I was craving this adventure. I was ready to explore new, challenge myself, and my biking skills. I wanted this ever since I received my first MTBParks pass. Looking at the long list of parks across the nation I have access to, curiosity rising inside me… What are these places like? How many parks can I check off the list this year? The time had arrived. I carved out 6 days in July 2017 for this solo getaway. I decided to head north, as the temperatures in the Rocky Mountains would be superb. The bucket list was set for Grand Targhee, Teton Pass, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky.
I wanted to share a little about the preparation that went into this trip, not a lot, just enough. I have two bikes that can handle big mountain riding, so I spent several weeks shuttling them around to shops, getting them tuned up for whatever we might encounter. The biggest hurdle seemed to be arranging a place to stay, I decided it was in my best interest to book all my accommodations in advance. Yellowstone National Park draws a lot of visitors, so it narrows options and drives up prices in some areas. Lastly, if you haven’t driven across Wyoming, Idaho, and/or Montana… spoiler alert, there are very long stretches of beautiful nature and voids of gas or food. For Plan B’s and emergencies, I loaded up my truck with camping gear, 3 gallons of water, 6 gallons of gas, a small but packed cooler, a load of favorite beverages, and brought along the bear spray.
I drove the 10-ish hours from Metro Denver to Grand Targhee. I found that Targhee offered the best rates anywhere I looked in the area. Immediately upon arriving I knew this place was very special. Its mid-July, and there is snow covering the mountains, this was high-alpine glorious. It was actually a heat-wave while I was there, pushing into the 90’s. To end my first day in Wydaho, I took a dip in the salt-water pool and hot tub. Please, don’t pass this up if you visit.
My excitement was abound. I got to the lifts much too early, they open at 10am. I walked the trails and rode some of the fun tables positioned at the bottom of the mountain. I claimed my right to first chair up at 10am. Dreamcatcher lift base elevation is 7,860’ and rises 2,000 vertical feet to the peak of 9,862; it’s about a 15 minute chair ride.
If you start out on the Blue runs (Grand TraverseàSidewinder), you have about 5 miles of descent. Grand Traverse is breathtaking, but do not take your eyes off the ledgy trail!
Then, Sidewinder. You wind around the most beautiful snow filled never-summer bowl, splashing through snow melt.
Sidewinder is fun berm turns and long ledgy stretches on a grass covered mountain side, full of alpine flowers. Bullwinkle is an exceptional, flowy, progressive, tables run. If you like those big BMX-style pointy jumps, you will really dig how this trail crescendos up to a set of big, well-spaced tables. There are also some easy-access wall rides that you can find your way to from the bottom of these Blues. I tried a black diamond trail, most of it was a blast. There was a 25’ section that I walked as I was not willing to slow down and sesh it, and others were looking to do that. I was also travelling solo, so I was keeping it “safe” and sticking to the blues. Targhee had emergency phones prominently placed at the top of most runs, making me feel even safer on my solo journey. I rode 10,000 vertical feet this day, probably logged about 25 miles, that’s a big day on all new terrain and I felt very accomplished. Grand Targhee also offers many, many miles of cross-country trails so this place would be very awesome for a group of riders that might be varied in riding styles.
Grand Targhee was my base camp for exploring the Tetons. Teton Pass is home to an absolutely unhinged backcountry trail system built for Rampage-type riders (I'm not joking). You must stop in Wilson, Wyoming; seated at the bottom of Teton Pass. I got the inside scoop about riding the Pass from the good folks in Wilson Backcountry Sports.
The owners were so busy with customers and answering questions but they were very kind and took time to speak to me about my riding ability/level and used that to recommend trails best suited for me. They were very encouraging and gave me the confidence I needed to try and tackle Teton Pass on my lonesome. I parked at the Stagecoach Bar and stuck out my thumb, hitched a ride to mid-mountain, and rode Jimmy’s Mom and Parallel.
It was Monday, early afternoon, so the shuttles were not organized as I am sure they are on the weekend. Still, it only took me about 10 minutes to get a ride up the mountain. The bike shop owner did remind me not to ride over anything I couldn’t see the other side of; I regretted not heeding that advice pretty quickly as gap jumps are prominent features on this trail.
