Extreme biking gets the boot

Officials nix high-speed, downhill mountain biking at ski area

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High-speed downhill mountain biking will no longer be permitted in the Steamboat Ski Area beginning July 1.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials made the decision in agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. Because of the threat extreme biking poses to other cyclists and the strain it puts on natural resources, high-speed downhill biking will be banned indefinitely.

The resort defines high-speed downhill mountain biking as on-trail or off-trail biking at excessive speeds.

Ski Corp. Public Relations Manager Cathy Wiedemer said bicycles that are designed for high-speed downhill biking will not be allowed up the gondola. Enforcement on the mountain will be stepped up to educate and warn bicyclists of the rules.

Wiedemer said all bicyclists on the mountain are required to adhere to the International Mountain Bicycle Association's Rules of the Trail and the National Off-Road Bicycling Association's mountain biking code.

These rules are posted at the ski area and listed in the Ski Corp. summer activities brochure. The rules require, among other things, that bicyclists remain in control of their bikes, yield to other cyclists and respect the natural habitat.

The resort also requires that bicyclists do not travel faster than 20 mph.

"We've had more and more conflicts," Wiedemer said.

High-speed downhill bicyclists are sharing the same trails as many young and inexperienced riders, she said.

"It's not compatible," Wiedemer said. Some of the trails are very narrow at points, and high-speed bikers pose a threat to other cyclists around them, she said.

"We're trying to be proactive in preventing accidents," said John Kohnke, the mountain bike director at the resort.

He said the number of uphill bikers has increased, increasing the potential problem with high-speed downhill bikers.

Also, many "renegade" or illegal trails have been developed on the mountain and in the surrounding National Forest, Wiedemer said. The unmarked trails deplete the natural resources, Forest Service ranger Janet Faller said.

"They cause resource damage and they are unsustainable," Faller said. She explained that no matter how many times bikers ride over an illegal trail, it would probably never become sustainable.

Established trails on the mountain were planned carefully to accommodate water runoff and use and to require little maintenance, she said.

In contrast, renegade trails are not so meticulously planned, so they can't handle runoff and often fall apart, Faller said. When that happens, bikers often will just make another path, she said.

"You end up with multiple parallel trails and you continue to damage resources," she said. Wiedemer agreed.

"That's not the proper way to build a trail," she said.

Wiedemer explained that hikers and bikers often don't think they are causing any damage by traveling off of trails.

"They don't understand the ramifications of their actions sometimes," she said. But all of the off-trail action has significant effects on the environment, she said.

High-speed bikers put more of a strain on the trails because of their excessive usage of them as well, Wiedemer explained.

"It's come to our attention that people are using the gondola to train for competition events," Kohnke said.

These bikers will often ride the gondola up more than 10 times a day, he said. That is significantly more than most bicyclists using the mountain.

He said the overuse of the trails will call for additional maintenance.

Many downhill bikers would like to see the resort build other trails for them to use, Kohnke said, but that is easier said than done.

"To do it right for a downhill trail is a long process," he said.

Faller said that the work involved in developing a legitimate downhill trail is underestimated and very difficult.

"It does require thought and money and time," she said.

Many downhill bicyclists prefer not to turn while traveling down the mountain, and it is nearly impossible to create a straight-downhill trail that will be sustainable, she said. The trails require some switchbacks.

Wiedemer insisted that the resort is not trying to bully a particular group of bikers but rather accommodate the safety and needs of the majority of the people using the mountain.

"We're not trying to pick on anyone," she said. The new rules will be advantageous, she said.

"If all cyclists adhere to these (rules), it would be a very nice place to ride all the time," she said. "We're asking for everyone's cooperation in requiring it."

Kohnke said that all mountain bikers who bought a mountain pass for the specific purpose of high-speed downhill biking would be eligible for full refund.

And although downhillers are being banned from the mountain, the resort still plans to host a downhill race Aug. 2. The Storm Peak Thunder, which is being sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, will be allowed because it is a controlled event in a designated environment, Kohnke said. No other downhill events are planned.

The gondola is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through August.

-- To reach Erin Ragan call 871-4232

or e-mail intern@steamboatpilot.com

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