One Valley, Two Wheels, Four Seasons
Teton Valley’s reputation as a year-round cycling destination is growing strong
by Gary Chrisman | Photography by Jamye Chrisman
The abundant outdoor sports and recreational activities close at hand are why many people choose to call Teton Valley home. They’re also what persuade a growing number of visitors every year to come and spend vacation time here. No matter the season of the year, there are outdoor pursuits to go along with it.
One of the few activities that can be enjoyed the year around is cycling. Wait a minute—cycling, as in riding a bicycle, a four-season activity? More and more it’s true, among a growing number of two-wheeled aficionados.
Those seeking the thrill and challenge of singletrack mountain biking have numerous options in the area. Looking high above the east side of the valley we have Grand Targhee Resort, voted the Best Bike Park in the Northwest in the mtbparks.com 2013 Rider Choice Awards. Here’s what they had to say:
“Grand Targhee began offering lift-access biking sometime before the summer of 1994, but that was only on the Teton Traverse. … During the summer of 2007 the resort began to focus on the addition of downhill mountain-bike trails, [then, in] 2012 the resort really got serious and began work on improving and adding trails within the entire trail system … Not only has Targhee provided dedicated areas for different kinds of users, making the experience better for everyone, the resort has also worked hard to incorporate the natural flow and topographical features into the trail design.”
Still far better known for its powder-covered slopes come winter, Grand Targhee and its trail crew, headed up by trail-designing wizard Andy Williams, have indeed worked hard the past few years to create an incredible place to ride a mountain bike. To date, the network features more than 47 miles of cross-country and lift-accessed downhill trails; trails with names like Perma-Grin, Chutes & Ladders, Otter Slide, and Ain’t Life Grand just beg riders to come and explore. Looking for the ultimate downhill ride? Take the Dreamcatcher chairlift to the summit of Fred’s Mountain and connect trails back down to the base of the resort. Or, for cross-country riding, try out the 27-mile Grand Targhee Loop, which incorporates several trails and in 2014 received the prestigious “Epic Ride” designation from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Add in the mesmerizing views of the Teton Range, stunning displays of wildflowers, and cool mountain air, and you can see why this is a premier riding destination that will only continue to grow in popularity as word spreads. (Bike rentals, skills instruction, and guide services are available at the resort.)
“Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of humanity.” –Lord Charles Beresford, former British admiral and member of Parliament
Summer 2015 biking events at Grand Targhee include the Montana Enduro Series race The Grand Enduro on August 2 (it’s the only one of the six-event series scheduled to take place outside of the namesake state); the 7th Annual Pierre’s Hole 50/100 cross country race on August 15; and the Wydaho Rendezvous Teton Mountain Bike Festival slated for Labor Day weekend (September 4–7). This will be the sixth year for the festival, put on by the nonprofit organization Teton Valley Trails and Pathways (TVTAP).
So, that’s the summer cycling scene at Grant Targhee. Come winter, is it all skis and snowboards at the resort? Not anymore. Besides offering world class skiing, Grand Targhee Resort became the first resort in North America to open its Nordic trails to fat bikes, one of the newer niches of the cycling world. Like overgrown mountain bikes, fat bikes are specially designed to accept extra large, four- to five-inch-wide tires, which allow for both flotation and traction on packed snow trails. Trail guru Williams was often hard at work this past winter aboard a snowmobile, towing a 30-inch wide turf roller to groom a new fat-bike specific singletrack trail named Jolly Green Giant. One of a handful of such groomed snow-bike trails in the country, it dishes up a unique and amazingly fun winter experience.
More and more, fat bikes are also being used in summer for riding on dirt and sand, and for taking some of the technicality out of technical singletracks. You don’t yet own a fat bike, and not even sure you want to? Take a test ride on a rental, available at Grand Targhee and also at all three valley bike shops, Habitat and Peaked Sports, both in Driggs, and Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor.
