By Annie Fast
I recently got back into mountain biking and, wow, the game has changed! What changed? Two words—flow trails. These trails are an alternate to traditional technical trails; they’re generally machine-built wide and smooth, with banked turns and rolling terrain. And Big Sky Resort is packed with them. When you combine freeride trails with modern mountain bikes, it is seriously like a whole new sport—one everyone should try. If you’re just getting back into downhill mountain biking, or are new to the sport, here are some tips for approaching Big Sky’s incredible terrain.
Hire A Pro
Your best bet is to book a 3-hour group lesson, which is offered through Different Spokes in the Mountain Village. You might also want to add a downhill bike rental to your lesson, which is really recommended to get the flowing feel of this new style of trails. (An alternate is to grab a free summer bike trail map to reference; the map breaks down the trails into Freeride (Flow) and Technical with info on their difficulty level graded into green circle, blue square, black diamond.) I spent the afternoon riding with instructor Jon Lamb to get a feel for the lessons and it was a fun experience. We started with a 13-point inspection of my bike—turns out I needed a few screws tightened and my headset was loose—Oops. We then hit the trails to get a feel for how a first timer would experience Big Sky, loading our bikes onto the Explorer Double lift and enjoying the huge views of Lone Peak on the way up.
Dip Your Toes In On Easy Rider
The Explorer lift accesses several beginner level trails, all with jaw-dropping views of Lone Peak and the Spanish Peaks range. Easy Rider winds back and forth down the hillside with a gentle grade—it’s a great trail to get a feel for the dirt, for turning through small corners and berms and riding over small bumps. Along the single track, there are five designated stops with signage about cornering, braking and body positioning. There’s even a small optional skills course at the bottom where we practiced pushing over obstacles and riding off a small drop.
Find Your Flow On Rabbit Run
Rabbit Run, also accessed by the Explorer lift, is a step up from my previous ride down Easy Rider. With a little more downhill grade, Rabbit Run also offers new opportunities to increase your braking techniques (single index fingers always at the ready on your brakes) and overall body positioning. A rider new to the sport could easily spend the whole day here trying out the suggestions shared on the Easy Rider signage. Perfecting the neutral body position the whole way down could be a first challenge—standing up on your bike might be a whole new concept for some riders! Come back through focusing on looking ahead and leaning through the gently banked turns. I like the variety of terrain features on this trail with long sight lines and mellow builds—you get the idea of the potential for these flow terrain features without being overwhelmed. Bonus: these Explorer runs are much shorter and end right above the repair shop if anything is amiss.
Savor The Scenery & Vertical On Snake Charmer
You’re now ready to venture over to Andesite Mountain and the Thunder Wolf lift for some bigger descents. The landscape is lush on this side with grassy wildflower fields and mature forests. We were greeted by a pair of bike patrollers in red jerseys at the top of the lift who were also heading out for a ride. Good to know—the trails are all marked along the way with mile marker-type signs and a phone number to call for patrol if you do need help out on a trail.
We opted for Snake Charmer. This is the first freeride trail I ever rode a few years back and the one that got me hooked on flow style mountain biking. It’s about 3.5 miles from start to finish and kicks off with an endless series of banked turns into some fun tabletops that you can either roll over or try catching air over, the trail then opens into a majestic wildflower meadow. It continues weaving back and forth through meadow and forested trail with plenty of places to safely stop and regroup or take a hundred photos of the wildflower fields and views like I do (every. single. time).
Bonus: Getting Slightly Sendy—Joker Lips, Otter Slide, M2M
If you’re feeling confident in your progression on Big Sky’s trails, and you want a bit more of a challenge, there are endless options—Joker Lips holds steeper descents, Mountain to Meadow (M2M) is the ticket for a longer ride, and Moonlight offers a network of less-traveled trails to explore.
Joker Lips is one of my favorite runs off Ramcharger 8, and a step up from Snake Charmer. It’s also a freeride trail, but has some elements that feel technical, with a steeper fall line and larger berms. Take your time on the way down and know you can always step off your bike and walk down anything you perceive as too spicy.
Mountain To Meadow is a great way to end the day … or a totally legit single objective for the day. The trailhead leads off from Snake Charmer (or you can follow signs and bike uphill from the Big Sky base area), descending over five-and-half miles down into the meadow and Big Sky town center. Take your time on this descent as well, there is some exposure and a few hairpin switchbacks. Also be aware that this trail is out of bounds, aka it’s not patrolled, so come prepared.
I couldn’t fit everything into this visit, Otter Slide from Otter Connector at the top of Explorer to explore the series of cross-country trails on the Moonlight side of the mountain is still on my to do list. Fortunately, we’ll be back!
Annie Fast is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bend. Oregon. She was previously the editor in chief of Transworld Snowboarding Magazine, and she continues to write for numerous outdoor and travel magazines. Annie held a season pass at Big Sky Resort from 1995–2003, and she returns frequently to visit family and to ride the summer and winter trails.