Review of the Downhill Mountain Bike Park at Canyons Resort, Park City, Utah

Downhill Mountain Bike Park at Canyons Resort
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The people who run Canyons Resort are no dummies. Like other ski resorts, they've got a lot of money tied up in land, buildings, ski lifts, etc., sitting idle six months of the year. Plus workers who would love to stay busy even when the snow is nowhere to be seen.

So, faced with that they, like other ski resorts, have been working for many years to draw mountain bikers in the off-season by developing trails used in conjunction with ski lifts. Known as downhill, flow or gravity trails, these are fun, fast and require a different set of skills than those used in normal cross-country mountain biking.

However, Canyons Resort has taken this concept and carried it an entire step further. In addition to the whole network of trails they've developed that crisscross the mountain -- accessible to hikers and equestrians in addition to bikers -- Canyons has worked very specifically and intentionally to develop a downhill lift-served mountain biking park, the only one like it in Utah.

This special section of their trail system is devoted to (and limited to) downhill mountain bikers -- those thrill seeking dare-devils who look for the steepest trails they can find, seeking out jumps and other features that make ordinary cyclists' knees knock together just to look at. Here's the magic formula: Get your bike. Get on a ski lift. Ride to the top. Shred down the mountain. Repeat. It's awesome.

What the Canyons Resort "Bike Park" is All About

First opened in 2011, the bike park offers riders of all abilities a number of terrific trails very specifically and generous laced with tons of cool dirt and wood features: jumps, berms, ramps, and walls to ride.

For the most advanced riders, Canyons bike park has three black diamond trails: Rally Cat, Ricochet and Insurgent. The trails are steep and technical and feature large dirt jumps and plenty of freeride wood features. These trails are intended for expert cyclists with advanced bike handling skills. In addition to the jumps, these trails feature large drop-offs and steep descents. For example, Ricochet drops 500 feet in less than 3/4 mile while Insurgent pushes cyclists down 850 feet of vertical drop in just 1.2 miles. These are the kinds of trails that create Internet highlight videos -- the unbelievable rides you see of mountain bikers sailing high and far, doing the kind of stunts that look impossible, down terrain too steep to walk.

Two blue trails, Wild Mouse and Dark Hollow, at 2,700 and 4,500 feet respectively, are a bit easier than the blacks. Featuring rollers, berms, jumps and other more introductory level features, these trails offer a challenge to intermediate cyclists, allowing them to push themselves to try increasingly difficult features without making it scary.

For beginning mountain bikers, Canyons Resort has a white trail, White Rabbit, which offers the easiest entry for new downhill riders. It is 3,200 feet of wide, hard surfaces following the natural contours of the mountain with very few switchback turns and no real jumps. The next level up is a green trail called Flying Salmon. Longer still at 4,000 feet, this trail offers a nice introduction to gravity riding for newcomers on less intimidating terrain, featuring a easy rollers and smooth berms with wide trail surface to keep things cool.

Definition: A berm is an artificially banked turn made of dirt that allows a mountain biker to ride at an increased speed and a more extreme angle.

Additionally, the bike park features several basic skills sections where beginning mountain bikers can get the feel for riding small jumps, berms (curved banked turns) and small wood features such as ramps and boardwalk-type constructions, and more advanced riders can start to warm up or blow out the cobwebs if it's been a while before they head out to the harder paths.

Finally, Canyons continues to expand the bike park with its most recent addition: Split Decision, a new free-ride trail that rates as a double black, as hard as they come. Added in summer 2013, you'll find a series of breath-taking ladders and bridge wood features, setting the rider up for unavoidable gaps and drops that you've got to see to believe. When you take this on, you're all in and committed, if you know what I mean. Here's a, terrific Youtube clip that gives you a perfect look at the Split Decision trail.

What You Can Expect

To take part in any of the mountain biking at Canyons Resort, whether across the general trail network or the bike park specifically, stop by Canyon Mountain Sports in the heart of the resort for lift passes and other necessities. If you've brought your own bike, you're good but they've got rental bikes there too in addition to any protective gear you'll need.

Generally you're looking at daytime riding. Lift hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with longer hours on Wednesdays. Current prices for single-day passes to the bike park are $29 for age 13 & older and $24 for 7-12. Age 6 and under is free. Season passes to the bike park are available (which give you access to all lifts on the mountains) and a person can also arrange for tours and single or group lessons through the Canyons' mountain bike clinics and guide service.

Recommended equipment is helmet with full face shield, goggles, elbow pads, knee pads and full finger gloves. For a bike you should use a down-hill specific mountain bike, which has a different geometry or at the very least take your seat down a good bit from its normal set up when you're riding cross country.

All in all, you'll have a great time but be sure to both know your abilities and be confident in your bike handling skills so you don't get in over your head. It's a rush for sure and an astounding anaerobic workout, some intense riding that'll leave you breathless by the time you get to the bottom.

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