New trails offer intermediate mountain biking options

By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

BIG SKY – If Pete Costain has his way, the Biggest Skiing in America could someday be the “Biggest Riding in America.” Big Sky Resort has a reputation as an expert-only downhill biking destination, but with the newly constructed Otter Way and Otter Slide flow trails, that reputation is beginning to change.

The 2.15-mile Otter Way Trail was completed the first week of July, giving riders a multi-directional “flow” experience with berms and intermediate switchbacks. The 1.25-mile Otter Slide was finished the first week of August and offers a “downhill directional flow,” experience, according to the 48-year-old Costain. Both trails link the resort’s Moonlight Basin terrain and Mountain Mall base area, offering riders of all abilities an alternative to the steep and rocky downhill trails serviced by the Swift Current chairlift.

“What sells lift tickets is flow trails,” Costain said, after a late-July ride. Otter Slide was still a couple days from completion, but had already seen a number of local users. “It’s really satisfying as a trail builder making a lot of people happy,” he said. “I’ve gotten emails and texts saying, ‘This is the best flow trail Big Sky’s ever seen.’”

Costain, the Whitefish-based owner of Terraflow Trail Systems began mapping trails around the resort last fall and arrived in Big Sky this spring. Costain broke ground on Otter Way June 5 – earlier than he expected, given last winter’s heavy snow.

“Trail building season is short,” he said. “I got here in May and thought I wouldn’t be building until July.” Since construction began in earnest, Costain has employed six locals throughout the summer, a factor that should keep the trail network expanding well into the future.

“In three to four years [Big Sky Resort] will have a crew building trails that we’ve designed,” Costain said.

But if the resort is to become the mountain bike mecca Costain believes it could be, he thinks the infrastructure needs to expand to encourage users. He points to base area trails beneath the Mountain Mall and a skills course in the base area as ways to give exposure to mountain biking at the resort.

The resort is proud of the work Costain and the local workforce has accomplished, and according to management, these trails are some of the best in the area.

“Big Sky Resort is delighted to be working with such an amazing trail builder,” said Sheila Chapman, PR manager for the resort. “Our trail builders have been working with Pete, learning and building these great new trails at the resort.”

Chapman should know, as she rode Costain’s trails in Whitefish for nearly a decade before moving to Big Sky. “[Costain] builds trails so they’re sustainable,” she said. “They’re well built [and] speak volumes to his craftsmanship.”

It isn’t just Big Sky Resort that’s been impressed with Costain’s craftsmanship. The International Mountain Bicycling Association on Aug. 6 named Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Kashmir Trail – built by Terraflow last year – as one of 2014’s top four flow trails in the world.

While all the rock on Lone Mountain and the silt-type soils have presented some challenges this trail building season, Costain says he’s mitigated many of those issues using careful route finding. He’s also optimistic about the resort’s possibilities in coming years, especially on Andesite Mountain.

“I’m excited about the potential for lift accessed riding off of Andesite,” Costain said. “There’s excellent soil over there.”

Visit bigskyresort.com/things-to-do/activities/mountain-biking for more information about riding at the resort. Costain’s Terraflow Trail Systems is a member of the Professional Trail Builders Association, a global trail builders trade association. Visit terraflowtrails.com and trailbuilders.org for more information.