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When my family took a vacation in Moab, Utah ~6 years ago we went to a local brewpub where the food was excellent and the beer was good. I don’t remember much about the beer other than it was decent and we were surprised to find beer at all. We knew that Utah had strict laws regarding alcohol; we did not know that the compromise was that alcohol levels could not exceed 4% in beer served from taps. Until recently, that was my only experience with beer in Utah other than a Uinta or two at Yard House in Colorado. I didn’t connect those Uintas to Utah or get curious about their ABV until this past August when I had the chance to return to the state.
The occasion was a business trip to Salt Lake City. My colleague, Quint, was joining me there and he came up with a brilliant idea: stay over at the end of the week and spend Saturday mountain biking. I knew from articles and their own marketing that Park City, Utah is an IMBA Gold Level riding destination. That means that the area has tremendous mountain biking resources including numerous bike shops and, more important, copious amounts of trails including cross country and trail. Park City is less than an hour from Salt Lake City so it seemed reasonable that we could stay in Salt Lake, drive to Park City on Saturday morning, ride all day and get back to Salt Lake Airport to catch redeye flights home.
Given this was a business trip we’d only have 1 day to ride, bringing our own bikes was not a good option for either of us. Research online revealed plenty of bike rental companies but it was not plainly clear of their proximity to trails, or even where we ought to start our ride. To make best use of time, we wanted to rent bikes where could ride them straight to the trails, or at least catch a shuttle to the trails, and avoid renting a bike rack for our rented sedan. (This might be avoided by renting a larger SUV but that was not happening on a business trip.) Checking sites such as MTB Project and Singletracks, I found a good list of trails, but again not quite the level of detail I needed to make a decision on where to rent bikes. What I found is those sites are great if transportation is not an issue; if you can get there, those sites give you driving directions to trail heads, trail descriptions, and other useful route information. The bike shop sites listed their bike models and rental fees but lacked info on proximity to trails. If I had dug into it more and simply made a few phone calls I am sure I could’ve come up with the information I was seeking. I was in a hurry and wanted an “Easy Button”, so where did I turn? Patreon. Patreon? Yeah, Patreon.
Patreon is a site where creators post content that is available to their subscribers or Patrons. The creators include visual and musical artists who may also post on YouTube or other sites. Patreon enables contributors to collect payments from their supporters in return for premiums such as exclusive content, live chats and direct contact with the creator. We support a few creators who post videos of their adventures as full-time mountain bikers. Each has a bit of different angle: Seth’s Bike Hacks features 3rd-person, narrated videos of Seth doing amazing things on or to his bikes. BKXC rides trails all over the world and adds his commentary as he rides them. Dusty Betty features Tess, who shares trail experience and skill tips as she encourages women to get into the sport. The Singletrack Sampler lives in a van he fitted out with help from friends and travels to trails around the country. Syd and Macky are a married couple of professional MTBers who also live in a van and share videos about van life along with their riding, training and equipment.
Patrons can communicate with each other in Patreon through the Community function. It was in Syd and Macky’s community that I posted a request for suggestions: If you only have 1 day to ride in Park City and you have to rent bikes, where would you go? The answer came back, “Deer Valley.”
Deer Valley is a ski resort that converts to a mostly-downhill mountain biking facility in the summer. There are some cross-country trails connecting Deer Valley to other Park City trails but downhill is the main attraction as far as MTB is concerned. People also get to Deer Valley in the summer for plenty of other outdoor activities on the mountain, including hiking and a popular concert series. The only thing we wanted to know for our 1-day excursion was do they have bikes, can we get from the rental shop to the trails without a car and how much would this all cost? Their website revealed it had everything Quint and I needed: bikes for rent at the base of the mountain directly by a lift, and reasonably priced at $84 for a full day. Alex, aka The Singletrack Sampler, had ridden Deer Valley and by chance I got to ask him about bike choice before I made my reservations. He said to go with a downhill (DH) bike. His thought was that while an All Mountain model would be adequate for most trails, the downhill bike would take anything we might encounter on some of the more advanced trails. I followed his advice and booked the downhill bikes. I also read that you can ride up the mountain from the bike rental location to access the trails but given the altitude and that Quint and I are both flatlanders, and, and this is a BIG AND, you don’t really want to be climbing with DH bikes – it looked as if lift passes were going to be in order. We could deal with that when we picked up the bikes.
