Jody Gale leads a long train of bikers up Mount Werner as a part of the Thunderhead Hill Climb Town Challenge mountain bike race in July 2008. The ski area Thursday announced plans for a massive overhaul of its trail system.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Jody Gale leads a long train of bikers up Mount Werner as a part of the Thunderhead Hill Climb Town Challenge mountain bike race in July 2008. The ski area Thursday announced plans for a massive overhaul of its trail system.

Trail plan draws support from Steamboat locals

Residents eager to aid mountain’s cycling renovation

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Ned Kajko, left, Patrick West and Brock Webster study the map of Steamboat Ski Area's planned trails overhaul Thursday at The Steamboat Grand.

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Thunderhead Peak looms large as Scott Kempers works his way up toward it during a Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race last summer at Steamboat Ski Area. A master plan that involved a wealth of new trails was unveiled Thursday by the ski area.

— Bicycling in Steamboat Springs isn’t a summer or a fall thing for Brock Webster, and it’s nothing new, either. It’s every day for the owner of Orange Peel Bicycle Service, the downtown bike shop tucked into what looks like an overturned shuttlecock.

There was debate and discussion, a little anger and a lot of ideas, but the general consensus Thursday when Webster and others in the Yampa Valley’s cycling community came together in The Steamboat Grand conference room to survey the new trails master plan for Steamboat Ski Area was “Yes, please!”

There will be new, better multiuse cross-country and hiking trails on Mount Werner’s flanks that will make it easier to pedal to the top of the gondola. There will be areas for bike training parks and potentially competitive arenas, and there will be a massive area set aside for downhill-only freeride trails.

For many, the proposed trails seemed a long time coming. For some, the thought was hard to grasp.

“It just seemed surreal,” said Webster, who’s been a cycling advocate in the town since arriving in 1995. “It’s been at least six years since I saw the first petition go around town for the ski area to add freeride trails and 10 years since I saw the last new trail up there. This is awesome. It seems like something is finally going to happen.”

Mellowing out, ramping up

Thursday’s master plan meeting was the product of a long effort to update Steamboat Ski Area’s summer mountain biking infrastructure.

According to those that burn up and down the existing trails, it’s a much-needed renovation. There are three regularly used ways to access the top of the gondola. The first is simply riding the gondola up with a lift ticket.

Then, Zig Zag trail winds its way to the top on the west side of the hill and Valley View on the east. Neither trail is viewed as sufficient, said Gretchen Sehler, Routt County Riders trail coordinator and director of the Town Challenge mountain biking series.

“The trails on the mountain right now were built in mountain biking’s infancy. A lot of knowledge has been gained about how to build a better mountain bike trail,” she said. “The grades on Zig Zag are too steep. Some of that trail is at a 19 to 21 percent grade in some places. Some of the overall rules are to never exceed 15 percent and to have most of it at 3 or 4 or 5 percent grade.

“That causes erosion from rain water, and it’s so steep coming downhill riders have to use their brakes, so there is skidding and rutting.”

The problems with the mountain’s trails extend further than that, though. There’s not a single official directional trail where a downhill rider charging down doesn’t have to worry about a family hiking up just around a corner.

That means any riders interested in that style of biking are traveling every weekend to other Colorado destinations that already have added such trails. It also prevents tourists looking for that experience from considering Steamboat.

The master plan revealed Thursday seems to solve some of those problems.

Many existing trails on the lower mountain would slowly be converted into downhill-only tracks, and the entire middle section of the mountain would be dedicated to those freeride trails.

Two new trails, fit for more gentle rides up or hiking, would bracket that effort on the outsides.

“Oh, man,” Sehler said, considering the possibilities laid out Thursday. “I am, I just think, ya know — oh, man. I’m just so excited. I can’t stand it.”

Changes slated for the first phase of the plan include improvements to Zig Zag, new multiuse trails low on the mountain and a novice freeride trail running from the top of the gondola to the base.

Later phases would include more routes up and down the mountain, trails that would fill in gaps and create a variety of options for novice to expert terrain.

Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., who presented the plan Thursday, jotted down ideas tossed out by the crowd and said the result could include a pump track in Ski Time Square, racing venues low on the mountain or a training and skills area near the top of the gondola.

“We’re running the hurdles,” he said.

Consensus support

Thursday’s public meeting drew a motley crew of interested cyclists. Every aspect of Steamboat cycling was included, from freeriders champing at the bit to get some hometown terrain to cross-country bikers wary of plans that would potentially temporarily cut down available routes on Mount Werner to older riders concerned that no beginner terrain would be included in the work.

The same refrain range from each.

“That’s why we’re here,” people said over and over again, confronting each raised problem.

There still are plenty of those problems. Chief among them for the ski area is cost. Schneider said his company still is unsure how the math works out for all the effort to result even in a break-even scenario.

“It’s a challenging business model,” he said. “We’re figuring 30 percent growth for each year. That’s huge in this economy. That’s banking on that yes, they’ll come.”

He said little is likely to happen without significant public involvement. Outside firms are being considered to build the trails, but locals will be relied on for some work, especially in maintaining the trails.

The ski area also would add a full-time maintenance team.

Just how much of the plan is realized and how soon it happens is up for debate, but Schneider said some trails could be ready late in the coming riding season or early in summer 2011.

“It’s very risky,” he said. “We are still troubled by the business model.

“We need your help.”

There was some thought that Thursday’s meeting would be filled with angry debate and argument about even the most basic elements of the plan.

That didn’t come to fruition. Instead, there was a room full of cyclists eager to offer a hand.

“It looks phenomenal,” Webster said. “It looks great both from a local’s standpoint and a tourist standpoint. … It’s a no-brainer.”

Comments

Andrew Bisbee 4 years ago

It was a great meeting. Good work Schneider and crew. Lets do this! Let me know when I can start moving dirt.

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