Our View: Encouraging bike trail planning progress
January 24, 2010
It's a challenge to think about mountain biking during the height of winter, but the increasingly popular summer sport was on the minds of ski area executives this past week in Steamboat Springs. And it's a good thing. The race is on for ski areas, especially those in Colorado, to establish themselves as prime summer destinations for mountain biking enthusiasts.
We already know that effort is under way in Routt County, where 2009 proved to be a pivotal year for local cycling efforts. In addition to annual events such as the Town Challenge mountain bike race series, Bike to Work Week activities and the Tour de Steamboat, last year brought exciting new possibilities through the inaugural Steamboat Springs Stage Race, the creation of a Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club mountain bike program and the announcement of an effort between several local agencies to expand the network of trails here, including the potential of new freeriding trails. And then in December came the news that Steamboat Springs will host a LIVESTRONG mountain biking event and fundraiser this August.
As Steamboat and Routt County continue down the path of expanded cycling opportunities, we'd be wise to heed some of the advice given during a breakout session at last week's National Ski Areas Association winter conference and trade show at The Steamboat Grand.
Speaking during a session titled "Mountain Biking Risk Management Solutions," Chris Bernhardt, of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, told his audience that the key to attracting visitors is providing a unique biking experience. And that means offering more than access to chairlifts and a few downhill and cross-country trails.
Bernhardt suggested the creation of play parks and pump parks — areas of biking-specific terrain with professionally built features. High-quality bike terrain parks offer something many cyclists are willing to pay to access.
Bernhardt also urged ski areas to leverage the cross-country mountain biking trails on adjacent public lands to extend the reach of the ski area's facilities. That's particularly relevant in Steamboat, where excellent singletrack and doubletrack riding can be found in areas of the Routt National Forest stretching from Rabbit Ears Pass to Buff Pass.
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His message fits nicely with very tentative plans from local entities such as Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., the U.S. Forest Service and Routt County Riders bicycle club to collaborate on an extended network of trails. And none of this speaks to the spectacular singletrack riding available at Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain in the heart of downtown Steamboat.
Finally, Bernhardt suggested that ski areas resist the temptation to hire local mountain biking experts to develop their trails and parks. We think local biking experts should be part of the process, however. They know the Steamboat area's trails better than anyone and know what other bikers would like and wouldn't like. Professional consultants and designers are important to ensure the safety of the course, but our local enthusiasts also can provide valuable insight.
Steamboat Springs has a real opportunity to expand and improve on an already impressive trail system. Keeping the cycling momentum is key to the effort. We're certainly not the only mountain community taking steps to attract mountain bikers. The quality of the execution is what will separate us from the competition.