Snowmass growing as a mountain biking destination
On a shaded section of the Verde trail just below Elk Camp, dozens of people covered head to toe in protective gear were lined up behind a start line with mountain bikes close to their sides.
One by one, the riders were given the go ahead to mount and descend for the last Tuesday Snowmass Bike Park race series of the summer Aug. 13.
Tyler Lindsay, an events and marketing manager with Aspen Skiing Co., was signaling the starts, giving most riders a fist bump and words of encouragement as they pedaled off.
Lindsay has been leading the Snowmass Bike Park race series since it started last year, and grew up mountain biking in the Roaring Fork Valley — a sport he and other locals feel has transformed and grown immensely, especially in Snowmass, in recent years.
“I really think we’re in the midst of a mountain biking revolution,” said Lindsay, a Carbondale native. “I grew up in the valley, and it took 20 years for there to be a new trail. Now there are five or six new trails created each year.”
In the Snowmass resort area alone, Lindsay said there will be at least four new mountain biking trails designated by the end of the summer, including two new bike park routes riders got a taste for during the race Aug. 13.
Lindsay said each week during this year’s six-race summer series, 70 to 80 riders of all ages came out to compete in the Snowmass Bike Park from up and downvalley, which he feels highlights how diverse the area’s mountain biking community is — and encourages that community to grow.
“A lot of people wanted a fun, local opportunity to compete,” Lindsay said of the Snowmass Bike Park race series. “It’s a really valuable way to build our community and show people that the community exists.”
Something for everyone
Although the Tuesday night race series has quickly grown to become a summer mountain biking staple in Snowmass, it’s not all the mountain has to offer.
Lindsay said part of what makes the local mountain biking community so diverse is the variety of trails in the Snowmass area.
“There’s such a diverse bike culture here, you can ride above the tree line on more rocky trails, or go down onto high desert trails where there are no rocks period,” Lindsay said.
The downhill and cross country trail options increased immensely over the past two years, which is when Skico was able to roughly double its trail mileage in the Snowmass resort area, according to Peter Santini, director of business services.
Currently, there are more than 19 miles of trails available to mountain bikers in the Snowmass Bike Park alone, and even more trails, new and old, in or near the Snowmass resort area.
Santini said since he began focusing his efforts on developing the summer programming Skico’s Aspen-Snowmass mountains have to offer over five years ago, he’s spent a lot of time working to expand the mountain biking trail system, especially the downhill routes.
“It was something the valley really didn’t have,” Santini said of the lift-accessible mountain bike trails Skico has developed. “Our valley had trails that existed, but the topography was challenging and people had to go uphill to reach them, so there was a big push to make trails more accessible.”
The combination of lift-serviced cross country trails stretching east to west and downhill descents ensures there’s something for everyone in Snowmass — and is benefiting more than just the people jumping on bikes.
At Gene Taylor’s Sports, one of Snowmass’ first bike shops, some of the longtime employees reminisced on the days over 30 years ago when people were taking Schwin bikes with no suspensions on the Government Trail.
“The trend is you don’t have to be a diehard anymore to be a mountain biker,” said Julie Schopper-Mele, a longtime employee with Gene Taylor’s. “It used to just be hard-core athletes, but now moms and grandmas can go up and down the hill, too.”
In recent years, Schopper-Mele said there’s been a huge increase in summer business at the shop with more bike rentals, sales of bike clothing and accessories, and bike maintenance. She sees this increase as a direct result of the wider variety of trails for all skill levels now available.
“What’s the saying? If you build it, they will come,” Schopper-Mele said. “It’s a family event now and cool to see the kids riding with their parents who grew up biking, too.”
One of those kids is 5-year-old Will Halsey. As racers headed down the mountain Aug. 13 during the Tuesday downhill race series, Halsey and his parents, longtime mountain bikers Lindsay and Chris, rode as a family on the Verde trail.
Halsey had been riding throughout the Snowmass Bike Park since 7 a.m. that day, he said, first as part of summer camp, then just for fun with his parents. He said the bike park was his favorite place to ride.
“It’s my favorite place because it has my favorite bike trail,” Halsey said, which he went on to identify as the Verde trail. His parents said he likes it for all of its berms and bridges.
“We’re definitely a biking family,” Chris said, just before he, Lindsay and Will continued down the mountain on their evening ride.
But although mountain biking in Snowmass has come a long way in regards to accessibility, people like Santini and Lindsay feel it still has a long way to go.
Santini hopes to continue expanding Snowmass’ trail system and diversity of riders, Lindsay hopes to attract more awesome racers to the summer Snowmass Bike Park race series and both men expressed visions of working with groups like the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and the town of Snowmass Village to make the area more of an all-encompassing mountain biking destination than it already is.
Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said the town has been working to promote all of the mountain bike trails and clinic opportunities in Snowmass, but that the whole community’s commitment to maintaining and promoting trails has been one of the main contributors to the sport’s local success.
Like Santini and Lindsay, Abello feels there’s potential for Snowmass Village to offer more for local and visiting mountain bikers, and acknowledged her commitment to helping turn that potential into reality.
“We want to get to a place where our mountain biking is as renowned and world class as our winter sports,” Abello said.
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