During the work week in Salt Lake City we managed to get out one night to Wasatch Brewery’s Sugarhouse location. The brewpub features a full restaurant menu plus year-round and seasonal beers on tap and in bottles.
Wasatch is under the Fireman Capital Partners umbrella along with Oskar Blues, Cigar City, Deep Ellum, Perrin, Three Weavers and nearby sister brewery Squatters. You may have heard of this group as the Canarchy Collective. Quint and I noted that while the draft beers were 4% ABV or less, the bottled beer varied and included beers with an ABV well over 4%.
When our beers were served, Quint asked the guy who brought them about the 4% rule and was told, “All draft beer in Utah is 4% by volume. The canned beer and bottled beer, it depends. The higher gravity beers have to be purchased at the liquor store or at the brewery. The cans and bottles you find at the grocery store or convenience store, those are 4% as well…it is something you get tired of trying to explain because it is people seeking logic.” He went on to explain, “All of our 4% beers, it is not as if they are watered down. It is a dedicated recipe, you just adjust your proportions to get the volume where you want it…they are all dedicated recipes.” At breweries with full scale restaurants, the depth of knowledge your server has about the beers you order, or beer in general for that matter, varies widely. Some can tell you the complete backstory of a beer, including what inspired the brewers to brew it, the ingredient mix, anecdotes about first batches and more. Other servers are not even aware there are varieties of hops. The guy answering Quint’s question seemed to be in the former category. We’d learn later that his name is Rich Vosepka and he definitely does more with beer than serve it and talk about it.
Quint and I tried a few different options of the Wasatch beers.
Those beers included:
Full Suspension Pale Ale
Jalapeno Cream Ale
First Amendment Lager
Of that last beer, our server, Rich told us, “I think the beer names get a little silly sometimes but that one has a really interesting story with it. About 15 years ago Wasatch and one of the other brewers downtown sued the State of Utah over their liquor advertising restrictions. We sued saying regulate the alcohol all you want but this is free speech.” The lawsuit made its way to the Federal court system and eventually the brewers won. The state’s liquor advertising laws were found to be unconstitutional. To celebrate, Wasatch brewed First Amendment Lager. As he explained, “They did a big thing out at the Great Salt Lake with a big barrel of beer that they did like The Boston Tea Party. And that is where First Amendment Lager came from.” Finally, Rich pointed out there is a picture of the Wasatch founder, Greg Schirf, in the brewery dressed in colonial garb that stands as a reminder of that event. [There is a video up on YouTube of the first commercial for First Amendment in which Greg uses his newly sanctioned freedom of expression, check it out here:
Rich was way deep in the Wasatch lore and definitely enjoyed sharing it. I gave him a brief summary of the Trails2Ales mission and we exchanged email addresses with the plan to connect again. Through email, Rich shared that he brews small batches of beer from his own recipes using the Wasatch equipment. He offered to discuss more details about his own brewing and that resulted in Rich joining us on Trails2Ales podcast #19 which you can find right here: It’s All Downhill from Here. If you brew your own, or you are interested in the brewing process including choosing and sourcing ingredients, listen to Rich tell us about what he does in Salt Lake City. It is truly a small batch brewer’s dream.
