Matt Gerzina rides on Emerald Mountain in 2013.

Photo by Scott Franz

Matt Gerzina rides on Emerald Mountain in 2013.

Summer visitor survey showing decline in biking numbers raises eyebrows at Steamboat Springs City Council meeting

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— As some mountain bikers in Steamboat Springs push the city to build more challenging trails, some elected officials are pointing to the results of a recent summer survey as evidence the city might want to invest more in flatter, more accessible trails instead.

The most recent summer visitor survey done for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association showed that the percentage of visitors who said they biked while they were in town has fallen significantly in the last two years.

And only 2 percent of the visitors surveyed this summer said biking was the main purpose of their trip to Steamboat, down from 6 percent in 2015.

The data points caught the eye of some Steamboat Springs City Council members because the city has started to invest millions of dollars in new mountain bike trails to lure more tourists to town.

Councilman Tony Connell noted that with the Yampa River Core Trail being listed as the city’s third most popular summer attraction, perhaps the city should invest more in that amenity instead of the more difficult mountain bike trails.

“Perhaps, we should talk to the (committee that recommends the trail projects) and say this isn’t exactly working as planned,” Connell said. “It’s not hitting your projections, maybe we should refocus.”

A committee of volunteers recommends which trail projects to be funded.

In recent years, the money has gone to a mix of projects ranging from enhanced crosswalks on city trails to the construction of technical mountain biking trails on Buffalo Pass.

City Manager Gary Suiter also questioned whether the city should focus its lodging tax dollars on the more technical mountain bike trails.

“My reaction to (people calling for more difficult trails) was if you want to appeal to the tourist, you need flat,” Suiter said. “Eighty percent of the people are going to want flat. I think it’s a great statistic to look at and say ‘hmmmm, is that where we should be putting our money?'”

A group of community members recently advocated for more technical trails after a new trail on Buffalo Pass that is being built with lodging tax funds was temporarily halted because of some concerns raised about how difficult and technical its design is.

The discussion about redirecting lodging tax money to less difficult trails drew a scattering of applause during the council meeting earlier this month.

Councilman Jason Lacy questioned whether the share of visitors who said they biked in Steamboat really could have fallen from 34 percent in the summer of 2013 to 19 percent this summer.

“That caught my eye,” Lacy said.

David Belin, who conducted the survey, said there is a strong degree of certainty in the numbers, but the USA Pro Challenge cycling race not being in town during the most recent summer could have influenced the data.

While biking fell significantly, other activities, such as hiking, remained relatively stable compared to previous surveys.

The survey had mostly positive results for Steamboat and its summer tourism season.

Nine out of 10 people who were surveyed indicated they would recommend the city to their friends and family.

Steamboat outperformed all of the other mountain resort communities surveyed in the region on that summer satisfaction question.

The average age of Steamboat’s summer visitor is around 53 years old, and the typical party spends an average of $1,100 on their summer visit.

The top summer attractions in Steamboat include Fish Creek Falls, the gondola, the Core Trail and Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

The survey interviewed 1,642 summer visitors in Steamboat.

It was conducted mostly by intercept surveys but also allowed visitors to answer questions at kiosks at the Holiday Inn, the Chamber Visitor Center and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

As they say "garbage in, garbage out".

That a survey can vary so much demonstrates that the surveys should have very little meaning.

Better surveys ask followup questions about that activity that helps determine how many are saying what they think would be popular answers. So if person says they used the Core Trail then they get a question about the Veterans Memorial along the Core Trail with A) didn't notice it B) enjoyed it and C) was purpose of using Core Trail. So then those that say they saw it are known to not be telling the truth about using the Core Trail.

Or ask when they did something and see how many said they used it on a day it was closed.

