Flow riding at the new Canyons Bike Park
Whistler, North Star at Tahoe, Keystone… Canyons? The first three ski resorts are well known as downhill mountain biking meccas, but there has never been a true lift-accessed bike park with flow trails in Utah. Canyons Resort in Park City aims to change that. In spring 2011, the resort announced that they would be building three new downhill specific trails with berms, tabletops and ramps, and the downhill community rejoiced. Fast forward to summer of 2012, and the Canyons Bike Park is officially open.
With body armor on my elbows and shins, a full-faced helmet squeezing my face, and a gigantic downhill-bike machine between my legs, I stood above the skills course on the mountain near Red Pine Lodge, staring down a wooden drop off with nothing but oblivion below. My years of mountain bike experience told me I would be fine as long as I kept my speed and put my weight back over the rear tire. I came to the Canyons Bike Park to see what all the fuss was about, but the truth was I’d never ridden a true downhill course on a true downhill bike, and my heart was beating in my throat.
Putting all my trust in a carbon-fiber GT Fury bike that probably cost more than my car, I let fly off the drop. To my absolute delight, the landing was as cushy as sticking a 20-foot cliff into two feet of powder with 130mm skis under my feet. As I stopped at the bottom of the skills course, I suddenly understood the draw of downhill, and realized that these heavy-ass bikes will let you ride over anything.
With that confidence boost in tow, it was time to flow down one of the three currently open downhill trails. Among the options were the easy Flying Salmon, the moderate Wild Mouse, and the experts-only Rally Cat. We, of course, opted for the easy route, which really was quite simple. The ride began with a series of rollers and small jumps that allowed me to get a feel for how the bike handles in mid-air. Next were some banked turns that were great for practicing balance and swooping around corners at speed. But the highlight of the trail was definitely the roller-coaster wooden bridge. It was wide enough to ride over comfortably, but required a certain amount of finesse to roll over. Plus, it was damn fun.
Our group, led by the Canyons Mountain Bike Academy Instruction Team, went ahead and hit Flying Salmon again, only this time without stopping. Linking the entire trail together in one flowing section made everyone feel like we could step it up a notch. So we loaded the High Meadow chairlift and made tracks to the more difficult Wild Mouse. While this ride was labeled as an intermediate track, it turned out to be a bit much for us first timers. A big rock drop near the top almost threw me over the handlebars, and a section of tilted wood bridges that curve and end with mandatory air made certain body parts pucker. But we all landed at the bottom unscathed.
As we rode up the chairlift one more time, the vision for a world-class bike park became clear as we floated above massive dirt jumps, impossible-looking tabletop gaps, and talented downhillers catching big air and landing like it’s no big deal. The downhill mountain bike scene is exploding in the U.S., and it seems the Canyons is committed to becoming ground zero in Utah for gravity-fed riding. Plus with even more trails in the works, like Alpine Lake, White Rabbit, and the highly anticipated Dark Hollow trails all under construction, there will be plenty of terrain for riders of all abilities to test their skills on a bike.
What I really liked about the Canyons Bike Park, is that the builders went out of their way to create trails and skills parks that cater to everyone, not just expert downhillers. You can ride the park with no previous experience, and work your way up from the easiest skills park to riding down a bona-fide downhill track with rollers and berms in under a day. The whole process helps make graduating to harder and harder trails less intimidating, and gives rookie riders the skills and confidence needed to saddle up and fly through the air on a bike.
If you want to try downhill mountain biking yourself, you can rent bikes and protective gear at Canyon Mountain Rentals in the base village. Visit the Canyons Bike Park webpage for rental prices, lift ticket information, and hours of operation. Group and private instruction is also available for riders of all ages with classes like Bike 101 and Bike Park 201. More information about instruction can be found here.