Someone, somewhere in the not too distant past, had an idea: Why not offer mountain bikers the same advantages as skiers?

Those being, of course, lots of open country, a nice blend of terrain and trails, all in a scenic mountain setting, and, best of all, a ride uphill.

Oh, and when the riding is done, a chance to sit down, sip a soft drink, nibble on a sandwich and rest those tired legs.

Well, ski resorts took the suggestion to heart and today nearly a third of the country's 400 ski areas offer lift-served, restaurant-catered, staff-groomed trails to mountain bikers.

Here in Utah, seven of the 13 resorts are open to mountain bikers of all ages and ability levels.

One reason for the resorts' interest in mountain biking is the rapid growth. The number of off-road cycling enthusiasts has climbed from roughly 200,000 in 1983 to more than 10 million today.

A dozen years ago, resorts held races but chose to keep their lifts closed in the summer. Some offered scenic rides, but barred bikers.

Once one resort found it possible and profitable, others followed.

Here in Utah, Brian Head, Deer Valley, Snowbird and Solitude were among the first to lure mountain bikers to their lifts.

And, the consensus among the seven now serving bikers is that it's a big success.

One mountain bike magazine wrote of Brian Head that it was "one of the best, unique and most unusual mountain bike vacation resorts" in the country . . . and, indeed, it is.

Located at the base of 11,307-foot Brian Head Peak, it's all downhill. Resort literature claims its lifts offer access to more than 200 miles of single- and double-track trails winding through the resort and nearby forests.

Realizing what goes down, must also come up, at the end of most of the trails off the peak is a waiting vehicle with bike carrier and an idling engine.

There are also a number of trails on and around the ski runs. And, like ski runs, trails are marked according to difficulty.

One of the more popular trails begins at the peak, around 11,000 feet, and glides down to the shores of Panguitch Lake, 12 miles and about 3,000 feet lower.

Deer Valley was among the first resorts in the country to offer lift-served access to its mountain slopes in the summer.

It first turned on a lift in the summer of 1992.

Over the years it has consistently been rated among the top 10 destination mountain biking resorts in the country.

The resort now offers service from two lifts and onto more than 50 miles of trails that spider-web through the mountains. Hikers and bikers can choose to travel the existing road system that services the resort or follow narrow single-track routes through the trees, meadows and down mountain slopes.

Steve Graff, resort bike patrol manager, said that over the years there has been a steady increase in summer business, "and I would expect, with two lifts now running, which make access much easier, we'll see an increase this summer."

The resort also expanded its service programs, offering instruction, guide service, clinics, bike rentals and on-mountain safety patrol.

One of the more popular trails for the serious biker is the Mid-Mountain Trail, which is a stunning, scenic single-track trail that traverses Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons, connecting all three resorts and offering spectacular scenic vistas, lush forests and beautiful aspen groves.

For the more conservative rider at Deer Valley, there's the Lakeside Trails, which is a one-mile series of paved trails that surround the lakes just past the Snow Park parking lots.

Katie Eldridge of The Canyons said the Mid-Mountain Trail is, indeed, one of the more popular. It's four-mile section within the boundaries of the resort is ideal for intermediates and above, "and the scenery is incredible."

The most difficult ride, called Fantasy, starts from the top of the gondola and ends at the mountain top called "9350," which is the elevation or 9,350 feet.

The Canyons has been running its gondola for mountain bikers for four years.

Among the new features at resorts are practice loops. Deer Valley has one near the base, and encourages the less experienced bikers to use it before heading uphill.

Snowbasin, said Mary Rowland, has two practice loops.

"The one at the base is one we constructed, but logs and rollers and bumps. It has been very popular with riders. We also have one at the top of the gondola. This one features more natural terrain. It, too, has become very popular with riders," she said.

One new service the resort offers bikers is a chance to clean their bikes.

"What we've found is that people like to ride on the mountain, then ride the practice loop a few times, then ride over to bike-cleaning station and wash off the bike before they leave or sit down for a drink or a sandwich," she added.

Park City Mountain Resort offers mountain access to bikers off two lifts — the Town Lift and PayDay Lift.

The resort will go onto holiday hours this weekend. PayDay will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Monday, and the Town Lift from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

What was a bonus to skiers this past winter has been a hardship to mountain bikers at Snowbird. The ski season didn't end until July Fourth. And, as might be expected, there is still snow in the upper basin, which is keeping mountain bikers off the Tram.

There is biking available around the base on both paved and dirt roads and single track.

Laura Schaffer, public relations director, said mountain crews hope to have the upper trails open for mountain bikers by the end of July.

There are more than 20 miles of single track running through the stands of pines and meadows at Solitude.

For the beginner there's the single/double-track road off the Sunrise lift. The first quarter mile is single track, becoming a wide road, with the lower portion paved. There are also a number of intermediate and advanced trails.

Along with mountain-bike rentals, several resorts also offer mountain scooters. The scooters have large tires and brakes both front and rear, as well as a suspension system that makes them easy to ride.

The best part of all, of course, is that ski resorts make it possible for riders to skip all the work and the huffing and puffing that goes into an uphill climb, and simply sit and enjoy the scenery, the openness and the ride downhill.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com