Mountain Biking in Park City
Utah is a state well known among skiers and bikers. It’s an outdoor mecca and should top your list if you want to adventure further and discover a uniquely beautiful place; head straight to Park City if dining and drinking come high on your holiday agenda. I travelled to Utah in Autumn as the aspen leaves were turning gold and red to ride the bike trails through the most gorgeous scenery – it’s American fall in all its glory. Park City’s ‘Old Town’ is charming with colourful restaurants and bars lining Main Street, which I can never imagine is quiet. It’s a historic town established in 1869, after which silver miners flocked to get their part of the caché. Although Park City sprawls out enormously as it has developed over recent years (to become the USA’s biggest ski area and biking hotspot), it’s retained its old-west, small mining town feel. In keeping with ritual, the siren sounds every evening at 10pm (startling first-night visitors) that at the start of the century was used to call home miners from the bars to check they’d all made it out alive. Even better, the old mining tunnels once served as the resort’s first ski lifts.
It’s one of America’s Mormon states and so and drinking in Utah is slightly hampered by rules regarding spirits, though beer and wine are fine. More than fine, with excellent wine lists throughout Park City-Deer Valley and the craft beer scene at an all-time high in the States. Cocktails do have smaller measures, though you wouldn’t notice on Main Street’s buzzing bar scene with its high-end, modern mixology. And perhaps it’s no bad thing as a visitor with the town sitting at an elevation of 2,100m and a completely different environment to England.
Park City (now with Canyons linked) and Deer Valley are the two resorts that make up the ski and biking area, a dynamic duo that couldn’t be more different. Deer Valley is high-end and traditional, where snowboarders are banned from the pistes during the winter season. Park City swings the other way; it’s trendy and comfortable, but still sophisticated. Both have outstanding facilities and terrain with trails from ‘easy riders’ to ‘white knucklers’, and a helluva lot of them. We biked the two, spending evenings in Park City and at this time of year, with the awesome colours, the relaxed end-of-season atmosphere and the sports and mountain people getting their last piece of summer, gave one of my best mountain town experiences to date.
Home for the long weekend was a luxurious room in the Stein Eriksen Residences, the new sister accommodation to the iconic Stein Eriksen Lodge. So good was the stay that it deserves its own piece on Bespoke Black Book. What I will say is how beautiful its location is in Deer Valley, on the hilltop in complete serenity, but with a handy shuttle service that’ll take you anywhere in the sprawling Park City area. The bustling centre is where you’ll want to do your socialising but there are some great breakfast places, coffee stops, bike shops and Mexican markets worth visiting just beyond.
Back to the mountain biking. A gargantuan 450 miles of single-track make the Park City area an ultimate biking destination. It was the first to be awarded a Gold-level IMBA Ride Centre designation and in just three days I experienced some of the best riding on offer. This summer in the States was a heavy one for wildfire and so, as unfortunately is common in recent years, the smoke hung around and affected our routes slightly. Depending on the wind, we switched valleys and in places took the climbs a little easier. Not that I had to stress about this planning, having two of the most fantastic guides from the Jans-White Pine Touring co. As with any new outdoor play area (especially with extreme sports) we massively benefitted from having local pros show us around, seeing and riding the best and learning more of the social history as well as secret spots, biking and beyond.
The first day was cross-country riding with just a small boost, taking the Crescent lift to ride up 3 Candles to Keystone. In the Keystone wooded trail I had one those blissful, never-forget moments – peace and quiet deep in the mountains with just the aspen leaves rustling, dappling the light from the sun shining through.
Breaking out of the woods at the end of Keystone onto a meadow above Shadow Lake, you can appreciate autumn’s beauty from a different position and the many colours on the surrounding hills as you set off around Shadow Lake Loop. Down Tommy’s Two Step, an easy intermediate downhill, with the cool descent of Crescent Mine Grade finishing the morning, ducking through shaded aspen groves and across multiple ski runs covered in wildflowers.
Down lower were more hikers and dogs to watch out for, and rocks exposed on the trails, perhaps because it was the end of season, but an ideal and gentle route back to base to refuel. For lunch at Legends below the lift station I followed those that knew what they were doing and ordered seared ahi nachos and the barbecue portabella sandwich – when in a U.S mountain town…
To deserve all this we headed back up Crescent to Mohave, on to Mid-Mountain Trail and down Spiro, a fast and smooth up-n-down trail with not a lot of technical to worry about for having a full stomach and end-of-day legs. Back to the Stein caked in dust from a full-on day of cross country riding to quickly cool off in the indoor-outdoor infinity pool and a quick turn around for dinner.
The High West Distillery & Saloon is a top Park City spot for drinks, dinner, or a night out. Surf and turf at the end of an enduro day has never been more deserved, preceded by padron peppers and deviled eggs of course. I’d recommend starting with several of the establishment’s signature whiskey cocktails, Zalzala was incredible, as was the rye-tequila Dead Man’s Boots I chased it with. High West is hip – the crowd, the drinks, the property. The distillery is on site, and around it is the relaxed dining room, above it the bustling bar and cards room. This was a highlight of the trip for me. But we had to earn these evenings…
Trailside bike park was where we headed on Day Two, the smoke and wind affecting our original plan to ride the trails of High Star Ranch near Kamas. We did better, though, and the park was ideal for a morning to practice the bad habits that had reared the day before. At the southern end of the park there are not only hella-good views of the back of the Wasatch Mountains but a rock garden and wood features – balance beam, teeter-totter, ramps & stairway – on which to practice skills and balance. These are designed for success but so easy to botch, my speed on tyres tentative and my balance off from enjoying too much of Park City’s other half the night before. The park crew included kids with training wheels (no joke) fearless teenagers, seasoned pros and me looking to practice everything I needed in the complex of lines, tracks and features.