Now, remember that plan to ride Deer Valley on Saturday after a week working in Salt Lake City? A scheduling snafu nearly derail(leur)ed it. Friday morning, Quint discovered that he was going to have to fly out early on Saturday. If he was going to get to ride, we’d have to do it on Friday and only after our work day was over. Finishing up work around midday, we bolted back to the hotel, gathered our gear and headed to Deer Valley. We chose to rent from Snow Park Lodge because an attendant at Deer Valley had informed us that it was less crowded than the location further up the mountain. We arrived ~230p on a Friday afternoon to find ample, free parking and no line for the bike rentals. You can imagine that the folks at Deer Valley when presented with the story of a guy with a full day reservation for Saturday wanting to cancel it and buy a half day rental on Friday would ask for their cancelation fee before all else. You can imagine that, but that is not what happened. They allowed the cancellation and booked the half day rental with no hassle. We added lift tickets, opting for $48 Gold Passes because it provided unlimited access to all lifts and it was going to take at least 2 to get to where we wanted to ride.
The DH bikes for rent were Scott Gambler 720s. The Gambler 720 is a full suspension downhill bike. It was equipped with 27.5” tires and had a ridiculous 200mm of travel. I brought my own cleated bike shoes and as I had asked ahead about, the bike techs put Shimano SPD pedals on the bike with no fuss. We’d given them our height and weight, data they used to choose the bike frame size and configure the suspension travel and rebound. They also placed the seat in a lowered position and told us not to adjust it. With the bouncy suspension and lowered seat the bike was optimized for downhill. We were not going to have an easy time of it if we needed to climb. In fact, the bike tech warned us to catch the last lift down because we’d be sorry trying to maneuver those bikes back to the turn on the single track trails. Riding the bike around in the parking lot, it felt like a tank to me. When compared to my more nimble trek Top Fuel 8 XC bike that makes sense. My bike has far less travel and its geometry and gearing is more suited to climbing. Once I got it on the trails and made a few runs, the Gambler proved more nimble than expected and it was great at doing what it was designed to do: go downhill, over jumps and bumps.
I am not an experienced downhiller and had only been on one ski lift prior to Deer Valley. The first couple of times hopping on and ascending the mountain on these suspended benches made me more nervous than descending on two wheels attached to the frame of a bike that I’d never before ridden.
When we got to the top of Bald Mountain we took a quick glance at the trail map and decided to follow the suggestion of the bike rental guys and start with the Green run, Holy Roller. This would give us the chance to check out the terrain, get used to the composition of the dirt and, most important, see how the bikes handle. Holy Roller starts into banked turns and short bumps immediately after leaving the lift area. You can get your wheels off the ground within the first minute of riding if you so desire. As a Green trail it is intended for beginners and, while Quint and I are not beginner riders, we were beginners on these bikes and trails so we proceeded with some caution. That caution quickly gave way when up ahead I noticed Quint pop off a bump and into the air. Ok, it’s on! We ripped down Holy Roller with little interference because once clear of the first ¼ mile we didn’t see any other riders on the trail. It was the perfect opportunity to see what the bikes could do and what we could manage on them. It was rowdy fun and way more than expected from a Green trail. As the longest downhill trail at Deer Valley, it also stretched our tolerance for being in attack position for so long. Cross country (CC) riding, as I usually do, is more about variability in terrain. With its climbs, descents and flat sections, CC requires standing, sitting and pedaling to the point that you tax your lungs more than your legs. The ~4 miles of Holy Roller put us up over bikes for close to 15 minutes. When we got to the bottom our arms and legs were screaming for relief, while our minds were screaming, “Get back in the lift line!” And so we did. We squeezed as much riding as we could into the time we had. That turned out to be 4 runs progressing from Green, to Blue (Tidal Wave) to Black (Twist & Shout) and one more run of Holy Roller. We’d been warned that the trail back down to the bike kiosk was a bit ‘pedaly’ for DH bikes so we made sure to catch the lift before its 5p closing. We returned our bikes still stoked from the success of our boomerang strategy: we’d manage to get up and down the mountain four times with the only injury being the shinner Quint took getting his bike on the lift. That was the surprising part of lift access riding: you can be a completely coordinated rider and yet totter like a newborn foal when it comes time to get your bike and your butt on the lift.
