Mountain biking at Utah ski resorts

Groomed, lift-served, scenic paths await bikers

Published: Thursday, July 21 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Naildriver trail" while mountain biking at Deer Valley

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

Someone, somewhere in the not too distant past, had an idea: Why not offer mountain bikers the same advantages as skiers?

Those being, of course, lots of open country, a nice blend of terrain and trails, all in a scenic mountain setting, and, best of all, a ride uphill.

Oh, and when the riding is done, a chance to sit down, sip a soft drink, nibble on a sandwich and rest those tired legs.

Well, ski resorts took the suggestion to heart and today nearly a third of the country's 400 ski areas offer lift-served, restaurant-catered, staff-groomed trails to mountain bikers.

Here in Utah, seven of the 13 resorts are open to mountain bikers of all ages and ability levels.

One reason for the resorts' interest in mountain biking is the rapid growth. The number of off-road cycling enthusiasts has climbed from roughly 200,000 in 1983 to more than 10 million today.

A dozen years ago, resorts held races but chose to keep their lifts closed in the summer. Some offered scenic rides, but barred bikers.

Once one resort found it possible and profitable, others followed.

Here in Utah, Brian Head, Deer Valley, Snowbird and Solitude were among the first to lure mountain bikers to their lifts.

And, the consensus among the seven now serving bikers is that it's a big success.

One mountain bike magazine wrote of Brian Head that it was "one of the best, unique and most unusual mountain bike vacation resorts" in the country . . . and, indeed, it is.

Located at the base of 11,307-foot Brian Head Peak, it's all downhill. Resort literature claims its lifts offer access to more than 200 miles of single- and double-track trails winding through the resort and nearby forests.

Realizing what goes down, must also come up, at the end of most of the trails off the peak is a waiting vehicle with bike carrier and an idling engine.

There are also a number of trails on and around the ski runs. And, like ski runs, trails are marked according to difficulty.

One of the more popular trails begins at the peak, around 11,000 feet, and glides down to the shores of Panguitch Lake, 12 miles and about 3,000 feet lower.

Deer Valley was among the first resorts in the country to offer lift-served access to its mountain slopes in the summer.

It first turned on a lift in the summer of 1992.

Over the years it has consistently been rated among the top 10 destination mountain biking resorts in the country.

The resort now offers service from two lifts and onto more than 50 miles of trails that spider-web through the mountains. Hikers and bikers can choose to travel the existing road system that services the resort or follow narrow single-track routes through the trees, meadows and down mountain slopes.

Steve Graff, resort bike patrol manager, said that over the years there has been a steady increase in summer business, "and I would expect, with two lifts now running, which make access much easier, we'll see an increase this summer."

The resort also expanded its service programs, offering instruction, guide service, clinics, bike rentals and on-mountain safety patrol.

One of the more popular trails for the serious biker is the Mid-Mountain Trail, which is a stunning, scenic single-track trail that traverses Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons, connecting all three resorts and offering spectacular scenic vistas, lush forests and beautiful aspen groves.