A Long and Winding Trail Into Mountain Biking

Our first experience with mountain biking can be traced back more than a quarter of century ago, when we moved from New York to Park City, Utah. Then, Deer Valley Resort was just 4 years old and there wasn’t any lift-served mountain biking available; in fact, mountain biking had barely been invented. This period of the early 80s was only the dawn of that great sport and just a select few began to get excited about it.

I remember that for the summer of 1987, my wife and I bought two Scott mountain bikes, with fat tires, 24 speed and zero-suspension. We tested them on the asphalt a few times, but used them mostly to take a weekly trip to Old Town Park City and while I may have tried mine on a few dirt trails, I soon found out that it was more work than what I had bargained for and concluded that it was simply not for me. As summer turned into fall, the bikes were relieved of their duties and stayed quietly in our garage until the end of the decade.

Fast-forward to 1990; this was a new and exciting year for us; I was now between two jobs while building a new home. That year, we first sold our residence and the two venerable bikes inside the garage were conveniently “bundled” with the house to give the transaction more of a “mountain” flavor. Our move to a new home also coincided with a noted progress in mountain bike technology: The advent of front suspensions. That’s right, until that time there was no difference between the front fork of a road bike and that of a mountain bike. They both were stiff, unyielding and quite shaky on rough terrain. Getting rid of our first bicycles gave us the opportunity to upgrade to a pair of brand new bikes that had a semblance of front suspension.

This time again, similar scenario; we only used them for a limited number of outings, albeit more audaciously; we began venturing into singletrack trails and I even remember flying over the handlebars in a trail called “Trans-Wasatch,” just where the St. Regis hotel now stands. Through sheer luck and some divine intervention I survived the move as I miraculously landed standing up on my own two feet. Needless to say that after a mishap like this, both bikes were “grounded” for good, and they paradoxically remained hung-up forever, high in the ceiling of our large garage.

That lasted right after the Salt Lake City Olympics, when our children left us and my wife and I suddenly became empty nesters in an over-sized home; we eventually sold the house, negotiating once again the pair of unused bicycles as part of the real-estate settlement. We subsequently lived three full years without bikes in the garage. In 2005 however, I relapsed into my two-wheel pursuit and purchased two-state-of-the-art mountain bikes (front and rear suspensions, disk brakes, the works…) My wife gave me the kind of look that means something like “you’ll never learn…”

We got our bikes in the fall and began to use them on the easy stuff, like the Park City Rail-Trail plus some other bike paths and even made a few timid forays into single-track territory. While the new, modern bikes were literally a “game changer” as they’re more efficient, comfortable and user-friendly, we were both anxious, not quite knowing if my latest infatuation would last. What got us going was the investment we had made and while we realized that a third time wouldn’t automatically be a charm, we just didn’t want to give up only after having tried our hardest.

What made all the difference however, was that I was now retired and we suddenly had much more time on our hands. While we continued for a while on easy paths like the Rail-Trail and both the Farm and the McLeod Creek trails, we then dared to try the lift-assisted mountain bike trails in Deer Valley, but still were woefully inexperienced to fully appreciate them. We then honed our skills on the easy trails that crisscross the Round Valley open space that stands between Park City’s new hospital and the Park Meadow subdivision where we live.

A steady practice on that gentle but technical terrain began to bear fruits and eventually would make a huge difference in our gathering the prerequisite technique and mileage that are the foundation of enjoyable mountain biking. This in a nutshell is how we become more attracted to the world of singletrack trails and almost without realizing it, began to become more confident and enjoyed the sport so much more. Each subsequent season, more days were added to our schedule with greater challenges that turned into better skills, growing assurance and much more fun.

We can now use the Deer Valley lifts and enjoy riding Sunset and Naildriver on the way down as if we had done it for a lifetime. We love the sport and, this season alone, have logged more than 40 days by the end of July! Make no mistake though; mountain biking isn’t an easy sport to pick and stay with, and I bet that there are a multitude of mountain bikes out there that, just like our first two sets of bikes, are hanging alone in some garage, even though they were purchased with the very best of intentions! In some next blog, I’ll try to explain how everyone can get some great “traction” in mountain biking without working too hard or even thinking that they where just not made for that sport. Stay tuned…

Mountain Biking Mama

I’ve often said I have a lot of respect for skiers who take up the sport as adults. It takes a certain amount of courage, to say the least. I have a hunch that I’ve learned exactly how much courage that is—because on a recent day in Deer Valley, I began to conquer my fear of riding my bicycle downhill.