Don’t worry, all of the trails had chicken lines to navigate around the gnarly features you might not feel up to trying that day.
I decided to take my brave and in-tact bones and head down the pass towards Jackson Hole. Based on the trail map I previewed prior to the trip, it looked as if a half day would be enough riding for this spot. Relative to their skiing terrain, the bike park takes up a very small footprint.
The trails are off their Teewinot lift, which is about 900 vertical feet. The trails are short and there aren’t many of them. If you are strictly a black diamond rider, this is not your spot. Still, I enjoyed my riding and time checking out the resort.
I also enjoyed taking in town, Jackson Hole. I had a delicious meal off the town square. Hatch Taqueria & Tequilas served me crab tacos and a melon margarita along with some homemade chips and salsa. I treated myself to an ice cream and sat in town square and observed stage coaches and parlor girls accompanied by cowboys, of course.
I am thoroughly impressed with the Tetons, and this spoiled Coloradoan may concede that the Tetons offer the best downhill mountain biking available in-park and backcountry in the Rocky Mountains. I will definitely be dreaming of the day I return to pay this special place another visit.
I stayed on the west side of Teton Pass to make my way to Bozeman, Montana, which took about 4.5 hours. Bozeman is about an hour away from Big Sky. I decided to stay in Bozeman because I was curious about town and wanted to explore. C’mon Inn put me up for the night.
I brought my skateboard with me and had a short sesh at the skate park in town. As a side note, Montana is known for excellent skate parks, I didn’t know this until talking with my skate clan. Another side note, Bozeman is a foodie town! For lunch, I ate so good downtown at the Co-Op, pick your own portion size here, bikers beware. I had a chicken dinner and a take-away pint of the best ice cream I have ever eaten (from a local dairy) at The Roost.
I almost hit a bear. It was a couple of feet in front of my truck at the most. There was no braking. He appeared, then disappeared. So that’s how my Big Sky day started.
I am such a lucky gal to have been given a personal tour of the bike park by Emma Vigers, a member of the medic/bike patrol at Big Sky. It’s never bad to have an EMT with you on a ride!!
Emma showed me Snake Charmer and Joker Lips. Snake Charmer is an absolutely gorgeous, long trail. Lots of riding ledgy rim single track, even a section that traverses through some scree. Lots of smaller tables and berms. A gorgeous final descent through a grassy mountainside with high-alpine flowers smattered everywhere. Joker Lips is a blue/black, much steeper than Snake Charmer. It is full of steep sweeping berms, and use some caution, because Big Sky has a lot of shale rock bits you don’t want to get sliding sideways in. My brakes on my big bike gave up on this run, a lot of squawking down the hill.
If you look at the Big Sky bike trail map, it’s intimidating. It’s dominated by Double Black (9!!!!) and Black (5) trails; spread across both Ram Charger and Swift Current lifts. I took four laps with Em and would meet up with her later. I took 2 more laps on bike #2. I had a blast in Big Sky and a few more days there I could put on my big girl panties and try some runs off of Swift Current.
The trip ended with couching it one night at Em’s college crib shared by her boyfriend and a few others, all serious bike talents and adrenaline junkies; as well as Em’s mother, my dear friend Alison. I made several purchases at La Chatelaine Chocolat Co., a place of college employment for Em, a place with national accolades in confections. If you’re into the finer things in life, make a stop here. We ate out at a fabulous downtown restaurant. A few glasses of wine, a big oven-pizza, and tapas. Talking bikes and past adrenaline-filled adventures with my new friends and dear friend, Alison.
And as all adventures have a beginning and a middle, they must too, come to an end. This adventure ending involved a 10-hour return trip from Bozeman to my Colorado home. If you don’t treat yourself to solo trips regularly, I suggest adding these into your adventure repertoire. It is a completely authentic adventure, that is chalk full of those feelings of extravagance and spoiling; where you may, and hopefully do, entertain all of your whims and fancies along your travels. The biking was extraordinary; and the trip, I will always be able to retrieve these vivid memories made, always. And perspective... ya, that flying solo was even more amazing than I thought it would be, and to my delight, I like hanging out with me. That’s something, isn’t it?