Park City Pain

Park City Pain

When most cyclists think of Park City, Utah, USA, they conjure up images of big mountain epic MTB climbs, and full-suspension, light-your-hair-on-fire downhill.  I decided to write this particular article about a Park City road climb (Park City MTB articles to come).  Park City is also a road cyclists dream-come-true with uncluttered roadways, and 10,000-foot paved mountain passes with 60+ MPH descents everywhere you look.  I’ve chosen to highlight the Pine Canyon Road climb because out of all of the climbs I’ve done in my life, and there have been thousands, around the world, this climb ranks as one of the most grueling, known as “Midway death march to the summit” to the locals. It’s a Hors Categorie (HC) climb in the Tour of Utah Stage Race.  Pine Canyon’s beauty is not in the scenery, but it’s beauty is in the pain. If you like to suffer, this is an all-you-can-eat sufferfest. 

The course that I describe below, leading up to the Pine Canyon Road Climb has nice views, and some enjoyable 8% grade 30 minute climbs.  I highly recommend that you ride the 8-mile Pine Canyon Road as part of the full 80-mile course. I lived in the Salt Lake City & Park City area for a decade, and for three of the last 10 years, I rode this course once-a-week in the months of June, July, August, September because of its fantastic, and never ending ability to generate pain. 

If you’re considering this ride, consider your gear selection. Depending on your ability, you’ll want a 39 - 27 as a minimum (39T front chain ring & 27T rear cog). 39 - 27 is a race set-up, so if you’re not at least an elite age-grouper, make a more conservative selection. I ride this course with a 39 - 27, and the last season I rode this climb, I was 54 years old, and top 10 on Strava (not including the pro times); my average times were about 10 minutes off of the Tour of Utah times. Take time to consider your gearing, and if you’re unsure, go conservative for your first time as Pine Canyon Road does not apologize.

If you’re not from the area, and need advice regarding your gear selection, the course, or even how to find group rides, check-in with a local coffee shop, or bike shop for recommendations. Park City is filled with great cyclists, and great bike shops, and getting good advice is easy. You may find that at the local coffee shop, you’re getting advice from an Olympian. The Olympian may be a skier, but trust me when I say that an Olympic skier offering advice about the Pine Canyon Road climb knows what he or she is talking about. Most of the Strava age group records are set by US Ski Team skiers living and training in Park City, and some of their times are on-par with Pro-Tour times. 

If you’re having a conversation with a local US Ski Team skier and they invite you to the “Wednesday Night Worlds” that departs Starbucks at Kimball Junction every Wednesday (departure time varies based on time of year), and if you decide this sounds like a training ride for you, make sure you’re prepared for it. It’s full of Olympic ski racers (the fastest are the Nordic Combined skiers), and it’s fast… very, very, very fast (and I rarely use modifiers). I attended training camp twice with AG2R, and rode with the team on full-day training rides, and “Wednesday Night Worlds” in Park City is pro-level cycling. Additionally, it’s common for Pro-Tour teams to drop-in as part of their training ride when they’re in the area. 

So, what can I tell you about the Pine Canyon Road climb other than what I’ve already said or what the information to follow may reveal? -not much, no spoilers here… just enjoy the pain, you’re going to suffer.

Above: Map of the region

Cycle along Highway 248 East out of Park City to Browns Canyon Road.  At Browns Canyon Road turn left (North) and enjoy the fast descent as it winds to the East.  Follow Browns Canyon Road to the intersection of Highway 32.  At highway 32 turn right. Follow highway 32 first South, and then East, and then South again as it passes through Peoa, Oakley, Marion, Kamas, and into Francis.  In the town of Francis, turn right, continuing on highway 32 toward the intersection of highway 189.  The road from Francis to the intersection of highway 189 is a fantastic climb-in-and-of-itself with long views of the Jordanelle Reservoir to the North at the crest.  After cresting the climb you’ll get a fast descent down toward highway 189.  Cross-over highway 189 and follow River Road to a roundabout.  At the roundabout take the second exit onto county road 1050 N.  At the first Y-in-the-road go to the right, now you’re on county road 1075 N (but only for a few hundred yards).  At the second Y-in-the-road go to the right, and you’re on Pine Canyon Road.

Above: Start of the climb- Intersection of Warm Springs and Pine Canyon Road 2- miles out of the town of Midway, Utah 

Above: The fun begins when you enter Wasatch Mountain State Park

Above: Pine Canyon Road (Highway 222) 10- 20% Grade

Follow Pine Canyon Road for 7 miles until it intersects with Highway 224.

Above: View back down to Midway, Utah around mile 5 Deer Creek Reservoir near the center of the photo

Above: Beauty of the Aspen forest between mile 6 & 7 can momentarily numb the pain of the climb

Follow Highway 224 up-and-over Empire Pass with a fast and winding descent down to a round-about at Empire Canyon Lodge. At the roundabout take a sharp right turn (the first exit at the roundabout) and follow Marsac Avenue (also Highway 224) down high-speed descent back down into Park City. It’s a very steep and fast descent back down into Park City, so if you’re riding carbon wheels with rim brakes, be prepared to take precautions to avoid overheating and brake fade. Consider making a few circles around the Empire Lodge roundabout to let your rims cool before the final portion of the descent.

The road was paved in 2016 and it has changed the dynamic of the climb from previous years when the road surface was extremely rough. The climb is steep cycling throughout its first seven miles (8.6%, 3,098') and levels off significantly after turning right at the junction of Guardsman and Empire Passes (at the seven mile mark).

Above: Pine Canyon Climb Profile

The steepest mile begins at mile 1.2 which is a steady 12.4% grade and contains a ¼-mile section at mile 1.8 of 15%). Approaching the four-mile mark are a series of short 20% grades known as the “Midway Death March” to the summit. 

Above: Length of road (miles & kilometres) corresponding to Steepest Grade (%)

Empire Pass from Midway was the last climb of the 2019 Tour of Utah.  It’s a Hors Categorie (HC) climb just before the descent into Park City for the finish of Stage 6 and the 2019 Tour of Utah (18 August).

Cycling in Park City, Utah is best between June and September due to the high elevation (above 7000 feet) and the possibility of late Spring and early Autumn snow.

Paul Lew “Bicycles make friends”