Mountain biking (and I’m sure the same is true for road cycling—I just haven’t tried it yet) is as much of a head-game as skiing. For me, it’s more, I think—in part because I’m learning as an adult. I wore my first pair of skis at age 3, and began weekly lessons at 6, so skiing is as natural to me as walking—and at least 10 times more fun. Logically, I know I can handle just about anything on a bike—I’m physically fit—well for a normal person, not a competitive athlete (I have to remind myself, because living in Park City it’s easy to take your decent fitness level for granted when you’re surrounded as we are by elite athletes). I’m up for challenges. I understand the mechanics of the sport. My psyche, however, disagrees. And, frankly, I’m sick of hearing second-hand about how great my husband’s mountain bike rides were. Or weren’t. Even a bad ride is brag-worthy, at least in my house. And I’m done with feeling left out.

Thankfully, there is Jeff. Not, mind you, my wonderful husband Jeff. For whom I am always thankful. But Jeff the Awesome, Patient and Kind Mountain Biking Coach. I am sure his official Deer Valley title is something more like Mountain Bike Guide or Instructor or whatever it is that doesn’t describe him well enough.

So, Coach Jeff took me to Lot 3—that’s right, to the parking lot. Little known fact: There are mountain bike practice features at the back of Lot 3. We ran through some basics, and I was proud to have arrived with A-plus skills in braking appropriately (right brake first then add left, or equal pressure to both); creating a “platform” by bringing both pedals parallel to the ground, and standing on them as I bring my tush back behind my bike seat. (I’m sure it looks even sillier than it sounds, but believe me, it creates the most control over the bike.)

Then came the frustrating part—as much as I knew I could take a gentle downhill turn—KNEW IT—I couldn’t get my brain to let me. After MUCH unprintable sputtering from me, Coach Jeff took control of the moment.

“We’re going to change things up,” he said. “No use having you frustrated.”

What he meant was: After one more quick test on the practice track, he was taking me up Silver Lake Express chairlift to ride down the mountain on a trail called Tour De Homes. I gulped only a little as I noticed the trail marker bore the international symbol for “Intermediate”—the telling blue square. Um, ok. I guess I’m ready, I thought.

“You will gain confidence as we ride. You’ll see. It will be fun,” he said. “I promise.”

Ok, he was right. I walked a fair amount–but I have decided that there’s no shame in walking where you’re completely out of your depth as a rider. It’s called SELF PRESERVATION, people. And I had two kids at Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp who were expecting to see their mom at 5 p.m. pickup. So, I walked some. But, mostly, I rode. I rode down slopes I didn’t think I could. I looked ahead and not down, not at obstacles, but rather at the path I wanted to follow. Just like in skiing, if you don’t want to ride into the tree, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT LOOK AT THE TREE.

In point of fact, I looked at Coach Jeff’s awesome day-glo biking socks, which were a great focal point.

I am going to have to learn to talk less when I ride—because every time I called out “I’m doing this!!!!” on something more technical than I’d been able to handle only minutes earlier—I lost it. LOST.

Tour De Homes, by the way, is a great hiking or biking trail. It starts behind Last Chance on a private ski run, and winds around until you actually come out onto Last Chance, just below the “Bear House.” We rode some single track through the meadow at the bottom of Last Chance, taking a moment to appreciate, mutually, how much we love skiing Dew Drop, and then worked our way down Rosebud, across some more single track beneath Solid Muldoon, Champion and Big Stick, and into the trees next to the Burns Lift. This was, by far the smoothest, prettiest part of the ride. The trail itself is tree-lined and did I mention…smooth? I even took the steep part back to Wide West with some middling success. Enough that Coach Jeff said, “You know, that was steeper than the part you walked at the trail head?”

And, yes, I flew down the Carpenter road—faster than a person is allowed to take it on skis, in fact. Speed, it turns out, is a good acquaintance. We’re working our way up to a friendship. Coach Jeff, though, whether he likes it or not, is a brand-new friend.

The Modern Mountain Man (and Woman)

Since I was born, raised and have spent most of my life in the mountains, I tend to consider myself as a true “mountain man.” Of course, my own definition doesn’t necessarily fall into the accepted view most of us have of the traditional “mountain man.”  It means more of a “mountain dweller” than the quintessential trapper and other explorer that used to roam the Rocky Mountains and might still be encountered at certain summer “Rendezvous’.” Since I’m also from French extraction, if you found me at one of these events, you might easily mistake me for these rugged characters if I donned a different garb and sported a few grizzly teeth around my neck, but that’s not quite my style, at least, for the foreseeable future!