Park City, a very short drive from Deer Valley, is the quintessential ski town with a central row of shops and restaurants catering to visitors who have spent the day enjoying the many outdoor activities available in the area. Quint and I were sure we could find some food and drink to match the stoke we felt from our ride. Arriving close to 6p on a summer Friday evening we were by no means alone on that mission, but it was not overwhelming. We easily found parking and negotiated the crowded sidewalks until we landed at 501 on Main, a restaurant and pub displaying a menu of craft beers on tap.
We partook of the cleverly named ‘Tour de Brewtah’ that included a choice of any 3 draft beers for $5.01. See what they did there?
My selections were:
- Moab Brewery – 501 Amber Ale – brewed and rebranded for the venue. This brew had a nice amber tone, seemed a bit higher carbonated than expected – over compensating for the altitude? – and had a nice, sweet aftertaste.
- Shades of Pale – Berliner Weisse: Plum – A crisp wheat beer with a hint of fruit.
- Bohemian – Nobel Hefeweisen – Best of the three, this hefe brought the good banana esters I look forward to when ordering this style.
The food was also plentiful and tasty, making 501 on Main a reasonable choice for nourishment for folks who are on the area trails for the day but are not staying in Park City overnight and want to fill up before leaving town. Many other restaurants, offering fare from simple to fancy, line Park City’s main street.
And there are other brewery choices in Park City, too, including Park City Brewing, Red Rock, another Wasatch location with full food and beer menu and, just on the outskirts of town, a Squatters Roadhouse Grill also with food and in-house and local beer options.
Saturday dawned bright and warm as I loaded up for the ~45 minute ride back to Park City. With Quint on his way home, I was on my own for a full day of DH action. Admittedly, I was intimidated. Good weather on a Saturday was sure to add plenty of local riders to the visitors hitting the trails. With only four DH runs to my name, I was still a relative beginner or low-intermediate rider when gauged on ability to handle Deer Valley’s trails. My head was filled with images of stopping frequently as more advanced riders passed or being that guy who caused a backup as he plodded his way down the mountain.
I made sure to get to Snow Park early to get my bike and have time to warm up and test it before catching the first lifts of the day. The bike tech put Shimano XPD pedals on the bike by request. I had brought my own cleated bike shoes and XPDs matched my needs. Riding around the parking lot, I made sure I could get in and out the clips with ease and that the suspension and brakes seemed dialed-in.
When it was time to hit the lift, my bike-and-butt-on-lift skills had atrophied only slightly over night and I felt less sketched sitting on the bench as it slowly carted us above the trees. When the trails came into view, the rowdier Black trails were not yet seeing action as we passed over them. I eyed them with a knowing “I ain’t getting on THAT today.” I also eyed the wristband I’d been given at the bike rental. On it was a number to call for help if anything went wrong with the bike…or me. The thought that here would be a rescue team available in summer as there is for ski slopes in winter had not entered my mind. By it made perfect sense: Deer Valley is a year-round resort and has the infrastructure in place to provide first responders and first aid to skiers and hikers and it extends to mountain bikers. That was reassuring though I was hoping to not see how fast the response might be.
Starting again on Holy Roller to get warmed up, get an easy first run, and get used to the bike – again a Scott Gambler – I found I was more confident in the dry, dusty conditions. In the mid Atlantic summer, our trails tend to be a mix of dry with areas of puddles or mush due to frequent afternoon rain storms. The clay that is common to the area doesn’t allow water to sink in and the surface remains wet for several hours or more after a rain. Out in Utah, even though there had been some rain, there was no evidence of it on the trails. There was a breeze blowing at the top and dirt lifted up into the face of riders. The dirt was also softer in turns than I’d experienced. Rocks and dirt slid down the face of bermed turns and piled at the bottom. You needed to hit the turns up high and with speed lest you slide back down and encounter the debris below. I’d learned will riding with Quint on Friday and I practiced letting it go in turns on my first Holy Roller run. It felt great and at the bottom I was quickly back in line to head back up. Lest I get in to situations above my skill level, I stuck to the Blue trails for several runs. I set out to ride each of the Blues available which proved to be more challenging than expected. A trail may intersect others at several points on its descent. In some cases that may mean a single trail branches off to the right or left of the trail your or on; in other cases, a few trails may meet at a single intersection requiring riders to spot the small sign labeling their desired trial to continue their run. It is usually easy enough to find your trail of choice though you may need to reduced speed to do so if you don’t know the system well enough blow through the intersections and on to your intended destination. These intersections are also a spot where riders congregate to rest and regroup so reduced speed is necessitated. That collection of riders may also block or distract from viewing all the trail signs, so you can see how it is possible that a rider consistently misses the sign for a trail they are seeking. And that happened to yours truly with the Sunset trail. I studied my printed map. I visualized my route on the lift. I confirmed my route on the trail side map when I got off the lift. I repeated the route to myself as I approached intersections. Sunset continued to evade me. Run after run: where is that darned trail?!
