Turning over the dirt

Dirt
To some people, it is one of our most precious natural resources.
By some, I mean 50 million Americans, and growing, according to a study by Shimano and the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). There are more mountain bikers than golfers in this country.

 

 

Between 2006 and 2008, the number of mountain bikers in the United States grew by two million people, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
Dirt can be more valuable than precious metals. It’s all in what you do with it.
The turnout for this year’s local Mountain States Cup event, the Wildflower Rush, has been one of the best ever. Crested Butte Mountain Resort officials are stoked.
They should be.
The resort made a big commitment to step up the mountain biking program this year. They spent a lot of time and money turning over the dirt.
The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce is also putting some extra effort into making the annual Fat Tire Bike Week a success.
A new advocacy group called Gunnison Trails is helping promote the development of new trail networks and the conservation of existing ones.
Old advocacy groups like the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association (CBMBA) are also working on new trails, and helping keep existing ones alive.
There are new mountain biking clubs at both ends of the valley emerging on the regional race scene. Western State College also has a new mountain biking team.
And all eyes are focused on the development of the Gunnison Travel Management Plan, which could map the prosperous future—or perhaps the slow demise—of mountain biking in this valley.

Lift-assisted, gravity-fed
There’s one ski area expansion proposal in the Gunnison Valley that no one seems to object to—the summer trail system at CBMR.
In 2008 CBMR received preliminary approval to build more than 20 miles of new trails on the mountain. The proposed trails include new downhill courses and man-made stunts, cross-country journeys that span the entire mountain, and new beginner tracks to help attract people to the sport.
“In a lot of ways, it’s been building up for a couple of years,” says CBMR’s Mountain Sports team assistant director Christian Robertson.
Robertson was formerly a mountain biking coach at the Crested Butte Academy, and many of his students raced in the Wildflower Rush and other events in the Mountain Sports Cup.
Robertson himself has raced in the Mountain State Cup for four years. “I was getting frustrated because people would say they’d do every event except Crested Butte. We didn’t have a gated course and the downhill course had four uphills in it. It was in need of being updated,” he says.
Although Robertson and other bike park enthusiasts have pushed the ski area in recent years to develop a better summer trail system, there wasn’t much in-house energy or commitment. But last year the Crested Butte Academy closed down, and the resort hired many of the coaches and started its own mountain sports training program. With that came a commitment to start improving the resort’s trail network.
CBMR chief operating officer Ken Stone says, “We are committed to expanding our mountain bike program and providing a world-class venue. I’m excited about what our Mountain Sports program has been able to accomplish.”
“It’s something that was long overdue,” says Mountain Sports team director Andrew Cesati.
Cesati says many people have come to Crested Butte expecting great mountain biking, both out in the countryside and on the ski hill. While the abundant single track in the Crested Butte area provides a huge draw, Cesati says at the ski area, “The experience wasn’t in line with expectations.”
Cesati says the resort was lacking in both the number and the quality of trails. “A lot of the trails have been here, but they were never properly signed—there were some maintenance issues,” he says.
Cesati says CBMR is trying to make a true “bike park” at the resort, following in the success of ski areas like Keystone, Mammoth, and Whistler.
Thanks to the updated trail system this year (see map on page 12) and some additional work by event organizer Bigfoot Productions, the Wildflower Rush saw a large turnout and a lot of smiling faces.
“It was a big success,” Robertson says. Stone says he also heard from competitors and event promoters that this year’s Wildflower Rush it was one of the best the resort has ever held.
Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association president John Chorlton is also excited about the success of the event. He says, “I’ve been here for 13 years. I’ve worked all 13 up on the mountain and this was definitely the most energetic, fun, happening thing I’ve seen since probably the X-Games.”

