Downhill mountain biking still on top in Snowmass plan
Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan for expanded summer activities at Snowmass has bright and shiny things like an alpine coaster and zipline through the trees, but the resort’s bread and butter will remain mountain-biking trails.
Skico is seeking approval for 10 new mountain-biking trails that would add about 13 miles to its existing network on the Elk Camp and lower Alpine Springs areas. It also wants to add a skills park with 1.2 miles of trails in Elk Camp.
Kevin Jordan, Snowmass Bike School manager, said the new trails and other amenities will help make Snowmass a premiere summer-activity destination.
In written comments submitted to the U.S. Forest Service during review of the project, Jordan said the skills park and shorter trails are critical to draw people to the sport just as beginner trails are needed for skiers and snowboarders.
“Many people learned how to ride a bike when they were young. Their expectation is, ‘How hard can it be? It is just like riding a bike,’” Jordan wrote. “Then they get up to the top of the mountain and look for the ‘paved bike path’ down. There is no such thing.”
As proposed, families will be able to dabble in downhill mountain biking on a variety of trails for different skill levels. Currently, the shortest trail is Verde, which is 3.8 miles with a 2,000 vertical-foot descent.
“They are exhausted at the end of the trail,” Jordan wrote. “We need shorter trails so people can improve their skills.”
The U.S. Forest Service is viewing the plan favorably. It released a final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision last week that would approve Skico’s proposal. The approval is likely to be later this spring after a standard 45-day objection period.
Recreational uses of the national forests has “evolved beyond the traditional activities and solitude-seeking experiences such as hunting, fishing, camping or hiking,” the environmental impact statement noted.
Skico aims to construct its $8 million summer amenities package this summer and have it operational in summer 2018.
Elk Camp has been the hub for summer activities since 2009 and has four flow trails — routes that tend to be wider and free of technical terrain.
There are currently 45 miles of mountain-bike trails at Snowmass, including cross-country routes that traverse the ski area and cross through the Elk Camp section. The trails dedicated to downhill mountain biking are confined to Elk Camp and Alpine Springs.
The new trails would add three flow trails, two more technical singletrack routes and five hybrids, all at Elk Camp. The longest new trails would be a 4.8-mile hybrid. All other trails would be less than 2 miles long.
Jordan said the new trails would provide diversity for riders of all skills and not just benefit beginners.
Several people submitted written comments to the Forest Service in support of the trails and summer amenities. Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, said the existing network shows that there is demand and benefits from a well-designed, high-quality trail system.
“We expect visitation to increase as soon as a threshold amount of trail system mileage has been implemented,” Pritchard wrote.
Luisa Berne of Aspen also endorsed the new trails.
“The more miles, the better,” she wrote. “I have been to many bike parks in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and Idaho, and I know from experience that it will be greatly attractive to both locals and visitors.”