So my definition of what makes a mountain man and woman is a far cry from that early frontier day’s image, and is in fact defined by the love some of us have for living near the summits and for building our daily lives or our recreation around them. I simply would like to talk about those of us, mountain women and men, who love elevated living and always get more excited when we’re in the midst of jagged peaks than strolling on New York’s Fifth Avenue or facing a tropical sunset, far away in some South Pacific paradise.

This new breed of “mountain people” love to ski in winter, whether it’s alpine, telemark or cross-country, can on occasion step on a pair of snow shoes or just enjoy a stimulating morning run in the snow. These same individuals are also highly adaptable; they can switch gear within weeks and go from skiing to fly-fishing or even mountain biking, as soon as the trails are dry enough and passable. Endless trail running is also part of the choices mountain dwellers make and their stealthy travels take them where wildlife hides, where deer and moose are totally at home, marmots lay in the sun and cougars watch from behind some aspen grove.

They’re rugged individuals who can also hike long distances, scramble towards forbidding summits and climb vertical cliffs when they’ve made up their mind to reach over them. On occasions, they’ll explore distant valleys on horseback or run down a river with friends. I’m not a hunter, so I can’t speak for those we see in the fall with gun or cross-bow in hand, but I’m a bit closer to those who never miss a sunset on a stormy day, can catch an Osprey in flight or surprise a heard of elks with their camera.

The luckiest of these modern mountain people work in the mountains and usually don’t even realize how fortunate they are; others still have to compromise between making a living in some city and escaping to the mountains whenever they get a chance. They belong to the mountain environment and they love it. They look at the clouds and guess tomorrow’s weather; sport goggle and sun-glass tans year-round, stay connected with their surroundings and become almost part of the scenery. They respect the natural elements, they know that nature is the ultimate boss and see in it a yardstick to measure their strength, their determination and their endurance.

In many ways, they are as fierce and independent as the first “mountain men” used to be and are one-hundred percent in tune with their surroundings. The only difference, in my opinion, is that their life is far less dangerous and that they’ve found many more ways to extract raw fun out of their mountain lifestyle!

Biking is for the Whole Family

Spring came early to Park City—in a town where odds run high for snow on graduation day, it can be confusing to be able to play outside like it’s Summer in April or May. But, friends, we’re muddling through, somehow. What with all the Chamber of Commerce weather, and the fact that my kids look at bike time as cross-training for skiing (Opening Weekend), this is bound to be the summer that improves our skiing by leaps and bounds.

In fact, it didn’t take long for us to get rolling in summer mode in our house. Seth, our newly-minted five year-old, with his newly-missing two bottom teeth, has determined that this summer’s theme is “Two Wheels or Bust!” It didn’t take much—just like when he wanted to learn to ski, he saw big brother do it, and that, friends, was that (Secrets to Success). We started offering various tips on technique, offered to put a broomstick in the well under his seat so we could help him balance, suggested he use his feet to push and glide off the ground while he got the feel for it. And, in typical Seth fashion, he looked at us and said, “Why don’t I just ride?”

So, he did. Here’s the footage

The next thing I knew, Jeff was in the garage, finding the pedals to put on his own bike. Poor guy had been so busy in the last few years, the only time his bike got to roll on the trails around here was when our friend Cheo came for visits and borrowed the bike (he’s a BYOPedal kinda guy). Now, though, the kids were on a roll, and Jeff was not going to miss out.

So, with images of family bike rides dancing in our heads, we hauled Lance’s first mountain bike with gears into Jans for a tune-up (it was a hand-me-down from friends), and took mine there for good measure. While we were there, Jeff noticed some shiny new objects—and started chatting with Stephanie, one of the expert bike fitters. Before long, she had Jeff set up on demos, and he was tooling around the neighborhood, trying to choose a new bike. I won’t bore you with the list of complaints he has for his old mountain bike. We think of it as Cheo’s bike, anyway, and now this will allow the two of them to go on rides together when he’s in town…but I digress.

I owe Stephanie, Marty, and the team at Jans a debt of gratitude for helping Jeff find a new bike. First, she took the guesswork out of what gift to give my husband for our 17th wedding anniversary this month. Yes, friends, in case you were wondering, the official gift for 17th anniversary is One Sweet Ride. Second, she singlehandedly helped reconnect my guy, who raced bikes in high school, with a lifelong passion—that’s going to help push his healthy lifestyle agenda to the next level. Also, they helped me entertain my kids during the whole bike demo process, allowing many pairs of shoes to be tried on, and selling us a couple of bags of candy, to boot. As in winter, I’m not above bribing with candy. [Upping the Ante on Bribes]

After all was said and done, I was inspired to get my like-new (as in gently used, because I bought it eleven years ago and have ridden just a handful of times) bike into the shop for a tune-up.

