New Keystone Bike Park trail crew adds features to TNT, reroutes Girl Scout
The Keystone Bike Park is known for nasty terrain. But it hasn’t always been known for the pristine conditions: washboard run-ins, rutted tabletops, decaying berms.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. After one of the best winters in recent history, swaths of snow still dotted Keystone’s trails when bike haul started in mid-June. Most of the trails were clear and rideable by then — kudos to the bike patrol and mountain ops crew for clearing them off with hand shovels — but the lower portions of the mountain were still sloppy and soggy. Up top, big, thick patches of snow lingered until June.
That’s where the park’s brand-new, never-before-seen trail crew came into play. For the 2016 season, Keystone created a dedicated crew of four people to build, maintain, oversee and realign the park’s 56 marked trails.
“There is just so much trail out there to ride,” said Jeff Lehman, a ski patroller in winter who is now supervisor for the brand-new trail crew. “This year, with all the snow we had, there were huge piles up top still, but we were able to open mid-station (at the gondola) early in the season. That was a lifesaver for us.”
Not only did the resort’s ski infrastructure make life easier for Lehman — his crew could take their time clearing the final remaining runs — it also made life easier on bike park riders. The gondola stayed open for bike haul until Summit Express four-chair was ready, and now, both are in service, with the gondi taking foot traffic to the top while the four-chair is spinning solely for riders.
What’s it all mean? The park is finally coming into its own, from the brand-new trail crew and its work on several popular trails (Holy Diver, Cowboy Up, Girl Scouts) to the revamped Keysone Bike Academy program and marquee events like the Keystone Big Mountain Enduro. It hits every piece of the bike park puzzle: newcomers, veterans, even the pros who say Keystone is gnarlier than perfectly manicured parks at Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park or the Steamboat Bike Park.
“Our goal is to make it more approachable for families — for anyone — to ride,” said Mike Daily, who oversees the bike patrol and trail crew. “We want to create a better product for the families, with more progression.”
But will it be sanitized?
“While we’re still sticking to our hardcore side,” Lehmann added. “Keystone has always had that.”
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Bigger crew, better park
For more than 20 years, downhillers have had access to chairlifts in the summer at Keystone. The resort hasn’t always been home to a true bike park, with manicured runs and custom-built features like berms or jumps, but in the past five or six years, the resort has invested in infrastructure.
The only issue: There wasn’t a dedicated trail crew to pamper dozens of berms, drops and tabletops. In the past, members of the bike patrol — the same folks charged with responding to accidents and other mishaps — were in charge of rebuilding features. And, Daily and Lehmann agree, that was too much to ask of one crew with different work schedules.
“It was hard to get all this work done before because we’d be splitting the work,” Lehmann said. “You’d have one crew in there for half the week, then send the other crew. Now, you have the consistency, and when it’s unified — on the same page with one thing — we’re now better at what we do.”
It’s already shown on trails like Holy Diver, where the park crew installed a big-and-burly new step-up to step-down platform feature. Other additions include a reroute on Girl Scouts, the park’s 4.5-mile green run, and clearing work on lower TNT, one of the most popular blacks. Riders have already noticed log piles from clearing ops stacked just below Fuzzy Bunny and Fuzzy Carl, the lower TNT drops, and that’s just the beginning.
“No one else does trails that are this long,” Lehmann says of the park, which boasts about 56 miles of gravity-fed trail this season. “You do four laps here and you’re done. You go to another resort and you can take 13 or 14, so we tons of trails, tons of options, and there’s no better place to improve than your home mountain. We’re making it better for that progression.”
It starts with the right crew. Lehmann is a pro with nearly a decade of experience building trail and bike features, including the Frisco Bike Park jump lines in the late 2000s with Flow Line Trail Design, a Denver-based outfit.
For Lehmann, a dedicated crew brings two major pieces to the bike park puzzle: consistency and professionalism. All are trained in trail construction, including certifications through the International Mountain Biking Association. They also have the right tools, like plate compactors, watering trailers and hand tools.
“We are prepared now to build beautiful, sustainable trail,” Lehmann said. “We have a crew that works together, rides together, builds together, so it really works when we are out there every day.”
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