The pump tracks were exhausting as I looped the same two, desperately willing myself to become more fluid and natural, before moving on up the steep ascent to the green and blue flowy trails. There are downhill circuits for all abilities branching out from the plateau at the top of Trailside, which during the five-minute crawl up you can check out the skills of the bikers descending the various runs: The black-diamond Bamm Bamm trail has wall rides and jumps; the park’s first track, Bronto Jam, a blue with fun features to take as rolling or gnarly as you like; Yabba Dabba Doo, which is green and is turn after turn for… turn practice.
I’m sure you can tell how I rate the bike park by how much this has gone on. Entry is free and it’s a gorgeous spot out of town so you’ll want a car, or to save some leg for the lightly uphill but long nine miles home. After a morning spent at Trailside it was on to a more relaxed afternoon fly fishing on the Provo River.
Slowing down to take in Autumn and soaking up the last of the summer’s sun it was a perfect afternoon spent knee-deep in the river so bursting with brown trout that even I caught a brace. Catching my first fall in America was something special; Warm sun, cool air and magical colours, it is as impressive as I’d imagined.
Try brunch at Squatters Diner – it was heaving and the breakfasts were enormous. And with food on the mind the second evening was spent at a restaurant that came highly recommended: Shabu. Serving ‘off-piste’ Japanese food, we tried some of everything – seriously – and I recommend you do the same. If I had a gun to my head and forced to name a few (as we so often are in this business) it’d have to be the blistered green beans, the caramelised black cod, any of the pork options and the crispy tofu (just to balance it out).
Oh, and the jalapeño yellowtail was at the dinner table informally voted the best dish in town. Generous plates of sushi to start were perfect nourishment for exhausted muscles after a hefty day scaling and descending the craggy mountains.
I managed to stay rubber side down until Day Three when the pitch that seemed steeper, the berms higher, and the dry moon dust (that hadn’t seen rain for months) finally got the better of me. It was downhill day in Deer Valley on the last day of the biking season. Everyone was out making the most of lift-assisted biking. Deer Valley has made some big investments in the last few years, hiring Whistler-based Gravity Logic to improve and add new flow trails. Tidal Wave, Holy Roller and the advanced trail Tsunami are all thanks to Gravity Logic. There are greens to double black trails to bike this side that make up around 70 miles of single-track.
I lapped the flowing Holy Roller that descends 400m over four twisting miles. Teens were hammering past towards the drop ins for the more challenging Tidal Wave and Twist & Shout, some taking on the formidable Tsunami trail. No. I was sticking to the friendlier Nail Driver with steeps and berms wild enough to bring me down. “Pre-ride, re-ride, then free-ride” the mantra goes for downhill – I wasn’t moving much past the re-ride point today.
Kudos to the first-aid team at the bottom of the lifts who, with pro humour to shake off the post-fall jitters, bandaged me up and checked my eyes and brain were still working before sending me to back up on that (wheeled) horse. Of course it was for that run that we were joined by pro free-rider and Park City resident, Eric Porter. If you know who you’re looking out for, you’ll be sure to spot more world-class bikers on the ground here. Hopefully for you, not whilst taking a dirt nap…
The Glitretind at the iconic Stein Eriksen Lodge was a wonderful spot for brunch al fresco to start this full-on day, serving every dish you’d want with the option of all the extras.
My last shout out for foodies is to Riverhorse on Main, which has small first-floor terrace overlooking Main Street for a calm and sophisticated dinner. It is lauded as Park City’s best dining spot, which I wouldn’t contest, and the wine, the menu and service was, as usual, superb. There were oysters as well as wagyu beef over cheese grits with smoked salmon for starters – I mentioned it was fine American cuisine? The macadamia nut-crusted halibut had been recommended to me by two locals and was sublime, as was the trio of wild game with elk, venison and buffalo.
As well as being a top destination for active visitors, you can feel the rhythm of everyday, local life going on in Park City – always appealing when choosing a holiday spot. The trails are incredibly maintained, in infinitely better condition than those of the fellow resorts I was riding either side of this trip and, in case you missed my enthusiasm, late-September was a blissful time to visit with schools back in session, cooler weather, and Mother Nature at her best.
If you’re happy to follow an itinerary for a few days, I’d urge you to follow something like this blow-by-blow above. Ask for Weston and Shaun at White Pines to lead you on the mountain, stay at the Stein Eriksen Residences for an idyllic retreat and take on as much of Park City’s eating and drinking scene as you possibly can – it’s the best in Utah, if not further…
I’m back after the snow for more of this to warm up. Don’t forget all of the other spots in this iconic, rocky playground with its cool scenery of petrified Jurassic red sediment – there are five national parks all hot for biking, hiking and active sightseeing. I’m up for 13-mile Wasatch Crest trail that descends over 1,200m, starting at an altitude just under 3,000m and one day the holy grail biking ground of Moab and its infamous Whole Enchilada, a mere five hours from Park City.
Park City Summer Activities including Mountain Biking are available from May – End of September. More information can be found online.