I remember my first time taking a special trip to a Ski Resort to mountain bike. In 1988, All my skate crew in KC had just bought our first ever mountain bikes and we decided the only thing to do was load up a car and head out to Winter Park for their fat tire festival. We just thought the whole thing was so damn cool – the bikes, the racers, the trails – and it was – and it is. Bike trails have evolved a bit since then – the bikes a lot squishier, trails a lot more sculpted and the concept of berms and flow has taken hold.
I just recently got the opportunity to go ride for a couple days at Grand Targhee Resort and was that a treat! First, it was my first time to take my bike on a chairlift. It seems like cheating and it is. We were lucky enough to have Dustin from Grand Targhee show us around and start us out on the Green DH trails and take us on gradually more technical trails. I was a bit nervous to do the DH runs. When I saw our schedule for the day, I even excused myself for the DH portion of the day’s riding, since I imagine myself to be an endurance or XC rider – I guess by today’s standards I’m an intermediate trail rider. For the most part I’m a wheels-on-trail kind of guy, meaning I’m over 40 and I don’t pop off of every trail feature and I don’t really “send” much. Not to worry – Grand Targhee’s DH runs are what I’d call accessible and mostly really buff. You don’t have to hit every double and can easily roll them without being bucked hard. Drop your seat and let ‘er rip. There are only two lifts in the summer, so start easy on the Shoshone Lift, and once you have your flow, head over to the Dreamcatcher lift. We hit Grand Traverse, which gives insane views of the classic snowcapped Tetons as you head into some mildly more technical riding on Buffalo Drop and then into Bullwinkle. I really enjoyed this section. Everything was strangely more buff than I expected. The track itself was smooth, with intermittent rock embedded in trail and the occasional rock garden to keep you awake.
It’s worth mentioning that any good bike park is a work in progress – trails should be worked on and improved and updated. Grand Targhee is no exception. Our guide Dustin seemed eager to pack in as many runs as possible and show us every inch of the resort. Being mildly superstitious, I always get nervous when someone yells “one more run?” because there is no way you can say no – and our trajectory of increasing technicality. Do I really want to ride your hardest terrain when I’m gassed? But that’s the thing about lift riding – the runs themselves are long enough that you want to rest your hands and arms mid-run and you’re never really gassed since you’re not pedaling uphill, mostly just squatting and pumping – but strangely it still takes it out of you and you find yourself looking for more air. I definitely felt the altitude – you’re at just above 8,000 feet, which coming from Portland is notable. We banged out another run and felt satisfied that we did what we could to squeeze the most out of our morning lift party.
We hit the Trap bar for lunch – half of us had burgers, half of us went for gigantic plates of nachos. I pretended I was out bikepacking all morning and went for the half pound burger and a beer. You know – max calories all the time. Our crew was an interesting mix - Sarah and Alex from Thorpe Marketing (Boulder), Dustin from the resort (formerly Hood River, now WY) and Dave from NSMB (Vancouver BC) and Rich from TeamDicky (North Carolina) I knew Sarah from cyclocross in China, but the rest of us were just getting to know each other, but a couple days on the bike were just the thing.
I was excited to explore the XC side of things at Grand Targhee. Truth be told – that’s my jam. Few people like to claim XC these days as their home turf. It’s just not cool right now. Enduro? Yeah brah! Trail? Hells yeah! Backcountry? I’m all about it! Seriously though, all these terms are kinda BS and in the end it’s just mountain biking. You ride uphill. You ride down hills. Get as jumpy and poppy as you want, but it’s just riding a bike – and that’s what I like about XC. I guess the negative connotation is racing, but with the Trap burger in my belly, there would be no racing. I guess the part that makes me XC at heart, is that I enjoy arriving at the top under my own power. Lifts are cool, shuttles are lovely and help you get the most descent out of a day, but I just love the honesty of earning your downhills. Dustin wouldn’t admit it, but he likes climbing – like in the slightly competitive sense where you see if you can put a gap between yourself and whoever is following you. Since I know Sarah from the competitive cross scene, I know she’s got some XC in her– though she’s claiming “retired” Alex too - he’s riding a big bike, but I can tell he’s XC at heart. He seems to enjoy his climbs, but he’s the kid of the bunch, so he's got boundless energy. With me whining about elevation and overeating at lunch and Dave nursing a bad calf muscle. Rich had some overuse injury from trying to run a bunch without working up to it. We all had our excuses, which we promptly forgot, because the scenery was spectacular, and the trails are ridiculously buttery and flowing.
Our afternoon ride was based in the XC area known as Rick’s Basin. Green and blue trails like Tall Cool One, More Cowbell and Permagrin left me gasping in delight. What is it about the aspens? They still feel exotic to me – we don’t really have them in Oregon. They remind me of my first excitement on my first mountain biking trips to Colorado. It’s the sound of the leaves shimmering in the breeze. Alex noted the sound is hypnotic – you could easily fall asleep the sound. I need an aspen app. Some folks would choose crashing waves, I’d choose aspen breeze. Wildflowers were everywhere too. I thought Dave was doing a wildflower calendar. Every chance he got he was crouching low, getting some new flower closeup. Check out his write up. He sounds salty, but I can tell he’s a nature lover and he’s pretty darn skilled on a bike. My only issue is that I was enjoying the ride so much, I didn’t stop for photos enough. I’m always afraid of holding up the group and being selfish with my own needs. I gotta get over that. Reminder: photos first, ride second. People like being part of a photo shoot. It’s fun!
After soaking up more spectacular Teton views and speculating about how many bears are over there on Decoster Trail, we hit the Quakie Ridge section. Quakie Ridge was half aspens and half meadow and all spectacular. It’s probably a good time to mention that all the trails are the handiwork of Andy Williams and Harlan Hottenstein. Andy’s been building at Grand Targhee Resort for the last 12 years and 6 for Harlan. Andy’s resume is impressive and includes building the trails at Vail in 1993 (including the 94 Mountain Bike World Championships and the 98 World Mountain Bike Championships in Mt. St. Anne, Canada and the 2001 Olympic Games in Atlanta) Andy is old school and I appreciate that. It explains why the XC trails are some impeccable.
Harlan designed and built most of the trails on Teton Pass and has been building the DH and flow trails for the last 6 years at Grand Targhee. Their mastery is without a doubt one of the reasons you should come ride Grand Targhee – the trails are world class. You feel it when you’re riding – the turns are the right shape, you can hold your speed. There aren’t brake bumps everywhere. It’s just…well…perfect.
The whole second half of the ride, Dustin kept talking about sloshies at the Trap. My only guess is that they’re slushies with booze (you know…getting’ sloshed) So that became the refrain. Let’s finish this up and get sloshies. We weren’t tired yet, really, but we might have been dragging a bit. We quickly wrapped up our delightful XC loop and headed back to the Trap for sloshies. What? Out of Sloshies! OK. I don’t need hard liquor anyway, so beer it is. Glorious pitchers of beer magically arrived on the deck. Life is good in the Tetons. Melvin by the way. Melvin is good. Their Hubert MPA is pretty special, but if you want that mexi lager post-ride beer, it’s Heyzeus all the way. I also like that they have a Spotify playlist dedicated to that lager. Well played Melvin, well played. That’s it. Cheers! Day one done and dusted. Oh wait. We had an excellent dinner at the Branding Iron - I had the trout. It was excellent. I love trout. OK. Off to bed. We have a big day tomorrow. Sigh…I could get used to this mountain living.