Wydaho cultivates an inclusive festival scene
This Labor Day weekend mountain bikers will once again descend on Grand Targhee to ride trails, practice skills, test next year’s equipment, and celebrate being part of a regional community at the Wydaho Rendezvous Teton Bike Festival.
While mountain bike festivals are common across the west, Teton Adaptive Sports director of mission Joe Stone says that Wydaho may be one of the largest gatherings of adaptive mountain bikers.
Stone, a quadriplegic cyclist, paraglider, and paddler, was first invited to Grand Targhee back in 2013 to test out some of the trails for adaptive accessibility. At the time, the resort had a couple flow downhill trails and some cross country trails that worked for someone riding a wider handcycle or adaptive bike. In 2014, Stone started inviting other adaptive athletes to the Wydaho Rendezvous, put on by Teton Valley Trails & Pathways.
In the few years before Covid put its mark on events, the size of the adaptive crowd had grown to be unmatched. Even better, Stone said, the festival doesn’t cordon off people who are disabled.
“It’s about having a really good time among our peers without disabilities,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to make the full circle of what inclusivity can look like—it’s just a bunch of people who love riding bikes.”
Tony Ferlisi, TVTAP’s 2022 festival organizer, agreed. “That’s the coolest thing for me, that it creates a truly inclusive mountain bike festival. The group rides are open to everyone, the clinics are open to everyone—there are some segmented pieces because there’s nuance to adaptive technique, but for the most part, everyone’s a part of this big mountain bike community, riding together, having a beer, just hanging out.”
With the addition in 2017 of lift-accessed riding on Shoshone, the world opened up, Stone said. Only experienced adaptive riders could take on the upper mountain accessed from Dreamcatcher, but on Shoshone, people who were unfamiliar with adaptive equipment or new to their disability could still ride an inviting and fun network of trails.
It’s not just the trails that make the event.
“With such a central location, you can pull up, camp, access bathrooms and showers, you don’t have to shuttle a car or gear,” Stone said. “All that you have to do is break off into group rides that fit your ability level, expert downhill or cross country, or intermediate, or total newbies who need one-on-one coaching.”
He added that the resort crew, especially lift operators, go the extra mile to help people, and TVTAP includes disabled people in the planning conversations to make sure nothing crucial gets missed.
For some, even the concept of camping is new. Stone recalled one woman who decided to come to Wydaho around five years ago from LA. She had to go to a big box store to buy all new camping gear. Sleeping in the meadow at Grand Targhee and riding bikes with likeminded people was such a transformative experience for her that she now lives full time in her truck camper and travels the country riding.
“It was really the spark that led her to improve her quality of life,” Stone said. “There’s such a community aspect—we provide meals, we hang out, get to know each other. Newbies can gain so much by surrounding themselves with people who are experienced, and then they can take that knowledge and run with it.”
At Wydaho, riders get to talk to vendors and try out next year’s models. That aspect of the festival is even more important to adaptive riders, who want to test equipment that is very specific and often prohibitively expensive.
Bike-On, a large online distributor of handcycles, recumbent and adaptive bikes, and wheelchairs, will be a new presence in the vendor fair, and organizations from across the region are partnering with Teton Adaptive Sports and bringing their own fleets of adaptive equipment. TAS also offers Wydaho festival pass scholarships for people who want to attend but can’t cover the cost.
“The expense is the biggest barrier for people,” Stone said about adaptive equipment. “The variety that we get at Wydaho opens the doors for people with different disabilities and needs. People come every year, try out that variety, take that knowledge, apply for a grant to get their own—then next year they show up with their own piece of new equipment that other people can check out.”
Stone said that he has watched the scene change in the region in recent years, pointing out that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort built a few new downhill trails in 2021 that aren’t designated as adaptive but are accessible to a wide range of riders.
“Instead of just checking a box with one adaptive trail at the bottom of the hill, we’ve got these trails that are wide enough to accommodate everyone and allow line choice, and they become the most popular trails in the area,” he said.
At Wydaho, Stone encourages anyone and everyone to come ask questions, try equipment, or go on a group ride. He usually spends the entire festival riding, talking, or both.
“It’s always great when other people within the festival come up to talk, whether to learn about what we’re doing or to see if we have something that works for one of their friends or family members who is disabled,” Stone said. “It brings about really good awareness and conversations that challenge the stigma around disability, when you’re talking about an active sport like mountain biking rather than talking about the disability.”
“What Joe has put together is just incredible and the response we get from folks all over the west is amazing,” Ferlisi said. “I’ve learned in planning the festival this year that it’s really been ground-breaking. Other festivals have started incorporating an adaptive component and a lot of that began with Joe’s work.”
Grand Targhee is still open to the public during Wydaho. For more information on the festival visit tetonbikefest.org.