Although Ogden Bolton from Canton, Ohio, registered the first U.S. patent for an electric bike on Dec. 31, 1895, it wasn’t until the following millennium that e-bikes began to explode around the world, first in Asia and more recently in the United States.
Now on a perfectly sunny day in August, we aren’t riding the wild staircase on the Great Wall of China, but the beautiful alpine wildflower meadows of Squaw Valley. The celebrated resort recently began offering 2½ hour electric mountain biking tours that depart High Camp at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends.
The tram ride from 6,200 to 8,200 feet above sea level runs every 20 minutes on the hour, so arrive a little early to make your way up mountain.
While $158 for the tram, e-bike rental and guided tour might seem expensive, it’s less than you’d pay for a full day of skiing in the winter, and it’s an absolutely incredible way to explore a unique ecosystem of the Sierra Nevada that remains hidden for all those unwilling to endeavor for it.
There’s a sweet spot of pedaling cadence where you suddenly feel like you have super powers zipping to and fro across the vast mountains like Superman on rubber treads.
At the top we meet our guide, 20-year veteran Squaw Valley ski patroller Steve Shepp, who says about half of his clients so far have been first-time mountain bikers. Between the views and the one-on-one professional instruction, this would be quite the introduction to an exhilarating sport indeed. Today we are riding Trek Powerfly full suspension electric bicycles. At 55 pounds of aluminum and components each, these babies aren’t light, but what they lack in nimbleness they more than make up for in durability and speed.
This is the way it works. When you pedal, the motor inside the crank set kicks in and helps assist your acceleration. It’s not enough to get you worried that you’re going to pop an unexpected wheelie or something.; more so, it’s the perfect amount to cover considerable distances of variable terrain with ease. Whereas a high-altitude uphill on an analog bike would leave most folks swiftly winded, the e-bike allows you to work for it while saving enough energy to enjoy the boundless vistas you’ll have earned with a little help from modern technology.
Leaving High Camp in perfect weather we meander up the fairly well-maintained dirt service road getting an initial feel for these astonishing machines. One cool fact about e-bikes is, unlike a traditional bicycle, when you downshift you pick up speed because the motor kicks in just when you need it. There’s a sweet spot of pedaling cadence where you suddenly feel like you have super powers zipping to and fro across the vast mountains like Superman on rubber treads.
In what seems like no time and a fraction of the usual effort, we’re already at the top of Shirley chairlift. We gaze out across the rocky crowns of Granite Chief, Needle Peak, Tinker’s Knob to the noble towers of Castle Peak far in the distance. Even in late August, there are deep patches of snow settled silently into north-facing nooks and crannies of the quiet mountain.
We climb higher along the Sierra Crest past Gold Coast chair and around the backside of the mountain winding our way to the top of idyllic Siberia Bowl. The whole world stretches out before us in all directions and we pause for a moment to take it all in.
Now it’s time to descend. The majesty of Granite Chief Wilderness flies by me as I let go of the brakes and feel the full momentum of the unbridled e-bike unleashed.
I really left out some steam on the way down freewheeling the rugged path with a serious adrenaline rush. The wonderful thing about the riding up here is it’s perfect for everybody from the first-time mountain biker to the season pro since you can push yourself as much or as little as you want.
Next we check out some singletrack through a never-ending field of yellow-flowered mule ears. The trail appears as if by magic behind every subtle curve and roll as we make our way through old, gnarled fir trees whose soft darkness gives welcome respite from the searing summer sun. Then we bump across a babbling brook of snow melt and let fly down the wood-chipped path with abandoned glee toward a serene Lake Tahoe nestled far below our endlessly spinning wheels.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is offering guided e-mountain bike tours for ages 13 years and older on weekends through Sept. 22. Mountain biking access at Squaw Valley is limited to tour guests only. | squawalpine.com