A New Kind of POW!
From the Summer 2023 Issue
Photos by Jason Welker
For mountain bike enthusiasts, Sandpoint's the next great trail town
Approach Sandpoint from any direction and see the beauty of the surrounding hills, and you might realize you’ve stumbled upon a ski town. But for a growing group of outdoor enthusiasts, those hills hint at something else because, with the efforts of Sandpoint’s local cycling club and trails organization, Pend Oreille Pedalers, there are more and more opportunities each year for experiences that rival an unbroken trail through deep powder.
In the mountain biking community, the perfect stretch of trail is described as “brown pow,” the terrestrial version of the powder skiing experience enjoyed on the slopes of Schweitzer and in the extensive backcountry of the Idaho Panhandle. Since 2020, POP has opened miles of new trails offering that “brown pow” experience to local and visiting mountain bikers alike.
The single biggest project of the last three years, with a ribbon cutting in October 2022, was the new green trail in Sandpoint’s Lower Basin Trail Network, which lies east of Schweitzer Mountain Road in the Little Sand Creek Watershed. The 2.4-mile trail is the first new trail in the network since 2015, and the first trail built specifically with uphill riders in mind. It’s also just the first phase of what is shaping up to be a multi-year buildout of the Lower Basin trail network, a project for which POP and the city have hired the International Mountain Biking Association to develop a master plan.
POP is continuing work in the Lower Basin in the summer of 2023, rerouting and improving the existing “blue” downhill trail, while IMBA will continue with flagging and design of the next new trail, an expert-only downhill trail starting near the Schweitzer roundabout, set to be built in summer 2024.
If you’re new to riding in the Sandpoint area and long climbs and epic descents aren’t your thing, there are many mountain biking options that might tickle your fancy outside of the Lower Basin system. Just two miles west of downtown lies the 400-acre Syringa Trail System, a network that includes three different private properties: Pine Street Woods (where there are almost six miles of beginner friendly trails), VTT (known for its technical, rocky, mountain bike-optimized descents and the long, flowy Rotarian green trail in its lower flanks), and Sherwood Forest, the “OG” trail network of Sandpoint, where POP started building trails over 15 years ago.
The Syringa System literally offers something for everyone, and with two primary access points—the Pine Street Woods parking lot and the VTT parking lot, each accessed from opposite ends of West Pine Street—mountain bikers can stay busy for days exploring over 16 miles of trails for riders of all abilities.
If you’re the kind of rider who enjoys the solitude of the high country, and doesn’t mind “earning your turns,” the ultimate trail ride near Sandpoint has to be High Point Trail to Solar Ecstasy to “POP Point.” Beginning at the Schweitzer roundabout, this ride includes around 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and, if you choose to run a shuttle, up to 4,200 feet of descension. Built in 2020, POP’s Solar Ecstasy offers riders unparalleled views of the Little Sand Creek Watershed and Lake Pend Oreille. And if you are in town during Schweitzer’s summer season, the top of this trail can even be accessed via the resort’s high-speed chairlift, offering riders a 13-mile, 4,200 foot descent from the top of Schweitzer to the bottom of the Lower Basin. “Basin to Crest,” as the ride is known, offers a truly epic high-country mountain bike experience just three miles from Sandpoint.
With all these opportunities, Sandpoint is quickly becoming the West’s next great trail town. Combine your pedal with mettle, and enjoy the Pow!
For more information about local mountain bike trails, check out the POP website at www.pendoreillepedalers.org