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Tim Keenan 4 months, 1 week ago

Uhh, seeing how the vast majority of the tougher trails haven't been built yet, I think it's a wee bit early to talk about reprioritizing.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

Exactly. Except that NONE of the tougher trails have been opened to the public yet. Only about 1/4 of the first technical trail was built last fall. Yet it didn't increase biker visits the previous two summers? Hmm? The Core Trail has been here a while. So I guess people just aren't showing up for the trails we don't have.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Tim,

I think it is worth asking whether extreme mountain biking is still a growing sport and the next big thing or was it a passing fad.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

Scott, There is no "extreme" mountain biking here nor is it planned. Extreme mountain biking is what they do in Utah at the Red Bull Rampage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1FnYtmE8Fs and a few other places, not usually in the USA. What exists (barely) and is proposed resembles what many other "Bike Towns" like Moab and Fruita have a plethora of. The trails that really bring riders haven't been built yet.

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Justin Sonnentag 4 months, 1 week ago

Didn't Steamboat host the IMBA World Summit the year before(2014)??? Wouldn't that skew the "Data" a bit? And even if it didn't it would be one slower year is the handful of years since starting to invest in Trails. So there is no where near enough evidence(Data) to say with statistical significance that you should modify the trail building plans already in place. Ridiculous! If city council members cannot see this as a long term project(which it is) they should not be on the council in the first place.

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Michelle Freckleton 4 months, 1 week ago

The fact is that Steamboat doesn't have a particularly difficult mountain bike trail system at this point. I still remember reading a magazine review of our town's mountain biking two years ago that basically said 'ho-hum' about our trails. Extreme trails are not what are proposed for the Lodging Tax funds, and as Aryeh pointed out, none of the tougher trails have even been completed yet. We don't need more flat trails or better core trail biking to bring in more tourists. Who decides on a vacation destination based on it's bike path??? Yes, our current tourists are using the core trail, but I seriously doubt it is a foactor in their DECIDING to come. Now, if we had a well planned, connected and challenging (not extreme) system of trails, that might factor into more people deciding to come here. Looking at the average age of our tourist (53) we could possibly attract a younger demographic that might bring their family here in the summer for years to come. There is a lot of potential in improving our mountain bike trails.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Regardless of whether the bike trails should be described as "extreme", "challenging" or "not ho-hum", it still makes sense to review the trail building program to be sure it is still expected to be the same sort of success as initially promised. For instance, it would be a serious warning sign if Moab, Fruita and Durango were reporting declines in riders on their more difficult trails.

Nor would I so quickly dismiss the beneficial impact of easy trails. It may not be the direct reason given by tourists for coming here, but the Core Trail is obviously well used so it is being enjoyed by tourists. So it is what tourists are spending time here doing. Though, people on the Core Trail doesn't necessarily mean that tourists are seeking out other easy trails.

Also, just because some potential project is associated with the Core Trail does not mean it will increase usage. The Core Trail outside of downtown sees usage drop off sharply.

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Mike Vandeman 4 months, 1 week ago

Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: http://mjvande.info/mtb10.htm . It's dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don't have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else -- ON FOOT! Why isn't that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking....

A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it's not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see http://mjvande.info/scb7.htm ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it's NOT!). What's good about THAT?

To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video: http://vimeo.com/48784297.

In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: http://mjvande.info/mtb_dangerous.htm .

For more information: http://mjvande.info/mtbfaq.htm .

The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users -- hikers and equestrians -- who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

The parks aren't gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won't understand what I am talking about -- an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

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kevin fisher 4 months, 1 week ago

Wow.....talk about mountain biking being a dangerous activity.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

Violent criminal from another state using biased studies and made up science to oppose environmentally friendly recreation projects. Nice. With modern day trail design techniques, mountain bike trails of today are the most sustainable and environmentally friendly trails in the forest. It is bikers with an eye for sustainability and environmental protection making this happen. To fight against trails and mountain biking on environmental grounds is as misguided as it gets and shows how much of an extremist nut-bag Mike V really is. There are actual environmental fish to fry out there (ever hear of fracking).

