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Dirt Temple

In the Rocky Mountain West, Crested Butte, Park City, and Sun Valley dominate the destination mountain biking market.


Photographer: Dave Cox Location: Crested Butte, CO

By Marc Peruzzi

But you knew that already. Park City was IMBA’s first gold-level Ride Center, home to the Wasatch Crest, one of the more eye-watering car shuttle or epic rides in the country. After Marin County, Crested Butte was arguably the second birthplace of the sport—except with actual trails. You might have ridden one of its heritage alpine tracks like the famed 401 with wildflowers threshing your elbows and cow shit striping your back. And magazines have raved about Sun Valley’s lonely network for 30 years. It’s a magical, sparkly place with fast flowing XC dirt and zero user conflicts. Nobody in zip-off pants is Vietconging the switchbacks with punji sticks.

Before destination mountain biking was a thing, cyclists migrated to these ski towns in high summer to escape the heat of Denver and Salt Lake. And then, every mountain town yokel around the country with a pair of denim shorts and a pulaski started cutting a local network. Mountain bike tourists spread out. Which is good. But maybe you haven’t been to one of the classics for 10 years or more. And that’s bad, because they’ve all gotten way better in the interim.

This push for more and better trails came from grassroots mountain bike clubs like the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) and Idaho’s Wood River Bicycle Coalition (WRBC), which worked with their communities to build trails they wanted to ride. And such selfish reasons bring the best results.

The Classics: Crested Butte, CO from Swami Colorado on Vimeo.

I’ve been lucky to ride these classics—often multiple times a summer—for work trips and leisure in recent years. Every time I visit, I end up riding new or newly improved trails. The standout in Crested Butte? The updated and rerouted Teocalli Ridge, which was closed down for more than a year as crews cut in trail. It’s still a big backcountry ride (17.5 miles and more than 3,000 feet of climbing without adding on any extras), but now the new Teocalli section flows like purpose-built mountain bike track. Meaning less braking in the corners. I was struggling to hold onto a local’s wheel while riding the new section for the first time last summer. Closer to town and the ski resort, the new additions of Lupine 2, Bridges, and Happy Hour either directly connect networks (Lupine 2 and Happy Hour) or bypass original sections of old doubletrack and logging roads in favor of rollicking singletrack (Bridges). That holistic approach makes it easier to build your own variations of rides without stacking up road miles. It also makes the sport more enticing and safer for kids. It takes mountain bikers to see that benefit.

Sun Valley, Idaho | Rider Sari Anderson | Photograph Ray Gadd

Photographer: Ray Gadd Location: Sun Valley, ID Rider: Sari Anderson

It’s a similar deal in Sun Valley, where WRBC member and bike industry vet Adrian Montgomery witnessed a thoughtful approach to trail design after a series of wildfires forced the hands of land managers and cyclists. “We had a big fire in 2013 that burned a very popular mountain biking area called Greenhorn. The trails were wiped out by the blaze and subsequent rain literally changed the course of the creeks many of the trails followed. In the spring of 2014, trail crews went in and repaired classic loops like Greenhorn-Imperial and Mahoney-Greenhorn. The new trails actually ride better than they did before the fire.” More recently, the WRBC cut a flow style DH track called Forbidden Fruit for those who ride with longer travel bikes.


Photographer: Ross Downard Location: Park City, UT Rider: Ian McDonnell

As for gold-level Park City, it’s unique in the sport for that amount of money to be allocated for trail construction. Between the resorts of Deer Valley and Park City, plus the contributions of the nonprofit Mountain Trails Foundation, roughly $1 million is set aside annually for trail, path, and bike park improvements. And they’ve done that for the better part of 10 years. The result? Four hundred miles of manicured track, most notably Deer Valley’s new Tidal Wave flow trail (see cover and above). And here too, the experience improved when trails were connected. I don’t even know the names of my favorite sections, because beginning in Deer Valley I can just go until I feel like looping back. For a partial, if crushingly difficult, tour, try racing the Park City Point 2 Point. It covers 75 miles and roughly 10,000 feet of climbing—90 percent of which is singletrack.

That’s a lot of riding. Which is a theme with the classics. Between Sun Valley and Park City there’s more than 700 miles of trail. And if Crested Butte eventually connects to nearby Gunnison via trail as proposed, the total will break 1,500 miles.

But I also like the classics for their disparate vibes. Crested Butte is still a countercultural hub, complete with chainless races that finish in town and madcap drunk parades. In Park City you’ll see gravity riders exiting the free buses to ride the lifts or shuttle a descent. And in Sun Valley, you might not see anyone at all out on the trails—there are simply too many of them. But you knew that already.

Drive by Singletrack — Presented by MTB Project

Drive: Denver to Crested Butte

Ride: Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass. This high-altitude climb ascends 2,650 feet through technical rock gardens, aspen groves, and scenic open meadows. Still, at only 11.5 miles, it’s a relatively short grind for such vistas.

Drive: Salt Lake City to Park City

Ride: Wasatch Crest. The views and high speeds make this 12.2-mile singletrack a local’s favorite.

Drive: Boise to Sun Valley.

Ride: Fisher-Williams Creek Loop (aka Fisher Creek). If you love natural flow and have two to three hours to spare, try this 17.8-mile loop off Highway 75.


From our High Summer 2016 issue.

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