Solitude • There’s a reason Luke DeFeis has never mountain biked at Solitude Mountain Resort, and it’s not because he lives in Park City — the area along the Wasatch mountain range that has the most options for downhillers like him.
“I don’t like pedaling,” DeFeis, 33, said. “I was waiting for the lifts.”
Last Friday, lift-served downhill mountain biking finally came to the Cottonwood Canyons.
DeFeis and his friend Will Stornberg, 24, of Salt Lake City were near the front of the line at 10 a.m. when Solitude opened the gates to its Moonbeam lift, which will take bikes and riders to the start of four new downhill-only trails. With just a few cranks of the pedals, riders now have access to about six miles of terrain ranging in difficulty from Mother Lode, a rolling green freeride trail, to Holy Schist, a black-diamond-rated technical trail.
Truth be told, Solitude has had mountain biking for some 20 years and has offered lift-accessed riding for at least a year from its Link and Sunrise chairs. Even with the help of the lifts, though, the trails required a fair amount of pedaling, Solitude spokesperson Travis Holland said. The same applies to the tram-served mountain biking trails at Snowbird. These four trails, however, signal the beginning of Solitude’s multiyear plan to establish itself as a premier downhill mountain biking destination.
“With the way the old trails were, a lot of people were driving past us to go to Deer Valley,” Holland said. “Now they’re not going to need to do that.”
Lift-serviced mountain biking in northern Utah has mostly taken root around Park City. Deer Valley Resort bears the gold standard with more than 30 miles of dedicated downhill trails and three lifts fitted with bike carriers. Mountain bikers can also access trails at Woodward Park City and Park City Mountain via lifts. Outside of those resorts, though, the new trails at Powder Mountain — which just opened for biking last year — and the Porcupine trail at Snowbasin, both near Eden, and the flow trails at Sundance Resort could be considered the next nearest dedicated downhill trails.
When it comes to the Wasatch Front, though, the pickings have been slim.
As Tyler Sites, Solitude’s terrain park and bike park manager put it, “The bike park industry is growing really fast, and the Wasatch as a whole doesn’t have a huge offering for the people in the area.
“And the Cottonwood Canyons were just begging for it.”
Back in 2006, a Ski Area Management newsletter highlighted the increased interest in freeride mountain biking and the ways resorts were tapping into it. At the time it noted, “the freeride genre is mountain biking’s fastest-growing and most lifestyle-influenced genre — a discipline that seems to have found its home at ski resorts.” Since then, especially post-pandemic, interest in downhill mountain biking has climbed to new heights. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that between 2007 and 2020 mountain biking participation grew by 30% with the greatest growth coming from kids ages 6-17.
Solitude will use some of its previous mountain biking setup, especially on the Link lift, for lessons and as an area new riders can get comfortable with riding over rocks and around berms. But that area won’t contain all newcomers to the sport, at least not for long.
Take Kaitlyn Ellison of Draper for example. She said she started riding cross country earlier this year but quickly found she preferred downhill.
“It’s high reward for little effort,” she explained,
Ellison, 27, had been driving to Park City to ride at Woodward and Deer Valley. Yet after one spin down Cobalt Cruise, a blue freeride trail that features an impressive arched wooden bridge, she made good on Holland’s prediction: She said she planned to spend the rest of her riding weekends this season at Solitude. (The bike park is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Oct. 8.) One reason is the proximity to her home. The other is the price. As a 2023-24 Ikon pass holder, she could buy a bike pass for the final five weeks of the season for $80. By comparison, a non-discounted single-day adult lift ticket runs $42 at Solitude and $58 at Deer Valley.
A regular Solitude skier, Ellison said she was enjoying seeing the mountain in a different light from her bike.
“A portion of it seems familiar,” she said, “but it seems like a whole new place.”
The four new trails off Moonbeam plus the nearly 20 miles of routes around the Link and Sunrise lifts aren’t enough to keep riders coming back season after season, though. So, Sites said, Solitude has already begun construction on two more trails he expects to be finished next summer. Both are jump-line trails, meaning riders will be set up to get air on their bikes. Eventually, he said, Solitude would like to create a double-black-diamond trail that could be used as a professional race venue.
That could keep DeFeis and Stornberg coming back. After surviving the twists, turns, roots and rocks of their first run down Holy Schist — named for a type of metamorphic rock found in Big Cottonwood Canyon — they were eager for more.
“I think Solitude is a really unique setting for this kind of technical riding,” Stornberg said. “Just the roots and the rock setup alone is perfect for it. And it’s cool that there’s a place for tech trails other than Deer Valley. It’s good to branch out.”