Click here to learn more about freeriding.
U.S. Forest Service recreational specialist Kent Foster talks with Andy Rossbach about building more biking trails.
Steamboat Springs A coordinated local effort is afoot to make Steamboat Springs a major cycling destination and promote a form of tourism that many locals might be more enthusiastic about, as well. Data and anecdotes from other mountain towns suggest the economic impact of such efforts could be substantial.
This year saw the birth of the inaugural Steamboat Springs Stage Race that drew more than 300 competitors, the construction of a new trail on Emerald Mountain and the creation of the Gravity Team, a new Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club mountain biking program. Next year, Steamboat is likely to host a Lance Armstrong Foundation LIVESTRONG mountain biking event, and local cycling groups and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. may build new trails for freeride mountain biking.
Freeriding is a relatively new form of mountain biking that combines downhill riding with features such as jumps, drops, elevated wooden plank bridges, rock features, teeter-totters and more.
"What's really exciting here is the ski area has been really excited about these ideas," said Robin Craigen, president of the Routt County Riders cycling club. "We're really hoping that the first (freeride) trail could begin construction in the spring when the snow is gone."
If that happens, the new trails could open when the gondola starts running for the 2010 summer season. Craigen said Routt County Riders, Ski Corp., the city of Steamboat Springs and U.S. Forest Service officials are involved in discussions about freeriding. In addition to new trails within ski resort boundaries, Craigen said the Forest Service also is open to creating an integrated network of freeriding trails in other areas of the national forest around Steamboat, including Buffalo Pass.
"They are interested in a partnership with us to build them in a responsible, sustainable manner," Craigen said.
Ski Corp. has submitted a new trails master plan to the Forest Service that includes three freeride zones and nine trails. Craigen said the trails are mapped and ready to be built, but he stressed that the plans still are subject to the Forest Service's permitting process.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," he said, "but this is something everyone is looking at with a great deal of interest."
According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Colorado has six freeriding locations - Breckenridge, Keystone, Fruita, Silverton, Winter Park and Colorado Springs. British Columbia is considered the mecca of the discipline, with venues including Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
Ski Corp.'s parent company, Intrawest, is familiar with
freeriding. Summer mountain bike parks exist at Intrawest's Winter Park and Whistler Blackcomb ski resorts, and company officials said they have been very successful.
"It's really turned that resort into a four-season destination," Intrawest spokesman Ian Galbraith said about Whistler.
A study by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association found that the economic impact of mountain biking in southern British Columbia is substantial. The study found that visitors to Whistler Mountain Bike Park spent nearly $16.5 million in summer 2006 and supported an estimated 384 jobs paying $12.8 million in wages and salaries.
"For local residents, the trails provide a venue to participate in an active, healthy lifestyle, and increase the desirability of living in the area," the study states. "Moreover, the trails are an attraction for residents in both (neighboring) and out-of-town areas to visit the host communities, thereby providing support for local businesses and increasing the economic activity for the region."
Like the Steamboat Ski Area, Winter Park has long provided lift access to mountain bikers. Only in the past few years, however, has it put emphasis on a "gravity-fed experience," said Bob Holme, general manager of Winter Park's Trestle Bike Park. Holme said the park's features - such as wooden bridges over sensitive root systems - are specifically designed to protect resources in the national forest.
"It has been an area of growth for our resort. Specific (visitor numbers), I can't really get into," said Holme, who said the resort is working with the Forest Service on plans for substantial expansions to the park.
Craigen and others hope for similar results in Steamboat. Craigen said the economic benefit of cycling events could match or exceed the influence of Triple Crown Sports' summer baseball and softball tournaments in Steamboat, with a fraction of the negative impacts and controversy.
"It's something that could add a real boost to our economy," he said.
Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski has been involved in the discussions about freeriding, and she said she is excited about the concept because she thinks it fits Steamboat's personality better than other summer events geared toward tourists. She also said it will be important to develop new events because Triple Crown intends to downsize its presence in Steamboat by splitting its World Series event between here and another community as early as 2011.
"It just seems like it gets better every year," Craigen said about the local cycling scene. "We're trying to fill restaurants and beds. The kind of terrain we have is just perfect for this."
With freeride development, new trail construction, the scheduled return of the stage race and the anticipated LIVESTRONG ride, Craigen said there is "a synergy we haven't seen before."
The LIVESTRONG ride is scheduled for the first weekend of August next year and has been conditionally approved by the Forest Service. Craigen said the event is not a race and described it as "an epic ride along the Divide Trail from Dumont Lake to the ski area." Gov. Bill Ritter and Lance Armstrong's mother, Linda, are expected to attend. Proceeds from the ride would benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Yampa Valley Medical Center.