There’s a father and son who prefer to ride a unicycle up and down Carbonate in Hailey, but for those who feel more steady with more wheels under them, the Valley has outdoor shops to help you choose the right ride. Once you feel ready, you can venture out in many directions going solo or with a group. Like most sports in the Valley, it’s not just for health, it’s a way to truly live in your community.
Around Town Biking
Skiing may have transformed Sun Valley. But it was mountain biking that transformed the trails in the hills surrounding Sun Valley.
Before mountain biking emerged in the early 1980s, hiking trails followed old mining roads or sheep trails. They often plunged straight down, forcing early mountain bikers on the original stump jumpers to lock on their brakes and slide through turns. “You had to do so much pushing that we made T-shirts that said: ‘You ain’t hiking—you ain’t mountain biking,’ recalls Mark Deffe.
Butch Harper, then a USDA Forest Service supervisor, organized community gatherings to iron out conflicts between hikers, equestrians and the new kids on the block.
He worked with bikers to retool existing trails to be more user-friendly and to build additional trails. And when the Forest Service ran out of money to maintain trails, the mountain bikers stepped up with money and free labor through the Big Wood Backcountry Trails organization.
“I’ve ridden all over and we definitely have some of the best trails there are,” says Ketchum mountain biker Don Wiseman. “We are the land of the single-track.”
Outdoors retailer Bob Rosso likes to compare Sun Valley’s trails in terms of the Valley’s popular Wagon Days celebration.
“I always say we’re sitting in the hub of a wheel. The spokes go out 360 degrees. And whatever spoke you ride out on, there’s a trail,” he says. “Most of us who live and work here don’t eat lunch. We ride instead. We can be out on a trail in the blink of an eye. And there’s very few places in the world that you can do that.”
Sun Valley has everything a biker could want, from hassle-free pavement biking on the Wood River Trails bike path, which stretches 21 miles from Ketchum through Bellevue, to chairlift-aided mountain bike riding atop 9,150-foot Bald Mountain.
But it’s best known for its network of cross-country trails.
“It’s got endless single-track, which you don’t find a lot of elsewhere. And the trail surfaces are so smooth,” says Greg Stock, who moved here from Colorado and Alaska. “The first time I rode here, guys were flying around the corners and it just blew me away. In Colorado, you come to a corner and you have to hold up because there’s liable to be a boulder field in front of you. And in Alaska there are roots everywhere.”
Sun Valley built five miles of new trails on its new nine-hole golf course across from the Sun Valley Lodge last summer. The three-mile trail that nearly circles the course is wide and gentle—about as easy as it gets—but chock-full of scenic vistas.
The gravel path, which attracts hundreds of elite skiers during the Boulder Mountain Tour, parallels Highway 75 and the Big Wood River for 19 miles between Galena Lodge and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Headquarters. It boasts spectacular views of the Boulder Mountains where Clint Eastwood filmed Pale Rider and offers stone benches and a spotting scope for watching mountain goats 1½ miles north of Prairie Creek.
Many locals bike the 1,100-foot gain in elevation to Galena Lodge for lunch before turning around.
“It’s not really an adrenalin rush for experienced bikers and it’s not really a technical ride, but it’s long enough to hold my interest,” says Ketchum resident Nicole Ramey.
Other easily accessible and more challenging trails can be found in Greenhorn Gulch, five miles south of Ketchum out Greenhorn Gulch Road. The area features several loops, including the Mahoney Butte Trail, which loops around a conspicuous butte. Its trails can be ridden south to Deer Creek or north to the Warm Springs area.
Oregon Gulch, a popular trail seven miles north of Ketchum, passes through a gently rolling meadow past a beaver pond before climbing over rocky outcroppings and immersing itself in a thick pine forest. The first few miles are easy, but eventually bikers will come to ledges and tree roots that require many a veteran to get off and push. >>>
Fast Track: BMX
A new kind of cycling is rising from the dust of a former motocross and BMX track west of Hailey.
The Hailey Community Bike Park opens this spring, offering pedal pushers yet another way to have fun on two wheels. The bike park, on the backside of Rotarun Ski Hill 3.5 miles out Croy Canyon, has been converted into a track with jumps and technical twists and turns.
Billy Olson, the off-road bicyclist who oversaw its development, calls it “a progressive version of BMX.” It’ll be a maze-like dirt track in which bikers can speed around tight, curvy turns that careen off banked hills, bounce over riffles that set the shocks atrembling and sail off jumps, their legs pumping up and down like pistons all the while. Races will take on the look of a skiercross or boardercross with four adrenalin-powered, knobby-tire racers competing on a short course that they lap several times. But the track will also serve as a training ground, with an easy line, a medium line and a more challenging course.
“I can’t wait to try it,” says Hannah Haupt, a 14-year-old freestyle skier and two-time state champion BMX racer. “I love racing and going over bumps. It’s so exciting feeling the motion of the bike and having people racing right next to you. And it’s good cross-training for my skiing—it gets my legs moving, builds muscle. Most of all, it’s fun.”
Olson, co-founder of the nonprofit cycling club Sun Valley Road and Dirt, which built the mile-long track with help from Big Wood Backcountry Trails and International Mountain Biking Association, has scheduled several camps for the new park.