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kyle pietras 4 months, 1 week ago

The survey has a very small audience, and does not represent a mt bike population, which makes it unfair to make opinions about mt biking(most people who ride difficult trails, camp, and avoid surveys). Every bike destination have trails with a verity of skill levels in each zone in their area. Moab, Grand Junctuon/Fruita, Kurt Gowdy, to name a few close ones. This can not be just about tourists! The people calling for more difficult trails might be emailing city council and the city manager soon.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Kyle,

I would include data hopefully showing that other bike destination cities are still doing well. It never hurts to show that the objective of building trails is still a worthwhile objective.

BTW, it uses a tax collected primarily from tourists and was promised to boost the tourism industry so it should mostly be about tourists.

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Tim Keenan 4 months, 1 week ago

I agree with Michelle about perhaps getting the average age of our tourists down a bit with a destination-quality trail system. I'm sure Scott can tell me, but I'd imagine younger people tend to spend more money at bars/restaurants/retail. I'd be interested to know how many tourists go to Fruita, Moab, etc. for mountain biking. I mean, are we talking thousands per weekend at prime time? Could Steamboat become such a destination with prime time around August-October with the proposed trails for Buff Pass, Mad Creek, Rocky Peak Hot Springs, Gun Creek...

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mark bond 4 months, 1 week ago

My suggestion would be bike lanes along 129/elk river road to columbine! Less expensive than building mountain bike trails and attractive to a larger audience.

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Robin Craigen 4 months, 1 week ago

There are lots of questions to be asked about this survey before decisions are taken to change direction. We are just a couple of years into a multi-year plan that was developed way before people like the new City Manager came to town. A lot of homework was done before this was ever approved. A lot of work is being done to implement a big vision of Steamboat as a World-class biking destination and it is way to early to pull up and say "Hey! It's not working..."

Many of the trails in the master plan are yet to be built. It takes time, diligence and persistence on the part of all players involved to pull this off, even with the money in place. I was witness to the most recent 2A meeting and I can tell you that what I saw was a "dream-team" of who you would want to have involved in this project - experienced and dedicated trail builders like Aryeh, dedicated and respected representatives of the US Forest Service like Kent Foster, professional City Representatives like Craig Robinson and Winnie DelliQuadri, resepected members of the cycling and business community who sit on the 2A Committee and a whole lot of engaged and involved cyclists. If anyone is wondering if the process is being thoughtfully implemented you should attend these meetings. You will quickly realize that we are extremely lucky to have this opportunity and we are only just starting to see the fruits of their labors. It's a multi-year plan and the best trails are yet to come. How can you talk about this not working when it's not even really begun?

We are going to need trail counts, and we are going to need more specific surveys if we want to talk about the numbers of visitors this is driving. You won't always find them wandering down main street, buying ice cream and t-shirts. I have heard these Chamber survey reports and the skepticism that Jim Clark and other business leaders have expressed towards cycling.

Destination tourism is our biggest opportunity in Summer. We have plenty of weekend business (I have even heard people say it's too much on some weekends) with all the festivals and events. Something like biking, that brings people here for 4 - 7 nights like it does in the winter with skiing, is what will "make the needle move" and round-out our summers.

As for the core trail this is basic and much needed infrastructure not a recreational amenity that the city should fund for reasons of providing alternative options for safe biking throughout the community for locals and visitors alike. We can't make our roads wider, but we could and should make the Core Trail go to Steamboat II. The 2A money is not ear-marked for this project because the core trail will not be the reason why someone gets in their car to come here - it's a satisfier, not a motivator. The motivator trails are coming...

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Ben Tiffany 4 months, 1 week ago

Very good letter,Robin. It is absolutely correct that those involved with planning and building the mountain bike trails in Buffalo Pass (and perhaps elsewhere in the valley) are top-notch people who know what they are doing and why. To question the work that these people are doing based on this survey is idiotic. It has been correctly pointed out that none of these trails have been completed yet,and therefor cannot realistically be factored into the survey results or conclusions. Why don't you wait at least a couple of years and see what people think then?