Some people in my house have described me as a reluctant biker—I’m not. I swear. I really, really WANT to bike. But I’ve never been a confident biker, which makes it hard to just get out and ride. When I first bought my bike, I took advantage of the variety of free, guided rides available to all levels of bikers through Jans and White Pine—some are even women-only. Somehow, though, once the boys were born, I couldn’t make the time for those rides. No, boys, I’m not blaming you. In recent years,  I promised my pal Emily that I would take some mountain biking lessons at Deer Valley—but other things took precedence.

Now, though, the same thing that motivated me to up my game on the snow has been brought to bear for biking; I will not be left behind by my family. So: First things first, I’m going to start riding on the flat trails around town. Next, I’ll join some of those evening rides at White Pine and Jans. And, because my kids are going to check out some Deer Valley Summer Camps, I’m going to book myself a mountain biking lesson on the mountain, too.

Let the games begin!

Where to Bike in Park City during “Shoulder Season”

Hidden Gems in Park City – Bike Edition

Where can you take a detour from your trip to Home Depot and find an amazing mountain bike course that is free to the public?  Park City, of course! This past weekend my husband and I were headed to the hardware store east of Park City on Highway 40 and decided to take the scenic route and drive through a neighborhood.   We stumbled upon Trailside Park and its soccer field, skateboard park and the amazing mountain bike training course.

We looked at each other and said in unison, “Let’s check it out.” We didn’t see any bikes on the course (maybe because it was really windy.)  So we opened the tailgate, let the dog out and headed up the trail.  It started off with a beginners course called “Bella’s Course” with a couple of stone bridges and curved dirt trails for little ones to try. I can imagine a little girl with a pink bike and helmet tearing around those corners like there’s no tomorrow!

Not for the faint of heart: this trail is challenging!  We hiked up the path and found tons of strategically placed wooden ramps and side rails that were six feet tall!  The course was full of small and large dirt ramps to test the skills of every mountain biker young and old.  We saw a few when we ran into a couple of teenagers with helmet cams taking the big jumps and filming each others landings.

 

This course wouldn’t be for the beginner but if you or your kids love a challenge,   check out Trailside park.  www.basinrecreation.org/trailside_park.html

For the faint of heart: Willow Creek Park. We found this park  in much the same way – we went for a leisurely drive through a neighborhood  and out popped this amazing park with two play structures, finely groomed soccer fields, a pond, and wide paths for walking,running or biking.  The bike paths connect to a couple of nice trails.  On this ride, you won’t find a ramp or a bump in sight but what you will see are wide rocky pathways that are great to either pick up some speed  for a good workout or to take at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery.

I sometimes start at Kimball Junction and ride along the Swaner Nature Preserve past the Swaner farm on the Highway 224.  The bike trail winds past some wetlands and creeks  before it opens up to the meadow at Willow Creek Park. You can ride up to the soccer field there and grab some cold water from the drinking fountain. Take a rest in the shade before heading up further to catch up with the Farm Trail for more stream side riding or head back the way you came.  Www.basinrecreation.org/willow_creek.html

Whether you are a hard core thrill seeking biker or looking for a scenic spring ride and  some exercise, Park City parks are a great way to explore while waiting for Deer Valley’s lift-served biking and hiking to open on June 15.

Never Too Late To Go Mountain Biking!

I know how it feels; we’re now almost at the end of August and you haven’t ridden your mountain bike yet as you had promised yourself! Well, it’s never too late and in fact the next few weeks are likely to be the best in the entire summer for straddling a mountain bike and getting a taste of what a fun recreation it can be if you have never tried it before, or refreshing your memories as well as your skills if you have experienced it in the past. Deer Valley is the perfect place to do it, should you decide to take advantage of the resort’s lift-served mountain biking options by either riding the Silver Lake Express or the Sterling Express lifts, rent some great bikes and also receive some friendly advice.

Early fall is also the perfect season to do it; the weather is much cooler and the crowds are generally considerably thinner. In fact, the resort offers an impressive 55 miles of trails meandering through woods, canyons and meadows, offering a blend of the best vistas available and the most exciting terrain. In case you wondered, I’ve heard that Deer Valley Resort has been rated by some mountain biking publication in the top ten best destinations for mountain biking…

So now where do you begin? Check your mountain bike and make sure it’s still trail-worthy or doesn’t lack modern suspensions, decent tires and good brakes. If it has remained in your garage for more than ten years, you might be surprised to find out that technology has passed it by; if that’s the case, rent one at Deer Valley Resort, that will enable you to familiarize yourself with the new technology from modern gears to clipless pedals, and give you an opportunity to make up your mind should you decide to invest into a new machine. If your bike still looks the part, make sure to have it tuned up and have its tires and brakes checked before going out, and while we are on the subject of personal security, don’t leave home without your bike helmet!