A kids’ camp for nine through 13-year-olds will be held for four hours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout the summer. There’ll be an adults’ camp on Thursday evenings, offering handling drills, skills games, trail rides and an opportunity to learn bicycle maintenance, rules of the road and bicycle etiquette.
And a junior squad will help youngsters develop racing and fitness skills for road cycling, mountain biking and cyclocross. They’ll get an opportunity to test what they’ve learned in the Wood River Cup and State Championship Short Track XC scheduled June 28.
The track is hillier and sandier than the cyclocross track Sun Valley uses for its Crosstoberfest circuit, where racers make short, steep climbs and descents carrying their bikes over obstacles, says Olson, a former mountain bike racer who runs Mobile Cycle Repair. And it offers mountain bikers a gravity-oriented experience with jumps and bumps they can’t get on the extensive network of mountain bike trails that course through the mountains surrounding Sun Valley.
“It’s fast, technical riding on a short course. It’s mountain biking minus the rocks and roots. And it’s fun for spectators because you can see the whole course from one spot,” he adds. >>>
Weeknights: Riders Invited
Photograph: Dev Khalsa
Every Wednesday evening, Nappy Neaman leads a group of 20 to 30 cyclists out of the parking lot behind The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum.
Often they head out the bike path along Sun Valley Road, their knees pumping like pistons beneath their Lycra shorts. They chat and laugh, breaking their socializing only when they have to line up single file for an approaching bicyclist.
In another time and place this group might have spent the evening rocking on a front porch or commiserating at a coffee-klatch.
But, instead, they’re shucking off the stresses of the workday atop two tires barely wider than their big thumbs as they cruise along at speeds approaching 20 miles per hour.
“It’s a very social thing—almost like a club without membership requirements,” says Bob Rosso, whose Elephant’s Perch has offered the rides for six years.
“Our motto is: No rider left behind. Even if you’re a beginner, someone will stay with you. And most everyone goes out to dinner together afterwards.”
Sun Summit Ski and Cycle was the first to schedule weekly group rides—back in 1989, when the surging popularity of mountain bikes had all but run road bikes off the rails.
But today, road biking is as big as ever, spurred in part by Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive Tour de France wins. Bicyclists have found that road biking is easier on the body than biking over tree roots. And they offer more opportunity to socialize than mountain bikes on single-tracks.
Today Sun Summit organizes one ride a week, in addition to almost-daily rides for aspiring young racers.
The rides for younger cyclists are led by Greg Stock, nicknamed “the road guy” for the eight years he raced semi-pro in Colorado.
Toni Lemmon, a bookkeeper and yoga instructor, began riding with a group several years ago to pick up some pointers for a weeklong Cycle Oregon ride she wanted to do from Baker City to Hells Canyon. The experience kicked her workout up a notch to ensure she was in shape for the ride, she says. She learned the correct way to sit on the bike for long periods of time. And she gained the confidence that she could do it.
“It’s really a social group,” she says. “We don’t do it to see who’s the best rider. We’re there to have fun, make friends and learn to ride more safely and efficiently. I’ve made lifelong friends in the group—we even skate ski together and go out to dinner in winter.” (Skate skiing is a relatively modern form of cross-country skiing in which the skiers use shorter skis and instead of scooting their skis along parallel to one another, they skate with them much as you might skate on ice skates.)
Highway 75 is not as smooth as the asphalt bike path that runs from Ketchum to Bellevue—or even the highways in Colorado, thanks to chip sealing, Stock laments. But the grittier riding can give aspiring racers a better workout, he acknowledges.
“Road biking offers me a cooler alternative to mountain biking during summer,” he adds. “I go mountain biking only in the fall when it’s cooler. But I can road bike all summer long because of the cooling wind.” >>>
We have moonlight snowshoe hikes, full moon ski treks and even hikes up Baldy by the light of the moon.
So, why not full moon bicycle rides? It is done, although on a loosely-organized basis.
Pete Prekeges says Grumpy’s has so many bicycles in front of it by 8 p.m.—sometimes with bicyclists getting ready to head out—that a little girl asked him last summer whether the hamburger hangout rents bicycles.
The three-mile loop around Sun Valley’s new nine-hole golf course will likely become a favorite of those bicycling by the light of the moon, given its wide lane and gentle demeanor.
The hill has long been a favorite spot for moonlight snowshoe hikes. And it’s treeless, so cyclists will have a panorama of Sun Valley Resort, Thunder Springs Golf Course, Baldy and other play hills.
Another good place for night owl cyclists is the Wood River Trails bike path that runs from Ketchum to Bellevue.
“There have been head-on collisions between people zapping along the bike path at night without lights. If you strike someone coming the other way and both of you are going ten miles an hour, that’s an impact of 20 miles per hour,” offers Bob Rosso, owner of The Elephants Perch, as a caveat.
And deer, elk, fox and other critters tend to migrate across the path between Cold Springs and East Fork Road at night, so cyclists should keep one hand on the brakes to avoid a sudden collision with something of a four-legged persuasion.
“Cougars feed at night, so they might even look at you as a little snack going by,” quips Rosso.