By David McKay Wilson
Move over Moab. Park City mountain-biking has arrived.
Named the world’s top mountain-biking community in 2012 by the International Mountain Biking Association, the Utah resort best known for its alpine skiing has emerged as a mecca for cyclists who like to experience the thrills of biking on more than 400 miles of trails through some of the world’s finest alpine terrain.
Road cyclists have discovered it as well, as they cruise down the Union Pacific Rail Trail, climb and descend along the well-paved roads that criss-cross ski resorts, or head out into the thinly settled Utah countryside.
After your ride, experience the après-bike scene. Soothe your parched throat with a cool Squatter’s Full Suspension Pale Ale, the hoppy choice for hydration after your heart-pounding ascent, and nerve-rattling descent through narrow single-track trails. Down a Whiskey Smash at High West Distillery, dine on an Ortaggio Verde wood-fired pizza at Vinto, or experience the Blackened Halibut Fish Tacos at Robert Redford’s Zoom, where the restaurant features stunning black-and-white photos of his Sundance Film Festival friends, like Danny DeVito, Francois Truffaut and Mick Jagger.
Then there’s all that summertime in Park City has to offer – the vibrant restaurant and bar scene along Main Street, free outdoor concerts most nights of the week, and the refreshing coolness of evenings at 7,000 feet, where the temperature dipped down to 40 degrees at night on the summer solstice.
On my four-day visit during in mid-June, I finally understand the adage oft mentioned by Park City transplants: I came for the winter, I stayed for the summer.
I arrived for the official kick-off of summer – the night after the solstice, when 2,300 of us sat down to dinner at well-appointed tables set up all the way up Main Street in the city’s fifth annual Savor the Summit event, with several restaurants selling out their seats months in advance. As a full moon rose in the east, I savoreed Silver Star Café’s six-course meal, complimented with three wines, which featured pan-seared Alaskan Halibut, with a butternut squash-coconut red curry bisque, and grilled lamb, served with bacon-braised lentils. After sunset, I joined a gaggle dancing in the streets to oldies like, “Mustang Sally,” played with great fervor, by a local country-rock band.
To understand how Park City has come to challenge Moab as the Utah mountain biking destination of choice, consider the incredible growth in Summit County’s trail network over the past decade, as the resort community, like so many founded to serve winter guests, figured out a way to turn its reputation for winter hospitality into a four-season community.
A decade ago, Park City had 2,000 acres of open space and 50 miles of trails. Today, there are 10,000 acres of open space, and more than 400 miles of trails, all of it free. But those who don’t want to do so much climbing to access trails at upper elevations from lifts at its world-class ski resorts – Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, and Canyons.
“We needed to increase the Dao of Duh,” Park City Mayor Dana Williams told me one night in June. “Why don’t we invite people here to do what we do all summer?”
Mountain bikers like Kip Tingle, of Vail, Co., says he found Park City a step above Moab, the longstanding center of Utah mountain biking, in the state’s southwest desert. In Moab, the searing desert sun – and daytime temperature that can often reach 100 degrees – mean the most pleasant riding comes in the early morning and early evenings. But Park City’s high elevation – some trails are as high as 9,000 feet – brings cooler temperature, and some of the trails run through shaded aspen groves and pine forest.
Then there’s Park City’s famed restaurants and après-bike scene, and lodging accommodations that range from the economical to the luxurious, at hotels like the St. Regis or Stein Eriksen Lodge.
Summer is bargain time in Park City. I stayed in a studio at Snow Flower Park City Condominiums, which back up on the Park City Mountain Resort that would go for $350 during ski season. Come summer the same unit rented for just $110. It was on the free bus line that takes you downtown, so there was no need for a car.
Rented through Park City Lodging, the unit came with a voucher that provided free lift service at Deer Valley, PCMR, and Canyons. If you didn’t have a voucher you could forego an all-day lift pass – $38 at Deer Valley – by taking the free city bus up to the Montage resort high up at Deer Valley, and ride the trails at 8,300 feet.
Skiers have long known the virtues of flying into Salt Lake City from New York. My 7 a.m. flight landed at 10 a.m., and I ready to roll with my rental Specialized 29er from White Pine
Touring by 1 p.m. We headed north to the Round Valley trails, where the rolling hills provided a good introduction in the art of mountain biking: stand in a crouch on the downhill, keep spinning on the uphill, and let your speed take you over obstacles, like rocks, which were strewn about the hard-packed single track.