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

The study is idiotic.

But, it is always good in any multi-year plan to question whether the plan is still good. Even Goggle with their billions of dollars was willing to question Google Fiber and say that phased array gigabit wireless looks to be a much more cost effective solution to providing final mile high speed internet access than fiber optic lines.

It should be relatively straight forward to document that there are a still a substantial number of tourists seeking challenging bike trails. Do that and questions are answered. But if interest in that has declined and now tourists want drone racing courses or whatever then why keep building trails which we now have reasons to doubt will draw tourists?

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

Yup, Agree with your first line. Surveys are so easy to intentionally bias through slight changes in wording or locations surveys are conducted. That the survey says the average summer visitor is 53 should shows how poorly it was conducted. With such a small pool surveyed and questionable locations and times conducted, this survey should be considered worthless and just another waste of money. Luckily we have trail counter data and local bike shop data that contradict the conclusions some would like to draw from this survey. In terms of re-justifying the expenditure on trails, give us a break. That is just a total waste of time that distracts from the real work that needs to be done in order to get the results that council and the lodging community would like to see. These projects were well vetted and voted on by the community and passed in a landslide. Any changes of how the funds are spent would require going back to a public vote. Continued stalling will result in our community forever playing catch-up to actual "Bike Towns" and never quite getting there, then the skeptics will be proven right as riders will go elsewhere where trails and outdoor recreation are embraced instead of fought.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Aryeh,

The check that should occur during a multi-year trail building project is to look at mt biking tourism data to make sure that market is still strong.

There is no need to redo the project design as there is no reason to believe the plan should be changed as long as mtn biking tourism is still strong.

Seems to me that if the local mtn biking community cannot make the case that mtn biking tourism is still a strong market then they should expect city council to redirect money from building challenging trails to Core Trail improvements/amenities as that is clearly a heavily used trail. That wouldn't require a public vote as it is still for trails.

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Ben Tiffany 4 months, 1 week ago

Scott, Unless and until the new trails are built,or at least some of them,there is probably no accurate way to determine what the public desires. We are at the beginning of the trail building project,which was started when there was some pretty strong evidence that such trail were wanted. It is far too early to start questioning whether this is still true. Do you really think that tourists come to Steamboat because there is a strong interest in the Core Trail? I agree that the Core Trail is a good thing,and expanding it is desirable. Funds should be found to do this,but not at the expense of the trail building project that has been planned.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Ben,

The mtn bike trails were promoted as good for summer tourism because towns with good trails were seeing lots of mtn bike riders as tourists. It should be relatively easy to double check that mtn bike tourism is still strong in those towns and that their longer more challenging trails are still seeing good usage.

If those supporting the bike trails are not prepared to verify that mtn bike tourism is still strong elsewhere and thus the original plan is still a good plan then expect to see others go after the trail building money.

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Ben Tiffany 4 months, 1 week ago

Scott, Do you think this survey really provides any useful information? I would think those that come to town to ride challenging mountain bike trails would not be inclined to take surveys about the experience. They would be out riding.It's simply too early to determine whether such trails will have strong support;when the trails were approved,there seemed to be that support. This issue should be addressed again next year when there is more information to go on.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Ben,

I have said the survey is not good data.

But supporters of challenging trails should realize that others are eyeing the money allocated to build those trails. It is a very weak defense to say that the issue should be addressed next year. It should be relatively easy for supporters of challenging trails to talk their their friends in Moab and other mtn biking towns to find out if those towns are seeing an increase (or a 20% decrease) in mtn biking tourism and whether riders are still using their challenging trails.

