Freestyle downhill biking causing a stir at Steamboat’s Creekside Trail
July 25, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The overall message from the mess that has become of the Creekside Trail at Steamboat Ski Area is that everyone is frustrated and eager, both at the same time.
That goes for the downhill freeride mountain bikers who think they had a great venue ripped from under their wheels.
That goes for the concerned homeowners who live at the bottom of the trail and who enjoy hiking up it, as well as the higher ups at Steamboat Ski Area and the U.S. Forest Service, which oversaw the destruction of several unsanctioned freeride "improvements" made to the trail this spring.
"We had some rogue trail building going on there, which had not been approved by the Forest Service, so we just removed them," said Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services with Steamboat Ski Area. "There's a lot of energy behind the downhill and freeride thing and we're working as fast as we can to get new trails built, but they're not done yet."
'Super fun and super fast'
The disappointment of all involved parties involves the dismantling of several jumps that were built into the Creekside Trail, a 1.7-mile branch off the mountain's popular Zig Zag trail.
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Creekside isn't your normal mountain bike trail, even with the jumps removed. It's rated as advanced, and steep pitches, tight blind corners and two creek crossings are evidence of why. It feels almost tailor-made to push riders, with banked turns and plenty of places for the adventurous to get air.
The additions made a good trail better, some local downhillers say.
"Pretty much all the corners are blind corners. You're just going down it, and it's super flowy and super fun and super fast," said Doug Steadman, a longtime user of the Creekside Trail. "For people to be hiking up that is ludicrous. Zig Zag is scary enough."
The town's eager freeride mountain biking community sees the move as running contrary to what Steamboat Springs hopes to become: one of the country's premier cycling destinations.
"We're taking two steps forward, and now we're taking three steps back," Steadman said. "It's just a bummer this has been one of the only legal downhill trails in town. … There are plenty of other trails to hike up."
The view that the trail was downhill domain was fortified in recent years, even by the ski area. Signs were posted at the bottom proclaiming users couldn't hike up it. Then, this spring, a ski area trail crew furthered the assumption that the trail had gone one-way by building some of the features that later were dismantled.
Other features were built by renegade trail builders.
"There were gap jumps developed, and there had clearly been extensive rock and dirt work," said Janet Faller, of the Forest Service. "That wasn't authorized by the Forest Service. The downhill users kind of adopted it as their own and felt like they had free reign on that trail."
Thing is, it was never a one-way trail. It wasn't listed as such by the ski area and certainly wasn't considered one by the Forest Service, which would need to oversee any such change in designation.
"We can't say it's downhill without going through the master plan process. We can't change the use of our trails," Schneider said.
The improvements made to the trail were ripped out soon after this summer's cycling season started, and the trail again is multi-use and multi-directional in name and practice.
"A lot of people like to hike that trail all the time. It was always a multi-use trail and everyone needs to respect that," said Robin Craigen, who said he finds himself in an uncomfortable position on the Creekside issue.
On one hand, he's president of Routt County Riders, an organization that has led the charge in what has otherwise been a great summer for cycling activists.
On the other, he's a homeowner in the Burgess Creek neighborhood at the bottom of the trail and knows full well the dangers that can come with hiking up Creekside if there are bikers coming down not expecting to encounter anyone.
"I'm definitely in favor of directional mountain biking trails. We're pushing as hard as we can to get these guys what they want," he said. "But we need to do it in the right way and not by trying to take other trails.
"If someone got injured, that might put the whole biking community on the defensive, and that's not what we need."
The solution so far has been increased signage at both ends of the trail. Bright yellow warnings alert anyone entering from the top that they should expect to see uphill traffic. Similar signs are the bottom, warning users that fast cyclists may be rumbling down.
The eagerness of all involved parties relates to the closeness of truly palatable solutions.
This summer's brouhaha comes even as Canadian trail-building company Gravity Logic continues work on several planned trails that will be downhill only.
"We think we will have one of the best sets of trails in the country or the world," Schneider said. "The designs we've seen will rival many things we've seen elsewhere in the industry. We are working as fast as we can to get those trails built."
The company set up camp in town several weeks ago and scouted the areas designated as potential freeride zones in the ski area's revised summer trails master plan. Gravity Logic already has marked out several of those trails and run them through the first of several review processes.
Several hurdles remain as the trails must be studied to determine their potential impact on the environment, but if all goes well, construction could start later this season.
"I'm not that familiar with downhill trails, but the trail design is really good and these guys really know what they're doing," said Faller, who said if approved, the trail would be open for public comment. "It looks like it's going to be a lot of fun.
"We're moving in the right direction."
That's something everyone can agree on.
"Getting Gravity Logic in here and pushing forward is a great thing," Steadman said. "I'm 33 years old, I've been here for eight years, and I'm ecstatic that we might get great trails that I don't have to go two-plus hours to ride."