Melissa Buhl, 2009 Women’s U.S. National Downhill Champion, rides on the mountain bike trails at SolVista Bike Park near Granby. The bike park hosted the national championships in 2009.

SolVista Bike Park/Courtesy

Melissa Buhl, 2009 Women’s U.S. National Downhill Champion, rides on the mountain bike trails at SolVista Bike Park near Granby. The bike park hosted the national championships in 2009.

Industry leader says resorts should use gravity to attract cyclists

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— Gravity is the name of the game for mountain resorts hoping to make a shift to the modern version of mountain biking at lift-served ski areas, Chris Bernhardt told an industry gathering Wednesday in Steamboat Springs.

Bernhardt is the director of trail solutions for the International Mountain Bicy­cling Association. He spoke to ski industry operators from across the country during the convention of the National Ski Areas Association at The Steamboat Grand.

Mountain bike parks that rely on just the right amount of gravity to pull cyclists through ramps, berms, bumps and jumps are what attract tourism, Bernhardt said.

“That’s the part that gets you a ‘wow,’” Bernhardt said. “That causes young kids to bring their parents and their (parents’) parents. They might not all ride, but they’ll come. We have a challenge to find out what mountain bikers want. It needs to produce a unique experience.”

In terms of mountain biking, it turns out, the olden days aren’t so far in the past.

“The old-school approach in the ’90s and early 2000, it was, ‘Hey we’ve got lifts and there’s no snow in the summer’” Bernhardt said. But that won’t cut it anymore for destination mountain biking.

Many ski areas remain stuck in the era of offering cyclists moderate cross-country trails and a few downhill runs, some of them on actual ski runs. Today, they need something in between, Bernhardt said. That’s where play parks and pump parks with constructed terrain features come in.

In order to charge guests for the privilege of riding on ski areas, Bernhardt said, resorts need to offer something more than the narrow singletrack trail cyclists can find right next door on public lands.

The International Moun­tain Bic­ycling Association, Bernhardt said, has collaborated with 13 ski areas on the development of new trail systems. His talk came as Steamboat Ski Area, Hahn’s Peak Ranger District of the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest and the local cycling group, the Routt County Riders, have announced their tentative interest in developing a mountain bike play park here.

Bernhardt said one of the biggest mistakes ski areas can make is to turn development of their trails over to existing employees who are expert mountain bikers.

The development of trails and parks has evolved into a science that yields lower accident rates than casually built trails and, significantly to resort operators, increases customer satisfaction.

Bernhardt urged his audience not to take those remarks as a pitch for business, and Charlie Mayfield, vice president of operations for SolVista near Granby, agreed.

“That’s an important take-away from this presentation,” Mayfield said.

SolVista Bike Park’s opening day was June 5, and the park enjoyed heavy use, Mayfield said. In its second season in 2008, the park saw 11,000 users. The daily trail fee is $25.

The bike park near Granby has eight distinct downhill tracks, each with an entry gate similar to the gates backcountry skiers use to exit developed ski areas.

There also is a compact pump park where riders rely on gravity as they snake through the course.

Bernhardt said ski areas that design side-by-side structures, such as ramps in three varying sizes, can provide a thrill for riders with varying skills.

Mayfield said SolVista is looking ahead to building an entire loop meant to help cyclists decide for themselves what level of expertise they have.

Mayfield, a former marketing executive at Steamboat, said overall, the mountain bike trails at Steamboat are too steep to be ideal for gravity enthusiasts because they require riding the brakes.

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