Utah was not exactly at the top of my bucket list. In fact, I knew very little about it. The limited knowledge I had was that it sits somewhere on the Western side of America and is home to a significant Mormon population. It was only during my three-day visit to Park City - Utah's mountain-biking and skiing mecca - that I realised what I'd been missing.

Treasures of Utah

Salt Lake City, the state capital and indeed home to America’s largest Mormon community, is the perfect place from which to embark on Utah’s legendary outdoor adventures. To its north is the Great Salt Lake, considered the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere, while to the south lie some of the planet’s most extraordinary natural treasures: Bryce Canyon Park, Zion National Park, Moab and Nine Mile Canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park is a colourful showcase of gigantic natural amphitheatres, while Nine Mile Canyon is home to more than 1000 rock art sites – the highest concentration of ancient rock art in North America.

Skiing and mountain biking are arguably Utah’s most celebrated highlights and there’s no better place for it than Park City, where I discovered just how active mountain biking culture really is.

Outdoor Mecca

Located 35 minutes by car from Salt Lake City, Park City is one of North America’s largest ski resorts and mountain biking hotspots. The Park City Mountain Resort is to Americans what St Moritz is to the Swiss: a popular, glamourous and extensive ski destination. Its famously fluffy winter snows, epic ski runs and vibrant village scenes create the perfect playground for professional skiers and holidaymakers, and look out for Hollywood celebrities here too!

In spring and summer, though, when the snow melts away, it’s the mountain bike that takes centre stage. In 2012 Park City was named the world’s first Gold Level Ride Centre by the International Mountain Biking Association and it still maintains it gold status with over 725 kilometres of mountain biking trails situated for all levels.  And it’s not only the terrain that attracts bikers from afar.  Mountain biking culture is very much part of everyday life in Park City. A point of pride is that every front door is less than a kilometre from a biking path, which connects to a bigger network of trails. Between Park City Mountain Resort and neighbouring Deer Valley Resort, there are mountain climbs, cross-country trails, bike parks, dirt jumps and flow trails; some made for the fainthearted and others for the extremely brave. And both resorts boasts bike lifts that transport you and your bike to the mountaintops from where it’s an adrenaline-fueled ride to the bottom.

Joys of the Bike

I was brimming with excitement at the thought of an entire trip dedicated to mountain biking. On arrival at Park City, I checked into the slick Stein Eriksen Residences and met my fellow riders who were much more experienced on a bike than me. On our first evening together, they revealed their passion for their chosen pastime. Scott House, our host from Park City Tourism described mountain biking as a childlike freedom, while another rider swore that it’s the best way to explore a new destination.

 

High Star Ranch

Our first adventure started at High Star Ranch with an uphill ride on a single-track trail. The kind folk at White Pine Touring took care of all the technical bits, including unloading our rental bikes, handing out helmets and helping us gear up. I was relieved when Scott and our other guide, Shaun Raskin Deutschlander, suggested we divide into two groups. The strong riders vigorously took off in a cloud of dust, while the novices and I learnt the tricks of the bike from the back. “Peddle as fast as you can when riding around corners,” advised Scott as we negotiated a rocky track. “When the ground flattens out, take a few deep breaths and appreciate the scenery.” In between heart-pounding uphill efforts, I was rewarded with vistas of yellow plains and distant blue mountains. Despite the exhausting workout, I wanted more.

Shaun and Scott are part of Park City’s famous community of avid outdoor enthusiasts who come from all over America to work in nature. They spend their winters as skiing instructors and their summers guiding, climbing and working at bike shops. As we started our descent, Shaun explained her attraction to mountain biking. “It’s the closest sensation there is to skiing,” she said. “You have to instinctively move your body from side to side when you’re going downhill, as if separating bike from body.”

Not wanting to be a victim of the infamous flying-over-the-handlebars wipe-out, I followed all the rules on the way down. Shaun watched my every move from behind, while I focused on standing up on the downhill, keeping my feet balanced and controlling my front brakes. I made it to the bottom just in time for lunch at State Road Tavern & Restaurant.

 

Park City Resort

Next on the agenda was Park City Resort where we loaded ourselves and our bikes onto the lifts for a glide to the top of the 3000-metre high mountain.

“I’m not ready for this,” I thought nervously. Our descent began through alpine forests and a blazing spectacle of autumnal canopies. To my relief, the zigzagging trail was surprisingly manageable. About halfway down we reached a deserted site that was once a thriving silver mine. Here we stopped to do some exploring on foot.  The main building, made mostly of tin sheeting, was a haunting site of broken windows, a rusty roof and a dark interior leading to a 440-metre shaft that descends into the belly of the earth.  Over a century ago, this was one of the area’s most prosperous mines and home to a community of over 100 miners. Park City was in fact developed as a mining town, thanks to the discovery of silver in the 1860’s. In its boom years, this part of Utah boasted 300 mines with Park City regarded as one of the most productive mining towns in the whole of America up until the 1980’s.

Deer Valley Resort Bike Park

Our final day on the bike started with an uphill ride from our hotel towards the legendary Deer Valley Resort Bike Park. Crowds of bikers dressed in neon helmets and knee guards lined up at the lifts. In my red rented gear I raised my bicycle onto the lift and took a seat next to Scott and another instructor for the ten-minute glide to the summit. “We’ll talk you through every turn,” offered Scott trying to settle my nerves before the big descent. The extensive bike park has single-track courses for advanced and beginner riders complete with jumps, bridges, turns and berms.

From the top, we started down a zig-zagging, single-track towards a fork in the road. Here we opted for the green-listed ‘Holy Roller’ beginner’s course. I steadied my grip and rode over a series of rollercoaster-like berms interspersed with a few sharp turns. When we reached the bottom, I was again ready for more! We got back onto the lift for round two. By the time round three rolled around, I felt ready for the intermediate ‘Tidal Wave’ trail, constructed by the company that built the renowned mountain biking trails of Whistler. I set forth with one instructor behind me and one in front. The berms were significantly bigger and came with lips and tables that made me and my bike fly through the air. Scotty encouragingly kept saying, “You’re doing great”, while I tried to control my brakes and my breathing! Miraculously I reached the bottom unharmed and feeling like an exhilarated child who had just discovered a new playground.

So, to all you avid bikers out there, you really should consider a trip to Utah to fulfil the dream of riding some of the best trails in the world.

Story by: Franki Black

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