Steamboat Ski Area seeks trail input |

Steamboat Ski Area seeks trail input

Tonight’s meeting to discuss mountain biking areas, free-riding

Mike Lawrence

— Summer recreation enthusiasts soon could see changes in trail use and development on Mount Werner, fueled by a growing interest in the trick- and jump-laden bicycle sport known as free-riding.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is hosting a public meeting at 5 p.m. today at The Steam­boat Grand to gather public input on a proposed update to the summer trails component of its master plan for Steamboat Ski Area and Mount Werner. Crews could begin to implement the proposed changes this summer. The changes could include not only new trails, but also a change for some current trails to only downhill or free-riding use, riding in only one direction, and new features such as man-made obstacles and larger banks on curves.

"Right now, all of our trails are multiuse," said Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services for Ski Corp.

He said because free-riding primarily is a lift-served sport — the bikes are heavier to allow better suspension and handling, adding a challenge to uphill riding — some trails accessed from the gondola, roughly between Zig Zag and Valley View, could become downhill or free-ride-only zones. Schneider said hikers still would be able to access the top of Thunderhead and the backcountry beyond but potentially through a more roundabout route around the biking zones.

"The free-ride thing, from a safety perspective … if you're going downhill, you don't want to mix with uphill riding or hikers," Schneider said.

The master plan last was updated in 2004. The proposed changes represent a long-term vision for the future that would create specific zones on Mount Werner for specific uses, and potentially create a destination for more mountain biking and free-riding events as an economic engine for the region.

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"It certainly opens the door to events," Schneider said. "That's part of the plan, absolutely."

Schneider said Mount Wer­ner won't be "open for free-riding business this summer," but the master plan changes could get the wheels rolling. He said public input is needed, along with U.S. Forest Service approval and fi­­nan­cial support from Ski Corp.'s parent company, Intra­­west, for capital projects. Support from the community will be needed as well, he said, to help build and maintain trails and potentially provide additional funding.

"In studying the (internal) economic analysis, it's definitely a challenging business model, and it's going to take the entire community being involved in this to be successful," Schneider said.

Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond said the proposed changes for the roughly 50 miles of trails on Mount Werner are part of Ski Corp.'s efforts to provide a four-season destination.

"The resort, through its proposed conceptual plan, has identified key areas that address summer issues focusing on capacity, trail design, guest convenience and the overall summer experience," Diamond said in a news release. "Potentially, one of the most significant opportunities for increasing summer business is to enhance and expand the on-mountain summer trail system."

The ski area largely operates on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, under a special-use permit.

Robin Craigen, president of Routt County Riders, said the group began talking with Ski Corp. about such trail changes and developments last summer and is "very close to a formalized partnership" with the U.S. Forest Service. Craigen expressed enthusiasm for the proposed changes to the master plan and the long-term vision behind them.

"More than anything, we want to commend the U.S. Forest Service and Ski Corp. for their willingness to partner with us on these ideas," Craigen said. "I think long-term, we'll look back and be very happy that we started down this road."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail

If you go

What: Public meeting for input on summer trails master plan at Steamboat Ski Area

When: 5 p.m. today

Where: The Steamboat Grand

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