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A Rookie Gets Hooked on Mountain Biking

Park City’s 400-plus miles made it an easy sell.

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I rode around the parking lot of White Pine Touring on a $6,000 Specialized mountain bike called “Epic Expert Carbon.” But on that sunny summer morning in Park City, Utah, the problem was that I was no “expert.”

I was about to embark on the longest, most epic bike ride of my life, led by Scott House, the communications director for White Pine Touring, and other guides—all tanned mountain men with chiseled calves. Earlier, House’d reassured me that the group would be broken out by ability levels, that a guide would stick with me.

“We love novices,” I was told before I booked my trip to check out Park City’s 400-plus miles of single-track mountain biking trails.

Turns out, mountain biking provides skiers with off-season fitness, improved balance, and sharpened skills. So I was game—especially in Park City, the world’s first (and only) Gold Level Ride Center, as designated by the International Mountain Biking Association. Over the next few days, I was slated to ride miles and miles of lift-served trails at Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, and Canyons.

Here’s Scott House on mountain biking in Park City, Utah:

Soon we rolled toward the Round Valley Open Space. I fumbled with gears and a GoPro, but riding was a blast, and easier than I’d anticipated. We cruised past the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence (a training facility), through sagebrush-lined single track, and past dozens of other riders. Our next destination: Trailside Bike Park—where toddlers zoomed around mini-pump tracks and advanced cyclists rode up wood-plank walls. My pride long gone, I circled a baby flow track.

The ease of riding surprised me, thanks to the most startling discovery I made: With fat tires, full suspension, and confidence, you can mash over things. And, like skiing, I just needed to choose my line. Sure, I had some tumbles, near endos, and have-to-get-off-and-walk moments, but I gained comfort on the bike and discovered my strength climbing (thanks, years of running and cardio).

On my second most epic day of riding ever, however, I tested my weakness—descending. At Canyon’s gondola- and lift-accessed downhill bike park, we rented heavier bikes, moto-style helmets, and limb and joint guards.

On a steep flow track with man-made features, I laid on my brakes, nearly endo-ing around most turns. That’s when the guides taught me a trick, the classic racecar driver’s lesson: turn your head in the direction you want to go. On hairpin turns, they said, take a high line on the berm wall, turn your head, and, by God, if you’re going to squeeze the breaks so hard they squeal, move your weight (tush) back so far it hovers over the back wheel. Which felt awkward. As with skiing, I had to “carve” those turns with my downhill foot weighted.

On the final day of our tour, we rode Deer Valley’s lift-access trails to Mid-Mountain, a popular trail that traverses Park City’s three ski areas. Then we rode on hero dirt to and around PCMR. My butt was so sore that I wore two pairs of chamois shorts, but I spent most of our 24-mile ride out of the saddle.


Thanks to the White Pine guides who gave me pointers (and didn’t ditch me), I actually linked switchback turns, took skinny man-made lines through rooted Aspens and pines, and picked up speed. 

Check out expert tips from Scott House, communications director for White Pine Touring and Jans (who also is a ski guide and avalanche course teacher), here.

More tips on how to mountain bike:

>> Invest in essential gear: The essentials are a good, properly fitting helmet, padded shorts, and gloves (to avoid digging gravel out of your palms). Many resorts and bike shops both rent and demo bikes to help you get a sense of what type of rig is best for you.

>> Cross-training: Get ready for thigh burn. When going downhill, over rough terrain, or approaching a feature, get off your saddle. Stand on your pedals, with heels down, in “ready” position. This will keep you balanced and ready to tackle whatever your bike is encounters.

>> Chose your line: Keep your eyes and head up. Rather than focusing on that big rock right in front of your wheel, or that tree that looks like it’ll grab you as you ride by, look where you want to go. Riding through forested single track is like skiing through glades. Stay focused.

>> Bumps, rolls, and features: Extend your arms to push the front wheel down over the backside of the bump, table, or feature. Otherwise your rear tire will fly into the air.

If you go to mountain bike Park City:

>> White Pine Touring, Jans, and Cole Sport provide mountain bike rentals and repairs; Deer Valley, PCMR, and Canyons rent bikes, too. White Pine Touring hosts free weekly guided rides, plus personalized day-trips.

>> Some lodging companies (including Park City Lodging) offer free lift tickets to mountain bikers with lodging packages. Each voucher is good for one day of lift-served riding at Deer Valley, PCMR, or Canyons.

>> Deer Valley Resort has lift-served and non-lift-served mountain biking on six peaks, plus a Mountain Bike School.

>> Park City Mountain Resort features 70 miles of cross-country-style trails, including the lift-accessible, popular Mid-Mountain trail that connects all three ski areas in Park City.

>> Canyons Resort boasts a downhill bike park as well as cross-country trails. Daredevils should definitely check out the affects of gravity on dirt and park features.

>> Park City’s bus system encourages mountain bikers to ride; rumor has it that one bus driver fit 21 bikes (and their riders) on a bus. 

>> Head to No Name bar on Main Street for drinks with great views from the rooftop patio.

>> Replenish your massive calorie deficit from mountain biking all day at Prime Steakhouse, where sides like mac ‘n’ cheese are delivered family style.

>> For cheap tacos and big mole-smothered burritos, check out El Chubasco.