Local Lore

The Evolution of Mountain Biking in Park City

A brief history of mountain biking in Park City, from rogue trail building and the Tour des Suds to Gold Level Ride Center.

By Thomas Cooke June 13, 2017 Published in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Park City Magazine

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In the early days of  mountain biking in Park City, most pedaling took place on old mining roads. 

Mountain biking was something we did for fun in the fall when the road races were all done for the season,” says Tom Noaker, who in the early 1980s opened Park City’s first bike shop, New Park Cyclery. “We’d take these new mountain bikes out to Richardson Flats and ride around jeep roads and see if we could make it through in one piece.” On one such ride, Tim Mertens mysteriously dropped off the back of the pack. He rejoined the group later with a six-pack of beer draped over his handlebars, every can empty. “We joked with Tim about being on a Tour des Suds,” Noaker says. “And when we eventually started a race that climbed from City Park, up Park Avenue and Main Street, past the water tower in Daly Canyon, on a trail that led to Guardsman Pass, and, always, ending with a few beers, Tour des Suds was the perfect name for both the trail and the race.”

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White Pine Touring, Park City’s former unofficial hub of mountain bike riding and trail building.

With the benefit of hindsight, it could be said that Tour des Suds is not just a race, or a trail, but a harbinger of Park City’s now world-renowned mountain-biking trail network. In the local oral history of this once dirtbag sport, it’s frequently acknowledged that nobody built Tour des Suds, it was already there. But what of the other 400-plus miles of trails now crisscrossing Park City’s mountainsides from Parley’s Summit to Deer Valley? Though many have enigmatic beginnings similar to Tour des Suds, how they evolved is the result of not just a few off-road enthusiasts, but many.

Charlie and Kathy Sturgis jumped into the bike game in 1985 when they opened White Pine Touring at the bottom of historic Main Street. Charlie recalls, “We had the bikes, but we didn’t have much in the way of trails, so there was a need for advocacy.” And so Charlie launched the Thursday Night Ride series, group rides that began as social events but that quickly evolved into a chain-ring gang of rogue trail builders. “I would stash tools ahead of time up in the woods, meet the group at the store, ride to the tool stash, work on some trails, then ride back,” Charlie recounts.

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Riders and onlookers at an early Tour des Suds bike race.

Image: Tom Noaker

Around that same time, Don “DT” Taylor, ski patrol and mountain bike operations manager at Deer Valley from 1982 to 2000, was slowly making headway in both building trails at Deer Valley and getting his bosses to see the benefits of welcoming mountain bikers. Taylor remembers trying to connect trails from within the boundaries of the resort with pirate trails that already existed. “It gave me and my crew a way to ride our bikes to work in the summers,” he says.

Taylor figured if he and his crew liked to ride trails within the resort boundaries, the general public might like it, too, and they might even pay money for it. He presented the idea of running a lift in the summer for mountain bikers to Deer Valley General Manager Bob Wheaton and then Director of Mountain Operations Chuck English. Wheaton and English decided to take a chance on the burgeoning sport, and in 1992, Deer Valley launched Utah’s first lift-served mountain-biking operation off the Sterling lift.

It wasn’t long before the fitness benefits and fun of mountain biking began to catch on beyond the hardcore cycling crowd. For local entrepreneur (and founder of this magazine) Jan Wilking, the joy of pedaling up rocky mining roads and rambling down high meadows could be topped only by the camaraderie offered by the sport. But because of his stature in town and his known love for mountain biking, Wilking often found himself on the receiving end of complaints about nefarious trail-building activities from private property owners. And so, it wasn’t long before talk at the beer-fueled, après-trail sessions he’d engage in with riding buddies turned to getting organized. With the help of fellow mountain-bike enthusiast and attorney Tom Clyde, in 1993 Wilking wrote up some articles and bylaws for a new nonprofit. They named a board and ran a Help Wanted ad in The Park Record for an executive director with a starting salary of a whopping $12K, funded by a restaurant tax grant that Wilking had successfully scored for this new venture. Troy Duffin, an attorney with some experience building trails in the Tahoe area who had just moved to Utah to be closer to an ailing family member, responded to the ad and became the first executive director of Mountain Trails Foundation.

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Tour des Suds riders head up Main Street during last year’s race.

In his 10 years at the helm, Duffin was instrumental in carrying out Mountain Trails’ mission of adding and connecting trails within the Park City area. But he also had a vision of connecting Park City’s then three resorts with one trail. It didn’t happen overnight, but with Duffin as the conductor of an orchestra that included the resorts, private property developers, Park City Municipal, and the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District—now referred to simply as Basin Rec—what we know now as the Mid Mountain Trail began to take shape. “The establishment of Basin Rec was a key ingredient,” Duffin says. “It became the vehicle through which the county could mandate and, in a legally binding way, transfer trails and easements from private developments as public trails.” Today the Mid Mountain Trail is a 23-mile recreation super highway enjoyed in part or in whole by mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners.

Mountain biking in Park City is now forging ahead on multiple fronts. Tom Noaker, founder of the notorious Tour des Suds bike race, is pursuing creation of a singletrack network in eastern Summit County through the South Summit Trails Foundation. Once-rogue-trail-builder Charlie Sturgis has been the head of the Mountain Trails Foundation since 2010. Basin Rec Trail and Open Space Manager Bob Radke (See Radke’s “Summit Stories” profile here) and his team of trail builders manage and maintain more than 145 miles of trails and multiple bike parks in the Snyderville Basin and Summit Park. Just prior to this magazine’s press time, Park City Municipal was very close to meeting a fundraising goal to purchase an additional 1,800 acres of open space at the crest of the Wasatch Mountains known as Bonanza Flats, which would further expand the possibilities of connecting Park City trails with networks in both Wasatch and Salt Lake Counties. And since 2014, Park City has maintained its status as the world’s only Gold Level Ride Center, as ranked by the International Mountain Biking Association. 

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Riders navigating Deer Valley’s intermediate flow trail, Tidal Wave.

In the private sector, no other mountain resort in Utah has embraced mountain biking as thoroughly as Deer Valley. Steve Graff, the resort’s director of mountain operations, was a driving force behind Deer Valley’s recent foray into mountain biking’s latest trend, a style of branded trail simply referred to as “flow.” What started with the intermediate Tidal Wave trail in 2015 and beginner Holy Roller in 2016 continues this summer at Deer Valley with the opening of a new expert flow trail called Tsunami. And plans are under way for construction of a flow connector between Silver Lake Village and the Snow Park area that will likely open in 2018. Graff points out that Deer Valley has always been known for a unique product that he describes as “lift-serviced cross-country trails.” These hearken back to the days in the beginning of their operation when Don “DT” Taylor and his crew made those first summer trails. “Our goal is always to take care of what we are known for,” Graff says, “but also stay on the forefront of where the sport is progressing.”

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Special Events, Sports

Tour de Suds

Editor’s Pick City Park

A 7-mile mountain bike race from City Park, to the top of Guardsman Pass (yeah, it’s a hillclimb!) with 2,700′ of elevation gain!