It’s not like the other trails weren’t fun. The Blue trails featured higher-banked turns and steeper descents than on Holy Roller. They included table tops and rollers that provided numerous points of lift to get in the air and each had a segment of loose dirt/gravel mix at some point on the descent to test your willingness to let out those brakes. If I had to name the Blue trail to do if you can only do one Blue trail at Deer Valley, it would be Tidal Wave. Featuring a line of table tops in its middle of three sections, Tidal Wave is rowdy, flowy and makes the intermediate rider feel like a full-on shredder. It inspired me to want to get on my local trails and practice jumping because I was suddenly aware of what that getting air thing was all about. My riding had been purposely grounded but Tidal Wave opened up a, yes, wave of desire for more of the same. It also pushed me to move up to a Black trail.
Doubt again drifted into my head as I rode the lift with the intent to try another Black trail. The majority of other riders seemed to be hitting the Black trails and I was feeling that rush of angst over being the slow guy in their way, on their favorite trail section or on their last run. I settled on Aspen Slalom for my descent. Aspen Slalom is considered advanced due to its tight turns and sections of challenging roots and rocks; it is not a trail full of tall jumps and gaps for riders who want to get as much air as possible. More like a difficult cross-country trail, Aspen Slalom curves in and out of the woods as it follows along the lift line on its descent. While on the lift I’d been able to see some riders on Aspen Slalom and gotten some intel on it from a bench-mate. If I was going to ride a Black trail alone on a crowded day, Aspen Slalom seemed a choice. It is reached by way of a sharp right off of the start of Tidal Wave. The difficulty of that maneuver alone should have warned me how tough the first section would prove. Stopping to survey a steep rock drop, I yielded the trail to 5 other riders. I was surprised that so many had chosen this route as I was sure the jump lines were more popular. Pressing on, as I picked my way through a sharp left turn, another rider passed unannounced to my left, causing me to come off the bike and almost completely wipe out. Well, I guess I needn’t have worried over being in the way; they just blow by. Now my heart rate was up and not because of effort. I took a moment to gather my resolve, clipped back into the pedals and forged ahead. Getting over a few obstacles and through a couple of tight turns boosted my morale and fortified me through the end of trail. Whew! Pushing yourself to extend your capabilities is fun; making yourself crazy and doubt-ridden because of other riders is not. New challenge: Work as much on the mental aspect of riding as I do on the physical components.
Some 18 miles into a second day of downhill riding, my limbs began to rebel. My arms were rubbery and my triceps were aching. It was time to consider some food…and favorite beverage. I caught the end of the lunch service at XYZ PLACE scarfing some tacos, washed down with a pale ale, which at 4% ABV was tolerable even at altitude.
Now it was time for an important choice, take the lift up for one last run, or call it a day. I was tired but not ready to give up the bike. My compromise was to ride back to the bike rental at Deer Valley. The rental shop warned me that pedaling that DH bike on the trails down to Snow Park would be difficult. But up on the mountain someone had told me the route offered great views and sweet single track and I couldn’t resist. It sounded simple enough: Mid Mountain to Deer Crest. Mind you I got this intel from someone who had never ridden it. Starting away from the lift at Mid Mountain, my last chance at the ‘easy way’ down, I was surprised and thrilled to find cross-country style trail with a fantastic view to the Jordanelle Reservoir some miles in the distance.