If trails supporters cannot show that mtn biking tourism on challenging trails is still strong in other mtn biking towns then they should expect their funding to be targeted to be redirected to less challenging, general purpose trails.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

Even if mountain biking activity was down nation wide for a year or two, that does not mean we should take the near-sighted view that it is a trend that will continue. Most things ebb and flow, like the stock market. Anyone who has seen graph chart understands this. This is a long term investment that should NOT be treated like a publicly traded company that seeks quarterly profits over long term results. What if the survey showed that skateboarding was up this year? Would we pull funds from trails for more skate park? Then next summers survey shows skateboarding down but pickle-ball up? Quick, halt building the skate park and make more pickle-ball courts. Then next summers survey shows.... And nothing gets built as nearsightedness prevents long term vision and goals. Mountain biking has proven itself to be an economic driver for many mountain towns. All over Europe lower elevation ski areas, that no longer receive enough snow for winter operations, have been converting to mountain bike parks. I doubt that climate change or mountain biking are just trends. To use one or two years statistics to make funding decisions completely undermines the point of long term goals and projects. Scott, please stop promoting these silly ideas that provide no valuable info for the long term vision and projects at hand. In five years you might have a valuable argument but almost none of the "motivating" trails have even been built yet so this entire argument is premature.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months, 1 week ago

A reminder to everyone: this is a "trails" project, not a mountain bike project. There are only a couple trails (of 46 projects proposed) that are specifically for mountain biking, all the rest are multi-use. Trails benefit all trail users: hikers, bikers, runners, equestrians, hunters, birders, dog walkers, etc.. So is trail use down? That is a less irrelevant question. Better start surveying at trail-heads.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

I have no idea whether mtn biking is down at other bike towns. That is research that should be done by supporters of building trails.

It is not a "silly idea" during a multi-year project to verify that the initial analysis that there is substantial demand are still true. That is actually commonsense proper management.

In contrast, it is a "silly idea" to argue that since we started down this path that it cannot be questioned until it is completed.

I intended to be helpful when suggesting that supporters should get info from other mtn biking towns. That would be an effective way to refute SB's silly survey. It would seem that trails supporters are accepting that other mtn biking towns have seen declines in mtn bike tourism and they are switching their argument to that the trails will have lots of other users. If trail supporters know that mtn bide tourism is down elsewhere then the SB survey ceases to be silly but is confirmed.

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Eric Meyer 4 months, 1 week ago

From the trail use data I have seen, it is not down. This years trail use data is not all in yet. The use data we have volunteered our time collecting does not answer the question on local vs visitor. Mountain bikes and their economic impact are well studied so that was discussed often in the pitch to spend money on this project. It is going to take more than the current volunteers to answer the questions that need to be answered. This project does need oversight and to be questioned. Based on the comments from some Council members and the new City manager, all involved with this project need to better educate them because their comments are "silly" when you look at the numbers.

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Aryeh Copa 4 months ago

Scott, Volunteers cannot be expected to completely give up our lives to verify what was already approved by the voters. We are tapped out and continually volunteering to address problems and obstruction going on behind the scene and in public, like this article. The constant damage control we have to do takes more of our time than you can imagine and adding expectations on us to do more to prove what we already know, to those that will never believe it anyway, seems pointless. We are likely putting more free (volunteer) work into this project then many being paid to do so. If you or someone else wants additional or more recent data to justify a multi year plan that has just begun, then they should be willing to pay for it somehow. All of this required damage control wastes our time and pulls our efforts away from what we should be doing, building trails. Seems to be a lot of stalling techniques designed to ensure the trails project fails, as it will if we build at a snails pace because we are stuck justifying what has already been approved.

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Mike Kent 4 months, 1 week ago

Headline in todays Denver Post:

"Snowmass, Copper Mountain want alpine coasters, new mountain bike trails to lure summer tourists."

I assume they did some research...

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 1 week ago

Eric, Mike,

Great. Use that to argue to continue the existing plan of building trails. That is far better than the "we may be lost, but we shouldn't change direction" style of argument that was initially given.

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