Bans at resorts don’t stop local downhillers
KEYSTONE – Downhill mountain biking has established a following throughout Colorado, despite some ski area’s attempts to blacklist the activity. Ski areas such as Steamboat Springs and Beaver Creek have banned the sport.
Keystone, however, is one of a few Colorado ski areas trying to establish an outlet for downhillers. The mountain is virtually the only place in Summit County suitable to conduct any semblance of a downhill race.
Saturday, the Mountain Sports Outlet race series continues with the Eliminator Downhill.
The race, which is sanctioned by the National Off Road Bicycling Association (NORBA), and the Snake River Challenge Mountain States Cup downhill race at Keystone Sept. 1, are the only local downhill events this season.
Both races are run on the same course, which begins at the top of Keystone Mountain and takes racers down Cowboy Up, TNT, Logger’s Way, Wild Thing and River Run trails – a combination that would have most cross country mountain bikers off their bikes in an instant, but which, under true downhill standards, is frankly a little boring.
“A downhill course needs to be (sloped) between 30 and 40 degrees and involve very little pedaling,” said semi-pro downhiller Kirk Adcock of Breckenridge. “You definitely need some big rocks, jumps – doubles and triples – rock gardens that are long … courses that require you to use your downhill skills and equipment.”
For those unfamiliar with downhill biking, the bikes resemble motorized dirt bikes but without the motor, thick burly tires, huge suspension forks, and riders clad in fully-padded body armor and full-face helmets.
“These bikes have eight inches of travel (shock absorption),” Adcock pointed out. “The technology has far surpassed the trails available. British Columbia trails are an example of what we need to have. They have 30 downhill trails rated from green to yellow, a motocross jumping section … it’s all variations.”
Last week, Keystone sent its bike crew supervisor, Greg Rood, to inspect the mountain bike options at Whistler, B.C., which offers downhill-only bike trails.
“They have some pretty gnarly trails there,” Rood said. “I don’t think we’d want to be like Whistler with downhill-only. We’d like to do cross country and downhill and try to separate them on the mountain. Downhilling is not going to go away. (Downhillers) are getting shut down everywhere else because of certain issues. If you run a lift though, there’s going to be downhilling. What we need is a new trail, so it’s more exciting for them.”
A new expert trail suitable for downhillers has been marked at Keystone for about five years, but in order to build it, the bike crew has to leap through several bureaucratic loopholes, some of which involve the U.S. Forest Service. One section of the marked trail, for instance, goes through the lynx habitat of Jones Gulch and must be rerouted before it is approved.
The problem is, when designated trails aren’t available, downhillers take trail-building into their own hands. The downhill community has designed their own trails in Breckenridge and throughout Summit County. Downhillers say contraband trails are the primary reason areas such as Steamboat and Beaver Creek banned the sport.
“At Vail, there’s a pretty vast system of pirate trails and great riding, but the Forest Service found a bunch of them and were mad so they shut them all down,” said downhiller Pawlee Reardon of Summit Cove. “It’s a cause-and-effect thing. There’s no good trails to ride, so we built our own. But we build our own, and can get put in jail.
“This year, we’ve been trying to work with the Keystone guys and with the Forest Service, but it’s just one defeat after another,” Reardon continued. “(Ski areas) have such a huge opportunity sitting in their laps. They could triple their summer business if they had a few new trails for mountain bikers.”
Rood said his trail crew were adding some berms and some downhill features onto the course for Saturday’s race. Although race organizers acknowledge the need for more downhill options in Summit County, they feel the race is an opportunity for the local and statewide downhill community.
“There’s just not enough downhill races for the downhill crowd,” said Don Maneth, MSO race series organizer. “There’s very few in the state. It’s not like cross country, where you can take your pick of a couple different races every weekend. We wanted to be well-rounded. A lot of other resorts are shying away from downhillers. I know Keystone is in the process of working with the Forest Service to have some new terrain for this race and for the Mountain States Cup.”
n The race begins at 11 a.m. Saturday with junior race categories. Pre-registration is $35 through Friday at Mountain Sports Outlet or from 8-10 a.m Saturday at River Run. Racers who are not NORBA members can purchase a day license for $5.
n Registration includes a lift ticket, barbecue, T-shirt to the first 150 registered, beer and raffle prizes. For more information, visit http://www.mountainsportsoutlet.com.
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