Snowmass Village will spend $10,000 to enhance the Deadline Trail for mountain bikers, with such dirt features as berms, table tops and step-downs.
The Snowmass Marketing, Special Events and Group Sales Board voted June 5 to fund the enhancements at the trail now under construction in Sky Mountain Park. Tourism officials hope the new features will attract more visitors to explore the park, a collection of open space parcels owned by Snowmass Village, Aspen and Pitkin County.
The board also approved a $2,855 expenditure for counters to track the number of users on Snowmass Village trails this summer.
Interim Snowmass Tourism Director Fred Brodsky opened the discussion at the board’s regular meeting by saying that Snowmass is “not really investing in that (mountain biking) product.” He mentioned other resorts, such as Whistler, Vail and Keystone, that are investing significant funds in mountain biking as a summer tourist activity.
“I think Whistler is all about mountain biking, and I don’t think that’s a place where we should go,” Brodsky said.
However, the infrastructure is already in place for the sport, and he said that the town can see the most return on investment now by putting funds toward that amenity.
Up until 10 years ago, Snowmass was considered a quality place to ride, said Ted O’Brien, who was hired last year to be the town’s parks and trails manager.
“We still have a good product; we’re just a little outdated,” O’Brien said.
The Parks, Recreation & Trails Department would like Snowmass to qualify for a gold-medal status from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Currently, Park City, Utah, is the only resort in the United States with that status, O’Brien said.
“Intuitively, the 20-something mountain biker isn’t a big spender,” board member Scott Calliham said. “But that 20-something mountain biker is graduating into their 30s, and now they’re getting their families into the sport.”
Part of the challenge, then, is to build trails for all ages and abilities, he said.
However, mountain biking, with all of the necessary equipment involved, is not a cheap sport, and cyclists must have some amount of discretionary income in order to participate, said board member Timothy Ryan MacMahon.
A team of individuals from Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Aspen Skiing Co. and a variety of other organizations are working together on an Upper Roaring Fork Trails Plan that will guide future trail building in the area. Snowmass Village’s efforts are part of that overall plan, O’Brien said.
This year, Brodsky requested to move forward with the trail counters and the Deadline Trail enhancements. In the coming years, however, he said he would like the department to contribute to the construction of trails on the west side of the ski area that can be accessed by riding up Fanny Hill.
Brodsky suggested discussing the future expenditures during the board’s 2015 budget discussion, which will start during a retreat next month.
“I think we take the calculated gamble on the Deadline Trail and the trail counters (now),” he said.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the funding.
At one point, Chairman John Borthwick questioned why the discussion was only on mountain biking.
“There’s no argument that mountain biking is an important economic opportunity for us,” Borthwick said. “(But) there are users of these trails that are part of our product offering that are not going to be on a bike.”
Borthwick gave the example of the Rim Trail as one that used to be popular for hikers but is now crowded with cyclists, many of whom ride too fast.
“We’re starting to have the same problem … as we do with skiing and straightlining,” he said.
He also said he thought Pitkin County’s stance of banning dogs from Sky Mountain Park, which officials say is to protect wildlife, was “pathetic.”
The ban in the park, as well as a mandatory leash law on the south portion of the Rim Trail, caused controversy two years ago when many dog owners expressed discontent that their tax dollars went to purchase a land parcel they couldn’t take their animals on. The parcel at the center of Sky Mountain Park, once owned by the Droste family, was purchased by the three governments with a $2 million contribution from Snowmass Village property taxes.
Recreation Director Andy Worline responded that his department is considering creating more segregation of user groups on trails as well as adding signs to let the public know if there are bikes or horses or dogs allowed on a given trail.
Resident John Wilkinson commented that many trails in the area were too difficult to bike and were therefore, to him, “hiking friendly.”
“Dogs in Sky Mountain Park will never be allowed because of the report that was prepared by the wildlife consultant,” he said, referring to a report that outlined the impact of dogs on certain species in the area.
“Frankly, I think it was pumped up,” Borthwick said. “We have a difference of opinion on that.”