Roaring Fork Valley receives gold-level recognition for mountain biking

Snowmass Village local Jay Morin hits a jump at the Snowmass bike park on Sept. 22, 2018.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

After years of work and collaboration, the Roaring Fork Valley was named Wednesday as an International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Gold-Level Ride Center, one of only seven locations in the world and the first in Colorado.

The designation recognizes the more than 300 miles of single track and dozens of miles of additional mountain biking-friendly paths from Aspen to Glenwood Springs as one high-quality, all-encompassing destination location, and stems from yearslong partnerships among area land managers, chamber associations, town officials, local volunteers and mountain biking enthusiasts.

“We think this gold level gives kind of a shorthand for people in the Roaring Fork Valley to understand what we have in terms of summer resources and realize we’ve got this world-class amenity in the valley and at our four mountains,” said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA).

RFMBA is a chapter of IMBA, which is working to grow the quantity and quality of mountain bike trail communities across the United States. Communities can apply to be recognized as an IMBA Ride Center, a designation awarded to places that “value mountain biking and have a trail-forward approach that serves their community members alongside recreational tourism,” according to an IMBA fact sheet.

In fall 2014, the Roaring Fork Valley was dubbed a bronze-level ride center, and received a detailed report from IMBA specialists, who evaluate potential ride centers in person, on what criteria it met and where it was lacking. The criteria include offering a variety of trail types and their mileage, trail experience quality, destination best practices and local services.

According to Pritchard, this report and IMBA criteria served as a local guide for RFMBA and its valley-wide partners to help it grow and improve to a gold-level status.

“We realized, ‘OK, we’re missing some easier trails, we’re missing some challenging trails,’” Pritchard said. “We said, ‘Yes, we’re starting to have some really great modern bike-optimized trails and we have some incredible, excellent traditional trails, but we’re missing some mileage in those categories,’ so we would try to target those.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Pritchard walked through the IMBA Ride Center designation process with a group of more than 50 people gathered to hear more about the new valley recognition and mountain biking system.

From the backcountry Arbaney-Kittle trail to the paved Rio Grande Trail that serves as the “trunk” that connects everything together, the Mushroom Rock grind near Carbondale to the relatively new Grandstaff Trail in Glenwood Springs and the gravity trails in the Snowmass Bike Park, the valley has developed a range of high-quality mountain biking offerings for all riders out their back door, Pritchard explained.

And in July 2019 after a week of experiencing these valley mountain bike offerings, the IMBA specialists saw this high-quality range, too.

“For Aspen-Snowmass/Roaring Fork Ride Center to grow from bronze-level to gold-level is a remarkable achievement, and a testament to the community’s dedication to mountain biking,” IMBA executive director Dave Wiens said in a prepared statement.

At the Wednesday afternoon announcement in Snowmass, this community dedication was emphasized. Volunteer trail work, new trail designations and connections within each town and county, bike-friendly lodging, local businesses and events, and local support in general were all cited as contributing factors to the gold-level recognition.

“None of this could have happened without the collaboration with all of these communities,” said Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism. She then gave a shout-out to the land managers, Snowmass town officials, Aspen city officials, Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County officials, Colorado River District officials and Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs chamber association members in the audience.

For Pritchard, he hopes this multi-partner collaboration continues to help improve local mountain-biking opportunities, and hopes the IMBA Gold-Level Ride Center designation gives locals a newfound appreciation for the recreational opportunities the valley has to offer.

“The main goal is to keep investing in what we have here and fine-tuning it,” Pritchard said.

“At the end of the day we’re looking to see more people on the trails, which leads to healthier communities, so when the trails are more attractive that makes a big difference.”