Our View: Summer trails master plan underscores bigger picture
April 14, 2010
The potential for bicycle tourism to develop into a significant driver of Steamboat Springs' summer economy took another step forward last week during a Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. open house meeting to review the ski area's summer trails master plan.
It's exciting to see Ski Corp.'s apparent desire to invest time and money into an improved mountain biking trail system on Mount Werner, but it bears reminding that the community's desire to become a cycling hot spot won't happen overnight. Instead, it will take years of careful planning and execution, as well as significant collaboration among numerous agencies, including the city, Routt County, Ski Corp., the U.S. Forest Service and others. And, of course, it will take a sizable financial investment.
There's no question that Ski Corp., through its partnership with the Forest Service, is key to any efforts to grow mountain biking in Steamboat Springs. That's one reason why Thursday's open house at The Steamboat Grand was significant. Jim Schneider, Ski Corp.'s vice president of skier services, presented the updated trails master plan for Mount Werner to a room full of cycling enthusiasts. The long-term plan includes converting some lower-mountain trails to downhill-only tracks, and dedicating the middle section of the mountain to freeride trails. Freeride trails incorporate features that riders use for tricks. Some of those features are natural, such as rocks and tree stumps, while others are manmade, such as wood-plank bridges and ramps. New, gentler trails for hikers and bikers to climb to Thunderhead would bracket the far sides of the mountain.
The first steps would be improving the Zig Zag trail, constructing multiuse trails low on the mountain and building a novice freeride trail from Thunderhead to the ski area base.
Although cost figures weren't provided, and it's not certain who would pay for what, it's clear the investment from Ski Corp. would be significant. And all the local volunteer labor in the world won't drive down the cost of the ski area's liability insurance, ongoing maintenance of the trail network and design and consultation costs.
Ski Corp. wouldn't be interested in it if there weren't the very real promise of returns on its investment. But Ski Corp. officials also caution that the economic impact of destination cyclists at resorts such as Whistler/Blackcomb and Winter Park often are exaggerated, and sometimes grossly so.
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"We're different markets, and some of the figures that have been provided haven't been from reliable sources of data," said Andy Wirth, Ski Corp.'s senior vice president of sales and marketing.
So although Wirth warned against allowing the growing local enthusiasm for cycling infrastructure and event expansion to get in the way of smart, thoughtful, careful planning and execution, he affirmed Ski Corp.'s interest in the movement.
"We wouldn't be this far if we didn't think it was very important," Wirth said. "We're committed to this, and we're in the process."
Public input and multiple entity collaboration will remain keys to the success of local cycling initiatives. Events such as the Steamboat Springs Stage Race, Ride4yellow and Tour de Steamboat will continue to shine a biking spotlight on Northwest Colorado. And at the end of the day, the commitment from Ski Corp. to help lead the charge will be as important as any other step the community can take. And that's why Thursday was a good day for those, like us, who support the local cycling initiatives.