Sun Valley 2010: Real Mountain Biking, in Real Mountains

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The keyboard feels funny.

For 10 days Team Mojo took to the road, exploring Idaho’s far-flung trails in Sun Valley, Stanley, and the all but undocumented panhandle hard by the Canadian border. We left the MacBook behind. The iPhone was almost always out of range. We seldom had Wi-Fi. Our fingers were for gripping the bars, not typing. We did 9-mile climbs and 18-mile downhills. We did forest-carpeted singletrack, we bucked boulders and roots, jumped in alpine lakes, cruised charred sticks of timber burns and grunted up 10,000-foot-high ridges. We crossed raging creeks nearly to our waists, handing our bikes to one another as we tried to maintain footing on mossy rocks we could not see. We got black and blue from crashes, brown from mud, green from meadows and red from when Jim accidentally set the soft fleshy underside of his forearm on a Magura rotor after a screaming 4-mile descent in 92-degree temps.

We got up, ate, rode, ate, rode some more, showered, ate, went to bed. Day after day. In broiling sun, in crackling lightning, in booming thunderclaps, in sodden drizzle. We abused our carbon Ibis Mojos, our Ergon packs and our Sidi shoes — to say nothing of our sunburned shoulders, abraded legs and bludgeoned feet. We were in heaven even when we felt like hell. Distance in miles: About 150. Accumulated elevation gain in feet: Around 25,000. Happiness in cackles: Long into the night.

We chose well. Somewhat belatedly, Idaho is coming into its own as a mountain biking destination. We’ve been riding around Sun Valley since the mid-1990s, abetted early by faxed notes from Seattle mountain biking scribe John Zilly, who drew maps by hand of trails around town and wrote the first mountain-bike guides (no longer available) to the area. In an age of boundless hype, the Idaho Sawtooth region has always struck us as vastly under-appreciated. The endless cross-country trails, gobsmacking views of the Sawtooths and White Clouds, and the spot-on climate have brought us back time and again. [Even as we explored new routes this time we posted “classic” past adventures on BikeIntelligencer.]

John Zilly, circa 1995
Because it lacked mountain bike parks with lifts and downhill runs, Sun Valley missed the freeride revolution. You don’t read about it in the glossy magazines, or even places like PinkBike. But for diversity of riding otherwise, and natural challenges unmatchable by human-crafted features, Sun Valley remains a favorite playground for real mountain bikers, riding real mountains.

And things are changing. A go-anywhere shuttle service has popped up, the pink-van Mountain Fairy Shuttle, that will take your gang around Sun Valley and its more rugged sister, Stanley, for reasonable fees. There’s talk of putting in bike lift service and DH trails in Sun Valley’s legendary ski areas. The Chamber of Commerce is getting the message that biking is the summer equivalent of skiing in terms of tourist promotion and dollars.

There’s debate among the locals who don’t want another Whistler. Neither do we. On the other hand, this is a region that every mountain biker, even the ones who get their verts sitting still, deserves to experience.

For now, you’ll find a minimum of coddling in the Sun Valley region. Give yourself a couple of days to adjust to the altitude and you can make it as challenging as you like, from rollicking cruises along powdery singletrack in the woods to monster hike-a-bikes across scree-laden alligator-back ridges in the outback. Trust us, Sun Valley is as good as it gets.

The series:

Day 1: The girl with the duct-tape band-aid. Curly’s Loop and Baker Lake.

Day 2: Imperial Gulch-Greenhorn Gulch, Cow Crick the hard way, and whatever happened to Tecate?

Day 3:
Return to Boundary Creek, or Sartorial Splendor Defined.

Day 4: Big Boulder/Little Boulder and All the In-Between Boulders too.

Day 5: Sun Valley Departure, Bonners Ferry Here We Come!

Day 6: Long Canyon: It’s all about the trail.

Day 7: On the 7th Day He Rested. We, however …

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