Fat Tires,
Skinny tires

A big-name musical act and a new cross-country race, coupled with old-time favorites and some clever promotions could help put the air back into Fat Tire Bike Week this year.
Chamber of Commerce events manager Scott Still says the turnout for the festival hasn’t been very high in the past few years. “I believe in the heyday of this thing it was huge—a couple of thousand people coming out just to race,” Still says.
In order to pump up the event this year, Still says the first thing he wanted to do was get a large music act. No matter what kind of festival it is, great music is a critical part of the experience, he says. (By press time, The Soul of John Black has already laid its groove onto the streets of Crested Butte. It was a totally free show.)
Then Still decided to help organize a new race on the famous single track surrounding Crested Butte, the Fat Tire 40.
The Chamber of Commerce sent 5,000 free day passes to Fat Tire Bike Week to cycling shops all across Colorado, Utah and Arizona. The passes sent to bike shops also included lodging discounts and a free lift ticket at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
The chamber is inviting industry celebrities like Tom Ritchey, Doug Bradbury and Kent Erickson to participate in group rides and do some celebrity bartending around town. There’s a new sponsor and new events planned for the bike rodeo.
The week will also feature classic favorites like the Chainless Race and the Adaptive Sports Center’s Bridges of the Butte townie tour.
And while they may not ride much on dirt, there is also the energy of the Bike Tour of Colorado rolling into town this week, and Ride the Rockies in Gunnison last week (RTR came to Crested Butte last year).
There hasn’t been an in depth study of the economic effect of mountain biking in the community, but according to IMBA, mountain biking injected $26 billion into the national economy in 2005.
That’s a lot of money spent playing in the dirt.
New dirt
Bikers are passionate about dirt. They fight to protect it, and spend long days getting attacked by mosquitoes and flies to build new stretches of dirt and keep existing stretches of dirt in good shape.
Yea, dirt.
Gunnison Trails has some ambitious proposals on the horizon, such as a 40-mile single track trail from Crested Butte to Gunnison, and two new networks of trails within walking distance of the city of Gunnison.
The organization was started in 2006 by six-time Leadville 100 champ Dave Wiens.
“That summer, between a lot of rains and whatnot, the trails at Hartman Rocks were falling to pieces,” Wiens says of the popular trail network a few miles south of the city. “Gunnison was lacking a trail advocacy group. There’s lots of willingness to work, but the leadership time is hard.”
Right around that time, the Gunnison Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management began working on the Gunnison Travel Management Plan. The objective of the travel plan is to cut down on the number of proliferated routes in national forests and on public lands and create a more manageable road and trail system. Depending on further analysis and a decision by the secretary of the interior, the travel plan could lead to the closure of many miles of popular single track trails. On the other hand, it could also lead to the development of more than a hundred miles of new trail systems.
So Wiens formed Gunnison Trails to help organize workdays at Hartman Rocks, promote the conservation of existing trail systems in the area, and to propose the development of new trails.
There is no membership system in Gunnison Trails like there is in CBMBA, but Weins says he keeps an e-mail list of about 500 people. “The response has been fantastic. It’s not too formal. We don’t say give us $20 to join, here are your socks. But there’s a ton of interest and awareness,” he says.
Chorlton says CBMBA has several new trail segments in the works this summer, including a new trail adjacent to the Lower Loop and a large extension of the Wagon Trail on Kebler Pass.
Membership in CBMBA is as high as ever, and the organization is getting huge turnouts for trail workdays. Eighty-six people showed up to help build the new West Side trail on Crested Butte Mountain on National Trails Day this spring. “It’s fun. People dig it,” Chorlton says.
Robertson says the resort is leasing a mini-excavator between June and July and will continue building new trails all summer. Some trails on the 2009 summer trail map, like the new Mineral Point trail and even a segment of the new west side trail, have yet to be completed.
The new downhill course, Avery, features natural rock gardens, big jumps, and fast berm turns—features that Robertson says “fit in more with the modern race track… It’s my favorite track we have up here. It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not the end-all at this point.”
Robertson says he believes CBMR’s bike park could eventually rival those of competitors like Keystone or Mammoth. “We could outdo those places if we really tapped into the potential… What we have that a lot of those other places don’t is the other riding in the valley,” Robertson says, referring to the expansive trail network in National Forest lands surrounding Crested Butte.
Cesati says he’d like to add some gravity events to CBMR’s annual Pinnacle Race series, including another downhill competition and four-cross race. “Stuff like that helps promote the sport, promote the bike park, and it brings in people,” Cesati says.
“There’s just so many people in the valley who are passionate about riding bikes, no matter what kind of athlete they are or what kind of bike they ride,” Robertson says
Wiens agrees. “There are a lot of people that live in this valley who would reconsider living here if there weren’t trails. Trails are a central part of their lives,” he says.
At the same time, Wiens says, “There’s a lot of new riders. People are starting to realize there are some great trails around Gunnison and Crested Butte. They’re not hard. It’s not a death-defying extreme sport.” Weins says
“It’s fun.” 

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