Another place to ride singletrack in summer, and packed snowmobile trails come winter, is in the Big Hole Range, which stands above the west side of the valley. One the most popular and enjoyable areas for riders to visit is Horseshoe Canyon, where volunteers have partnered with the Teton Basin Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service to build, improve, and maintain numerous trails. “I am very impressed and appreciative with the willingness of mountain bikers in this valley to volunteer their time and energy to help maintain and build multi-use trails,” says Scott Bossell, trails program manager for the ranger district. “With increased demand on trails, building them to be sustainable is very important for the environment.”
Singletrack trails of increasing quality can also be found at the southern end of the valley; for instance, the Pole Canyon and Mike Harris area trails have recently undergone work to make them more mountain-biker friendly. Winter fat bike riding opportunities are also available in these areas. (For more information on places to ride in the valley, as well as on Teton Pass and in Jackson Hole, go to tetonmtb.com or visit one of the bike shops mentioned above.)
Those looking for paved riding options in the valley can hit the eight-mile rail-trail between Victor and Driggs, which provides an enjoyable experience for all ages and skill levels. Parents bring the kids and their bikes, or hook up the chariot for the toddlers, to ride this smooth, car-free, gently graded pathway. It makes up about a third of the popular 25-mile Cedron-Bates valley loop road ride. The 12-mile climb from downtown Driggs to Grand Targhee Resort should also be on every roadie’s list. With its marvelous views of the Grand Teton and elevation gain of around 2,000 feet, this is a classic ride that’s breathtaking in more than one way.
Another area popular for road riding is the network of farm roads north and east of State Highway 32 between Tetonia and Ashton. A good place to park and access these low-traffic byways is at the old Lamont grain elevator, situated roughly four miles northwest of the Bitch Creek bridge. You say you’re looking for a “century ride” (100-miler) to work up to? The adventure known as “around the block” is calling your name. Circumnavigating the Snake River Range, the ride takes cyclists up and over both Teton Pass and Pine Creek Pass and through the town of Alpine, Wyoming.
Getting back to the dirt, riders wanting more options should check out the Tetonia to Ashton Rail Trail, a 30-mile packed dirt and gravel trail appropriate for cyclists of nearly all abilities. Gravel roads leading up into the Teton foothills also branch off the rail-trail at various points, providing more opportunities for exploration. The extensive network of unpaved farm roads in the valley proper also offers great riding throughout the year, weather permitting. Riding on dirt and gravel roads such as these has recently evolved into its own sub-genre of cycling, called “gravel grinding” by some. (And which others insist needs a new name—adventure riding?—because of the arduous implications of a “grind.” It can actually be a lot more fun than that.)
“If I can help spread the love for adventure riding, that’s what I want to do. –Jay Petervary
Micheal Woodruff, a fourth-generation valley resident and the newly hired bike-rental shop manager at Grand Targhee, notes that in recent years he has seen a growing trend of people getting into bikepacking, or multi-day off-pavement touring. His favorite local bikepacking route is the three-day, two-night “Big Hole hot springs loop.” Starting in Teton Valley, the ride more or less encircles the Big Hole Range, following dirt roads for the most part, with a little pavement and singletrack thrown in for good measure. Nights can be spent at the campgrounds associated with Heise Hot Springs and Green Canyon Hot Springs.
Riders seeking a bikepacking experience can also look to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), a 2,700-mile route that extends from Banff, Alberta, to the border of Mexico at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The GDMBR comes within about 40 miles of Driggs, as it follows the Ashton-Flagg Road west from Ashton into Wyoming. The route was mapped, following existing roads and trails, in the mid-1990s by the Montana-based, 48,000-member Adventure Cycling Association. Coincidentally, Michael McCoy, the route’s architect, and professional cyclist Jay Petervary, who holds the record time in the Tour Divide race that follows the route, are both Teton Valley residents. [Full disclosure: McCoy is also the editor of this magazine.] Information on the route may be found at adventurecycling.org.
Ultra-endurance cycling champ Petervary—he has tackled multiple Iditarod races and Tour Divides—is also helping to promote winter fat-bike riding and summer bikepacking in the region by organizing a pair of events in the Island Park area. JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit takes place the second weekend in January, while JayP’s Backyard Gravel Pursuit (“bear spray might be required”) is slated to take place September 26 and 27.
