was almost upstaged by the festivities on main street that were part of the Autumn Aloft fall festival. While we were out carving the trails, scores of people were taking off from Park City in hot air balloons with a festival atmosphere that included multiple balloon baskets blasting their propane burners which bathed main street with a bright orange glow.
Our final day in Park City was spent riding a park that I’ve become quite familiar with, but one that continues to change. Deer Valley Resort has played host to Press Camp, Dealer Camp, Scott Week, and a number of other events which means we’ve been able to watch it grow. Compared to our first runs down the mountain, the resort has put a lot more money and effort into developing the trail system including flow trails built by Gravity Logic. After the first blue flow trail, Tidal Wave, was completed in 2015, Gravity Logic started on a new green level flow trail that when finished will offer beginners around 4 miles of fun, swoopy, bermy, trail. Once that is complete, a true black diamond level flow trail will be built to offer terrain to riders of all levels. There are even plenty of trails within Park City that are used by the National Ability Center which is based in Park City. These are trails that can be ridden by riders with disabilities and cater to three wheel hand cycles or other adaptive bikes. We were briefly joined by NAC athlete Wally Lee who absolutely ripped down Tidal Wave. Not only was Wally able to get out and ride with us, but the Deer Valley lift crew knew exactly how to load his trike onto the lifts.
In spite of riding here numerous times, this was the first opportunity I had to ride over to Corvair/TG from Deer Valley. I can’t believe it took me this long. One of the most fun, ‘Star Wars Speeder Bike through the forest trails’ I’ve ridden on the mountain – and you can pop out at the bottom, ride the Ruby Express lift up, and do it all again. Which makes me think, 450+ miles of trail? I’ve barely scratched the surface. I think another trip to Park City is in order…