Are Chairlifts Cheating?


A Mountain Biking Perspective

Late July—the mercury has topped 105 in the Salt Lake Valley, and Park City is nearly pushing triple digits as the heat wave continues to blanket the west. But I really want to ride my bike. The thought of grinding up Jenni’s or Armstrong seems masochistic based on the heat, plus the weight of the amount of water I would have to carry is daunting. But it is cooler up at higher elevations.

So, I took a chairlift up, pedaled up to the ridge, and had an awesome downhill ride back into town where my friends were looking for swimming pools, shade, and anywhere with air conditioning. I win.

Changing Your Starting Point

When many cyclists think of lift-accessed biking, they tend to think of full-face helmet and body armor-clad riders. (Which looks like fun, by the way.) I just lack the bike, skill, and uhhh other equipment necessary to allow my tires to leave the ground. More on downhilling later, though.

Purists out there will die on the proverbial hill that lifts are cheating. I am here to tell you, in my humble opinion, they most certainly are not! One of the major appeals, of riding lifts is changing the starting point of my ride. I love the higher elevation trails we have in the Wasatch, but I don’t always have the time or stamina to reach them on a typical ride—thus relegating me to the same trails lower on the mountain.

Most people are in the same boat, so those lower trails tend to be crowded. If I am looking to go higher, sometimes I pedal for a marathon ride while other times the lift bump gets me where I want to go. Whether it be to escape the heat or crowds, or merely a change of scenery, chairlifts are just another tool in my arsenal to open up new biking options.

Woman and Child mountain biking on a forest trail

Kids can benefit from skipping long climbs with a chairlift ride up. | Photo Credit: Dan Cambell

Hot Laps

Sometimes you gotta squad up and have a lift day. Trust me, it is so much fun. Grab your best guy and girlfriends and head to either Deer Valley or Park City Mountain Resort for a day of lap after lap playing with gravity. Varying abilities? No problem—choose from dozens of routes at either resort. Feeling tired? Take a run off and grab a cold one or a snack at the resort base.

Here are some of my favorite rides (which you can access by pedaling up in most cases):

Deer Valley

Tidal Wave starts at the top of the Sterling lift and is perfect for aspiring freeriders. Go as fast or as big as you want, or keep it slow; it is possible to roll up and over every feature on this trail. There are plenty of places to pull over so faster riders can whiz by. More tentative riders can start out on the wide and flowy Holy Roller, while experts can hit flowy Tsunami. Watching pro-level riders hit some of the large features is a sight to behold. Anyone who thinks lifts are cheating should watch these kids defy gravity on two wheels.

Deer Valley now offers three chairlifts for summer biking, including the newly opened Undertow, accessed from Snow Park Lodge (the base area). This gives riders plenty of options using the full vertical at DV and allows them to add on distant loops like Spin Cycle. I also like heading out on Mid Mountain and pedaling up to Team Big Bear, where less-used trails such as Moosebones and its tall pine trees offer a shady climb as well as the flowy downhill that is Corvair can be accessed. See, I can pedal uphill!

Park City Mountain Resort

Park City runs its Crescent lift for mountain bikers, delivering riders a few hundred feet above the iconic Mid Mountain Trail. So many classic Old Town rides can be accessed from here: the flowy Johns 99, CMG’s speedy corners, and the I-wish-this-was-a-downhill-only Spiro Trail, plus favorites like Mojave and its moondust or the pine-needle soft Empire Link—all deliver you back to either the resort base or the Main Street area. Lunch anyone?

Going back to the “change your starting point” argument: by starting at the top of Crescent, an enjoyable pedal up Keystone and/or Apex delivers you to Shadow Lake—both the trail and lake. Anyone up for a quick dip?

Pushing further past the lake opens up access to Puke Hill and the iconic Wasatch Crest Trail. Other cross-country routes link to the bottom of Pinecone, which is another access point for the Crest. There is plenty of pedaling above Crescent to be had, is my point, and there is no shame in my mind cutting out the first 2,000 feet of those climbs from time to time.

Man and child mountain biking on a forest trail

Photo Credit: Dan Cambell


Solitude has some fun rides off the Sunrise triple chair. The hand-built Kruzr and fast yet, just techy enough Serenity are old-school classics. Queen Bess, with its banked turns and cyclist-friendly grade, is a treat to ride both uphill or down through the large trees on the flanks of Honeycomb Canyon. Create a loop for an enjoyable day of riding, and stay for free concerts on Sunday evenings in the village as a fun way to close out the weekend.


Sundance was one of the first places in Utah I learned lifts ran in the summer for biking. Scotts Pond to Archie’s Loop is a must-do once a summer for me. Going from views of Mt. Timp, to a deep forest with ponds nad horse stables is the perfect display of the juxtaposition that is Sundance. Speedtrap and Switchback Alley always provide a fun test for my cornering skills. The slow pace of Sundance is a fun way to mix up the fast downhills with fun conversation on the chairlift. And nearby Deer Creek or the lower Provo River offer paddleboard and tubing options after a day of sweating on the trails.

Love the Spandex, Hate The Pads?

For the purists who earn every foot of vert, there are plenty of rides where you will never see a bike careening toward you at downhill speed. More and more directional trails are popping up in Utah, which I am in full agreement with. No one wants any accidents, and there are plenty of trails to go around, for bikers, hikers, and pets.

A few of the uphill-only trails around the Wasatch Front and Back include Jenni’s, Dawns, and Armstrong (Park City), Yeti’s (Utah Olympic Park), Lower Corner Canyon and Clark’s Trail (Draper). The only quads you’ll use are your own. Enjoy!


About Author

Nick Como escaped the skyscrapers of NYC for the tall peaks of the Wasatch. Climber, skier, canyoneer, mountain biker, and lover of food. Just don’t think of offering him pizza with pineapple on it.

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