Washington ski resorts switch to mountain bike parks in summer

At the crest from a ski slope, an adventurous soul takes a deep breath and descends a steep slope, hurtling down the slope with a speed that floods the body with adrenaline. Except that there is not a layer of snow. Clay forms the entire vertical course, and the daredevil is on a mountain bike, not skis. It is a ski resort in the summer.

When Stevens Pass Bike Park opens on Friday after a pandemic break, it transforms equipment and terrain designed for winter powder into a challenging course for cyclists. Riders will load their bikes onto the Hogsback Quad lift, then themselves; once at the top, they descend the mountain through roads formed by dirt berms and wooden walls, or even roots and logs on the more technical trails. It’s all the fun of downhill without the breath of pedaling uphill first.

Although the Stevens Pass ski season ended in May, high snow levels this year have prevented staff from rebuilding the trails in time for the scheduled June opening. Bridges had to be put together and diggers moved earth to create green, blue and black routes – the same grading system used when the area is covered in snow.

Stevens sells daily ($46-$54) and annual ($253-$309) passes to the bike park, which first launched in 2012 and was once the only such destination in the state. However, this year Summit at Snoqualmie will join the summer party with its own version, which has been in the works since 2017. Built in conjunction with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the five-track system will take over Summit Central’s Silver Fir area. The opening is scheduled for mid-August.

Our Washington resorts are in good company; ski areas like Vail and Mount Bachelor convert to two-wheeled customers in the summer, giving riders the ability to do more downhill in a day than could ever be achieved on normal trails. Other destinations like Crystal Mountain stick to sightseeing and hiking, still exploiting those chairlifts to bring people into the most grueling part of the mountain adventure. Crystal also hosts a Full Moon Party during the Perseid Meteor Shower in August and a Hill Climb running event in September. Disc golf has become a must in many mountains.

The busy summer schedule represents a way to extend a particular property’s earning season, but more importantly, it can point the way forward in an uncertain future. Nobody really knows what climate change will bring to the ski industry, but the projections include uncertain long-term snow forecasts. Bike parks are a way to reinvent mountain leisure.

At Stevens Pass, where trail crews have finally reshaped winter hills for summer fun, change is more immediate. They’ve completed trails called Rock Crusher and Berserker, and ATV rentals and lessons will launch at the same time the park opens. In knee pads instead of snow pants, cyclists will bomb over Highway 2, at least until the snow falls again.