My breathing grew a little labored as the trail rose slightly and the effects of the day of downhill and the bike’s preference for gliding, not pedaling, began to wear on me. When I finally reach an opening to what I hoped was the intersection with Deer Crest, I was relieved. Ahead of me was downhill but not a true trail, behind me the direction from which I had come, to the left an unmarked trail, to the right, a wide dirt road that looked to head to another lift. I was confused. Too many choices and none of them seemed right. Out came the map. Not much help. Along came other riders. They, too, were confused. We rode back and forth searching for Deer Crest and ended up back where we started.
An odd coincidence provided a moment of ‘Wow’ and served to get me back to Deer Park. A couple of riders appeared and I explained where I was trying to go. They had some experience on the trails and knew that there was one more trail I needed to reach, Little Stick, and they offered to lead me to it. The ‘Wow’ came when they told me they were from Atlanta and one of them was an administrator at my high school alma mater. In all my days in the decades since leaving Atlanta after high school I’d never met anyone affiliated with that school and now I just did on a mountain in Park City Utah.
When I returned the bike, I’d ridden close to 24 miles on the day. Not crazy mileage by some standards. Given the nature of downhill riding with the dependency on the lift to get you to the trails and with the force it places on your arms and legs as you make your way back down, 24 miles was a good tally. And, I still had plenty of time before my redeye flight back to DC. There was only one thing to do: visit a brewery of course.
Checking options, Epic seemed like a good choice because they are known for a range of good brews, they serve food and they are within 15 minutes of the SLC airport. Trifecta! Pulling up to Epic, it looked from the outside like many breweries. It stood out as more freshly decorated than its neighbors in the grittier section of Utah where it resides. Windows revealed brewing equipment, beer-bottle bike racks showed that the velo-suds connection was appreciated, and a logo or two adorned the exterior walls.
On the inside, you walk into an open space where merch is sold and a staffer sat behind a cash register. Inside a small doorway, I saw a small bar with seats for what looked like 6-7 patrons, all occupied. I asked the staffer if I was in the right place, thinking this must be a tasting room and the restaurant was around the other side. “No,” he said, “This is it.” Okaaaayyy. Inside the tasting room, the bar tender greeted me and gave me a food menu. I ordered a sandwich: an apple brie that the bartender made right there in the tap room. And, I and ordered a few tasters. And then came the biggest surprise: the bartender opened bottles and poured the contents into the taster glasses. I was in a brewery, in sight of brewing equipment and being served from bottles. Rich Vosepka’s explanation of Utah alcohol law came to mind. Oh yeah, right, if they want to serve on premise they need to serve food and if they want to serve their full-ABV beers they can’t serve them on tap. Note, the beers were still excellent, and the atmosphere was quirky and fun. I was seated between locals: a woman to my left who regaled me with stories of her hippy past; a young couple on my right who was new to SLC and really enjoying the brewery scene. The close quarters encouraged drinkers to interact. It is a tough spot for introverts. I’d be interested to check out Epic’s location in Colorado and see the difference in atmosphere. The beer highlights from my visit included: Lupulin Burst, a hoppy and fragrant New England IPA. Not a juice bomb by any means but a bit of haze and lots of flavor.
Big Bad Baptist, an imperial stout made with coffee bean and coco nibs it is a heavy hitter at 11% ABV. The alcohol flavor does not sneak its way past the other ingredients making for a tasty sipper.
Returning to the airport, I reflected on my Salt Lake City and Park City experiences. I didn’t have much time to research beforehand, my schedule was dictated by work and yet I managed to piece together a good beer and bike exploration of the area. Is Utah ready to be a beer destination like Colorado, Vermont, or California? Would you go there just for beer? You could indeed make a good trip of it, especially if you include Park City. One thing is clear, if you go to Utah for any reason, you do not have to wonder “Can I find good craft beer there?” The answer is most certainly, “Yes!”