Petervary’s impetus for organizing these events? “I am at a point in my life, riding, and career that I just want to share what I feel I have been lucky to experience,” he says. “I am very fortunate with where I live, and where both disciplines of riding snow and riding gravel have taken me—and not just physically, but as a person. I want to help educate others so they too can have great ‘Adventure by Bike’ experiences [that’s the motto of Salsa Cycles, one of Petervary’s sponsors]. Launching these two events provides all of these things, and that sense of giving back is equally as satisfying to me as finishing any adventure I set out to do. If I can help spread the love for adventure riding and help others embrace it, that’s what I want to do.”
We are fortunate to have organizations in the area dedicated to the development and maintenance of trails and paths. It is the mission of the nonprofit TVTAP to promote trails and a pathways-connected community. Last year, organization members and volunteers contributed more than 1,000 work hours to local trails and paths. TVTAP, which has published a guidebook for area rides, is also responsible for the winter grooming of many of the Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat bike trails around the valley. Visit tvtap.org for more info.
Another organization, Mountain Bike the Tetons (MBT), is the area chapter of the 35,000-member IMBA, the largest and longest-standing mountain bike advocacy organization in the country. The local chapter’s mission is to enhance recreational and economic opportunities for the Teton region through the development of mountain biking resources.
“We are 100 percent dirt-focused,” says MBT executive director Amanda Carey. “Having an IMBA chapter that connects the mountain biking community [here] to a national organization allows us to call upon their experience to help us simplify the advocacy process specific to the needs of this area. MBT wants to help unite the mountain bike communities from both Teton Valley and Jackson Hole.”
MBT goals for the future include the development of youth mountain bike programs and promoting the continued construction of trails for beginners and intermediate riders—an important step in helping to showcase the area as a premier destination for mountain bikers of all abilities.
The benefits of bike riding are wide-ranging; to name just a few: improved health through exercise, reducing one’s carbon footprint by way of human-powered transportation, and relationship-building with friends and family through shared experiences. With cycling now a year-round activity in Teton Valley, and with the potential for added revenue to local businesses through equipment sales and tourism, this fun activity is proving itself to be a major player in helping to enhance a thriving mountain culture and community.
Hot Springs and Unpaved Roads
In October 2014 I had the opportunity, along with my wife Jamye and friend Micheal Woodruff, to take a bikepacking excursion on a portion of Adventure Cycling Association’s new Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR). Our approximately 220-mile “lollipop loop” started in Ketchum and headed west up to the old mining community of Atlanta, then back to Ketchum. Our trip was a total of seven days, one of them a layover day at a Boise National Forest campground located about a mile from Atlanta (population 19). We were blessed with a week of no rain and temps ranging from just below freezing on a couple of nights to daytime highs reaching into the upper sixties. The fall colors on this trip were as bright and vibrant as I have ever seen. Color therapy at its best!
The first big pass we had to climb out of Ketchum was 8,700-foot Dollarhide Summit. Riding a loaded bike while also towing a heavy trailer made climbing this and the other passes on the trip no small feat. But it was a challenge I welcomed with every pedal stroke. (A lot of riders are going with ultralight setups, which makes the daytime riding easier but the nighttime camping potentially less comfortable. Go to bikepacking.net to view some examples of riders’ kits.)
Atlanta and another small community, Featherville, both offered a few basic services with friendly owners and helpful employees who were appreciative of our patronage. Featherville just might have the best pizza in Idaho! The natural hot springs we soaked in were some of the finest any of us had experienced; hot, clean, and in beautiful settings.
Dirt-road bike touring is a truly special way to travel and to experience new, off-the-beaten-track places. With very little vehicle traffic to worry about on many of these unpaved back roads, it is easy to get into a relaxed and peaceful place while riding. For me, this type of self-supported riding and camping has become the holy grail of bicycling. After assembling the right clothing and equipment, I feel like I can ride forever, needing only to stop periodically to resupply food and water. Oh, and to take advantage of the occasional laundromat and shower.
We have plans to ride additional portions of the IHSMBR in the future. I can hardly wait!