Summer visitor survey showing decline in biking numbers raises eyebrows at Steamboat Springs City Council meeting
December 16, 2016
Steamboat Springs — 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."
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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.