Todd Swanson and Heidi Packard ride their mountain bikes on Emerald Mountain on Thursday afternoon. Steamboat Springs was designated an International Mountain Bicycling Association Ride Center this week, becoming the only town in Colorado so far to have earned such an honor. Cycling leaders are hoping the recognition will pay off with grass-roots marketing while spurring further development of local biking amenities.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Todd Swanson and Heidi Packard ride their mountain bikes on Emerald Mountain on Thursday afternoon. Steamboat Springs was designated an International Mountain Bicycling Association Ride Center this week, becoming the only town in Colorado so far to have earned such an honor. Cycling leaders are hoping the recognition will pay off with grass-roots marketing while spurring further development of local biking amenities.

Steamboat named Ride Center by mountain biking group

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— The end result might never be directly obvious in Steamboat Springs. The city on Wednesday was labeled a bronze-level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and local organizers admit that won’t change much of anything for local pedalers riding through the final days of the season.

Still, cycling leaders in Steamboat said the designation as a Ride Center means big things: It’s a key piece of a grass-roots marketing effort and a great sign for a city still building toward Bike Town USA.

“IMBA has 35,000 active members and another 100,000 on their contact list, so that’s a pretty big direct market,” said Routt County Riders Vice President Eric Meyer. “There are people who will see this label and know, ‘That’s a pretty good place to ride.’”

The process to become an IMBA Ride Center began as work was progressing on the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance’s bid to spend the bulk of accommodation tax funds on local trails. Steamboat was invited to apply.

IMBA bills Ride Centers as destination-worthy riding hot spots, the kinds of places cyclists can enjoy not for a quick weekend away but for a whole week of fun riding.

Locations that apply are judged on a variety of categories. “Trail experience” is the single largest determining factor and takes into consideration the number and diversity of trails. In that category, Steamboat scored big for its recently completed downhill trails at Steamboat Ski Area but also came up short because of a relative lack of beginner terrain.

Available services, community involvement, and tourism and marketing also are among the factors considered.

Steamboat became the first Ride Center in Colorado and one of 17 in the world.

Five others earned the distinction Wednesday, including Burns Lake, British Columbia; Anniston, Ala.; Helena, Mont.; Cerna Voda, Czech Republic; and Livigno, Italy.

Park City, Utah, is the only gold-level Ride Center. There are five silver-level centers and 11 at the bronze level.

It’s far from a complete list. Moab, Utah, for instance, isn’t there, and neither is Colorado‘s Fruita.

Still, organizers said even if the designation doesn’t mean Steamboat is the only in-state destination, it is more proof that it is a worthy one.

“Some other places that aren’t closely aligned with IMBA are doing pretty good by themselves,” Meyer said. “But for us, our affiliation with IMBA really brings in that grass-roots marketing that doesn’t really cost us anything but volunteer time.”

“If those places like Fruita or Moab do ever fill out the paperwork, it will only benefit Steamboat when we are listed next to them as a Ride Center.”

Much like the city’s effort to climb the ranks as a Bicycle Friendly Community — earning silver status in 2007 and gold-level recognition in 2011 — designation as a Ride Center is likely to prove more about the journey than the conclusion, at least for the everyday local rider.

That effort before 2011 helped put focus on the Safe Routes to School program and to add bike lanes to several Steamboat streets. It forced community leaders to consider what could be improved on the local in-town trail system, and where paths and signage were lacking.

Steamboat got the Bicycle Friendly Community label and in the process improved its own biking infrastructure.

Now, those behind the IMBA Ride Center push hope their efforts to jump to silver or gold status can have a similar effect for area mountain biking.

“To get to that level, you need to have the full complement of riding from beginner to expert,” Bike Town USA Executive Director Doug Davis said. “What we are trying to do with the Trails Alliance and with Referendum 2A is to fill in those gaps so we can move up in several years.

“This is really exciting. This is a recognition of all the hard work of Routt County Riders and all the other volunteers. Coming from the world’s largest mountain bike organization, it is a pretty cool deal, and it carries a lot of weight.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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