I’m a road rider and hadn’t done any mountain biking of any consequence since ascending Mount Snow in southern Vermont in the mid-1980s. But I was up for adventure.
Round Valley, by the Park City Ice Rink, is popular with families, as Mom and her kids can cruise the wide dirt roads while Dad hits it on the single-tracks that winds through the sagebrush that was wafting in a stiff wind that kicked up from the west. After a couple of hours on the trail, I was feeling the banked corners and powering up through them on the ascent. I was still a bit cautious on the descent, unwilling to risk my body to whims of the uneven track.
Just as back-country skiers hire guides to squire them around the winter forests, our group was led by White Pine Touring Guide Scotty House, an enthusiastic rider who knows all the nooks and crannies of the range.
The next day, we took the Sterling Lift from Deer Valley’s mid-mountain Silver Lake area to experience the thrills of descending a trail called Tour de Suds, named for a mountain bike race that ends with pints all around. It was tricky coming down, maneuvering around the switchbacks, keeping my speed over the rocks and letting my hips follow my eyes around the sharp turns. I learned mountain biking etiquette as well: the uphill riders have the right of way.
Then we headed out on the 22-mile Mid-Mountain Trail, which links Deer Valley to Canyons. The popular – and challenging – trail traverses the range at about 8,000 feet, and is popular among experienced riders. It proved a bit too challenging for me. After taking a tumble on a traverse, I descended down Jenni’s trail to Park City Mountain Resort, and found solace in the swimming pool and hot tub at the condo.
My ego bruised by my spill, I decided to trade in the mountain bike for the road bike, and the comfort – at least for me – of a well-paved road. With White Pines guide Hank Keil, we headed up Deer Valley Drive to the resort, and turned up Royal Street, for a 1,000-foot climb over 3.2 miles to Silver Lake. The Specialized Rubaix – which rents for $50 a day – had plenty of pop, and I soaked in the views as we ascended, recognizing the trails I’d skied so many times when they were all groomed out in white.
We descended, then climbed Mellow Mountain, through neighborhoods with 5,000-square foot homes, with a view of Park City Mountain Resort, whose trails had the look of a vertical golf course, with the remaining piles of snow on its terrain park jumps, its alpine sand traps.
Back on the flats we headed to Canyons, taking Old Ranch Road, where the alfalfa fields stretched for acres, and a pair of sandhill cranes whooped in the midday sun. We climbed past the Waldorf Astoria, which opened four years ago, and is adding on. Times are good at Canyons, following the deal struck in late May, with Vail Resorts and Talisker Corp., the Canyons’ owner, agreeing to a 50-year lease, with Vail paying Talisker at least $25 million a year.
From the Waldorf, we rode out to the Olympic Training Center with the ski jumps built into the mountain, then descended to Redstone, the shopping district where we ate at Redstone Junction, drank Redstone Amber Ale, and chowed down a wild mushroom pizza. We took the McLeod Creek Trail back up to Park City, alongside Route 224. We stopped at the Park City Jump Park where kids on mountain bikes practiced on mounds of dirt on a rolling course.
On my final day, we headed down the rail trail, and rode through Richardson Flats into Wasatch County. The resorts were all behind us now as we headed toward Brown’s Canyon. The road was open, a few cars whizzed by. It was dry. The sky was blue, and it was 80 degrees at noon. I was in my rhythm now. I remembered that old adage. And I wished I could stay.
Park City Lodging, Inc. http://www.parkcitylodging.com/
White Pine Touring http://www.whitepinetouring.com/
Snow Flower Park City Condominiums http://www.snowflowerparkcity.com/index.asp?gclid=CIvb89HUlLgCFUKd4Aod3hsAZA
David McKay Wilson has written on travel over the past 30 years as a freelance journalist, with his travel stories appearing in The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, New Haven Advocate, and Gannett News Service. An avid cyclist and skier, Wilson enjoys vacationing in the mountains and by the sea. His articles on public affairs have appeared regularly in The New York Times. He’s currently the nation’s top freelance writer for university alumni magazines, with his work appearing in publications at 81 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Chicago.