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Cycling Deer Valley

More bikers are taking to the mountains

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DEER VALLEY — Of all the tips and suggestions given freely by the bike instructor — lean, stay off the front brake, keep the pedals up and the knees bent — the one that stuck most was the simplest — when in doubt, walk.

Lift the body off the seat, swing the leg over the rear tire and then, with both feet planted firmly on solid ground, roll the mountain bike around the turn in the switchback, over a particularly rocky section or simply to stop and smell the flowers.

The flowers are in full bloom right now. The mountainsides are peppered with purples and blues and pinks and whites, and the delicious fragrance hangs in the air like an invisible cloud.

As for walking, it's something Steve Graff, Deer Valley's mountain bike manager in the summer and ski patrol manager in the winter, frequently suggests to new riders. "There's no reason to feel uncomfortable on the mountain and there's no reason not to stop and enjoy the mountain. It's beautiful right now," he's quick to point out.

All made possible, of course, thanks to the grand idea of doing nothing more than what the resort's lift was intended to do all along, and that is to take people uphill comfortably and effortlessly so they can step off the chairlift and come downhill.

Only at this time of year it's either by walking or riding a mountain bike.

Mountain biking is, of course, the transportation of choice.

Realizing that, continued Graff, there is a constant effort by the resort to upgrade, improve and introduce riding areas to visitors.

Downhill riding, for example, has been helped along in popularity by the national mountain bike races held at Deer Valley each year. Team riders in all the riding regalia — knee and arm pads, full-face helmets, chest protectors and padded gloves — race downhill over terrain most people wouldn't walk.

Mountain bike runs, like ski runs, are color-coded — blue for easiest, green for intermediate, black for experts and double-black diamond for outrageous. It is the double diamond runs that are luring the most avid downhillers.

"Right now we have three double-diamond sections on the mountain," added Graff. "They're downhill specific for the advanced downhill rider with the bikes made for this type of riding.

"We've designed in big rock drops, log crossings, tight switchbacks and fairly steep pitches. That's the terrain the bikes are designed for and the type of riding a growing number of people are looking for. Downhill is becoming more popular."

In the beginning, the downhill riders were using the same trails as the new and less-experienced riders. More new trails in the past couple of years have now spread out the biking traffic, "making things more comfortable for everyone," he added.

Deer Valley has designed more than 50 miles of mountain biking trails within resort boundaries. The main artery is called "Nail Driver," a 2.9-mile route with a moderate drop. It, too, is one of the easiest of routes down the mountain.

But even before most riders tackle the lift and the single-track trails winding through the aspens and pines, they're introduced to McHenry's Practice Loop. Make it here and the mountain is a simple step up.

"We want them to encounter on more level terrain just what they'll find on the mountain," added Graff. "There are three different loops they can take."

The tight turns, bumps and sloping sections are all there on the mountain trails, along with smoother and flatter sections made for easy pedaling. Or, if you choose, there are the vertical cliffs, rock fields and tight switchbacks.

"Another thing that's helpful is that all of the lift operators are avid bikers. They're more than willing to take a moment and make suggestions. If you liked one run, there may be another at the same level that's just as good. Or if you find you want something a little more challenging, they know the mountain as well as anyone, so don't be afraid to ask," he emphasized.

Then, of course, there's always the easy way — take a lesson or join a clinic. Deer Valley offers a mountain bike school Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

E-MAIL: grass@desnews.com