Then, if you’re still a bit uneasy, there’s always the opportunity of taking a refresher course. Don’t think you need one? Well, this might in fact be a great opportunity to not having to relearn everything or re-discovering… the wheel. Deer Valley’s Mountain Bike School can give you that bit of extra-confidence that will make a huge difference. It’s open daily and someone’s available at either Snow Park Lodge or mid-mountain next to Silver Lake Lodge from 10 am to 5:30 pm to assist you if you really want to discover something new. There are in fact a host of things you can rediscover or learn, like sharpening your visual skills on single track courses, balancing and positioning your body according to the changing terrain, cornering like a pro, breaking smartly, descending and climbing more effectively and many more very valuable tips.

Lift-served mountain biking is also an excellent way to get you started without suffering too much and gaining some critical training before you can do the whole thing on your very own, if you decide to. The passes are quite affordable and your kids or grandchildren below five years of age will ride free. So enough procrastinating! You only have between now and Labor Day, plus the following weekend of September 11 and 12 to get back into, or get acquainted with this great sport while weather and temperatures are still ideal!

The Wild Flowers are Blooming!

With summer now in full swing in the mountains, you don’t want to miss  seeing the wild flowers at Deer Valley.  They are amazing this year and the colors are incredible.  I am always up for a hike to check them out but the mountain biking trails are looking tempting these days.

I finally have my first concert, Wynonna, on the calendar for next Tuesday.  Wynonna is coming as part of our Big Start Bright Nights series and it should be a great evening.  I have already ordered my Deer Valley Gourmet Picnic Basket and can not wait to brag about it in my next post.

Don’t forget about our free Wednesday night concert series which start at 6 p.m. at the Snow Park Amphitheater.  We have Wisebird, Shaky Trade and my personal favorite Bryon Friedman coming up.  My family and I always pack a picnic but I was to lazy last night so we will be off to the concession stand.  I am looking forward to the chicken ceasar salad and an ice cream sandwich for dessert.

 For those of you wanting to come up for a long weekend make sure to check out our website deervalley.com.  We have some great summer packages and some even some specifically for the different concert series. 

 Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather!

A Painful Transition

In recent years, I have skied more than my share and this season was no exception. I believe that at last count, I have been 100 days on my skis; this, by my own admission, is an awful lot and I would need to travel back to my twenties to exceed that impressive attendance on snow. Over the past five years, besides skiing a lot, I’ve also experienced my share of mishaps; none of them too bad, but between some broken ribs and a snapped Achilles’s heel, I can’t say that my past seasons were totally pain-free. So once again, this ski season ended up absolutely flawlessly, without one single injury to report. I had dodged the proverbial bullet. As I put away my ski gear, my next move was to take our mountain bikes to the local shop for a full tune-up in time for another riding season. I was already picturing myself coasting amidst a sea of sagebrush and clearing hairpin turns almost flawlessly.

This was without counting on some real labor that was waiting for me between the skiing and the mountain biking seasons. I had been extremely ambitious and had set to repaint a deck composed of an endless metal railing wrapped around a large wooden floor. I’m not as good a painter as I’m a skier and even though I consider myself a medium-level mountain biker, I tend to ride the single track much better than I can pilot a paintbrush around intricate wrought iron patterns. This means that it takes me a lot of time to do an okay job, not even including all the contorting, bending and laying on my back that come with reaching these almost invisible and unattainable spots. After two days of doing that, my body began to revolt, my legs ached and I was visibly limping as if I had aged an extra 20 years! I was in fact so tired, that I took two days of pure rest. A wise move that very unfortunately, happened to be “too little, too late.”

The next morning, while standing up from my office chair, I must have snapped something and my lower back was elevated to a dire state of lumbago or acute back pain, as doctors like to call this ailment. I instantly visualized my ski career coming to a screeching stop and my anticipated mountain bike exploits vaporizing on the spot. I made an appointment with a physiatrist who listened to my story with extreme empathy, asked me lots of questions, ran me through a series of physical tests and reassured me that there would be more ski and mountain bike days in my future.

The morale of that story is that there are many activities more dangerous than skiing or mountain biking, but what I appreciated the most was that my doctor didn’t ask me if I wore a helmet at the time of the incident!