Summit County bike stores brace for extended recpath closure in Tenmile Canyon

After a winter of wicked avalanche activity, officials are anticipating an extended closure of two sections of the Summit County Recpath through Tenmile Canyon. That’s bad news for tourism-dependent businesses like bike shops.

County government maintains more than 38 miles of the recpath system while the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Silverthorne and Keystone Resort manage another 17 miles of the paved pathways.

With most of the recpath plowed and swept, the county officially opened the system for the 2019 summer season last week. However, two key sections in Tenmile Canyon remain off-limits without an estimated time for their reopening. The sections are between Frisco and Copper Mountain and between Copper and the Vail Pass.

Permitted by the U.S. Forest Service, a handful of local bike stores run shuttles up to Vail Pass, coupled with regular bike rentals, throughout the warmer months. Atop the pass, bicyclists find a mostly downhill coast that stretches more than 10 miles as the recpath snakes its way from Vail Pass, through the canyon, by Copper Mountain and back to Frisco.

With the benefit of gravity, bike rides through the canyon has been a popular ticket for years now, but it’s one that cannot be punched again until the entire recpath system has reopened for the season.

When exactly that might happen remains anyone’s guess, as county officials are working with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to evaluate spring snowpack and determine when the area is safe to start clearing the recpath of tons upon tons of avalanche debris.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the snowpack stabilize in these areas at all,” said Jason Lederer, senior resource specialist for county’s Open Space & Trails department.

It’s not uncommon to see snowfall in May, and he’s not sure when it will be it’s safe again for people to go into these places in the canyon.

When crews can get in there, they’ll have their work cut out for them because, following March’s heavy snowfall, the county saw a historic avalanche cycle with more than 20 slides hitting parts of the path inside the canyon.

“It’s definitely a priority at the county level to figure out a solution, and we are working on that,” said Lederer, who hopes to have more information about when the entire recpath might reopen in the coming weeks.

At the local bike stores, people seem to know they’re in a holding pattern. Based in Breckenridge, a manager at Alpine Sports said that bike rentals make up a significant portion of the store’s business over the summer, as Alpine Sports has hundreds of bikes in its rental fleet.

“We are renting bikes right now,” the manager said before declining to give the Summit Daily News his first name. “The (Breckenridge-to-Frisco) ride is going to be open, but we’re in a waiting pattern with Vail Pass. Some years are better than other years, and there’s not much we can do about that. … We will just have to play the waiting game to see how it turns out.”

While Alpine Sports is already renting out bikes for the season, the business won’t be running its twice-daily shuttles up to Vail Pass — which typically accommodate about 50 bicyclists per day, the manager said — until the pass has reopened.

But it’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened, the manager continued, as he still remembers 18-foot piles of snow closing portions of the recpath well into June about eight or nine years ago.

He said that Alpine Sports’ response to the closure will be like it has been in the past: to simply do the best they can at the store with what’s open, though they do hope for a quick turnaround as the county works to reopen the whole recpath.

Based in Frisco, Rebel Sports is another local business that does bike rentals and offers shuttles up to the pass. A prolonged closure would put the brakes on Rebel Sports’ shuttles too, but exactly how such a closure might affect the business remains in question.

“I don’t know yet,” said David Keller, a bike mechanic at the shop. “Nobody really knows yet.”

Keller said there aren’t really any secondary options to offset a loss in business, and only time will tell how it all plays out for the store.

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