From Darkness To Light

27 Sep 2012

Ambitions for bike park at DMR airborne; demand and financial solvency questionable

Posted by Adam Howell

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An offloading deck at the Needles Triple lift would have to be built to allow people to get off the chair with ease–which would currently be a drop from the chair for most people. A deck would also give lift operators a bigger working space closer to the bike rack to more easily unload them without reaching up high for them each time.

At Durango Mountain Resort, ambitions to build downhill mountain bike infrastructure are high, yet skepticism about the demand and financial capital needed for it are keeping the resort from moving forward with the investment, according to one official.

Additionally, once a plan is drafted the U.S Forest Service would have to conduct an Environmental Assessment on the proposal to determine if and how the project could be implemented with safety and resource protection objectives in mind.

“I think we’re just trying to proceed slow enough to understand what we’re getting into so ultimately we develop good trails that are great for locals, but also our destination people that come,” said Durango Mountain Resort’s Vice President for Marketing and Sales, Sven Brunso. “Cause we’ve got to make this thing sustainable.”

“We’re having conversations among ourselves about what do we do in terms of

This is Trestle Bike Park. Courtesy of Winter Park Resort.

mountain biking. We say, how many people is the bike rental shop getting? Is the ticket office getting asked about why we don’t have more variety of mountain bike trails to ride, bikes to rent, those kinds of things,” asked Brunso. “And we just haven’t seen from the destination visitor, the level of interest that we think we need to go all in like Whistler, Keystone, orWinter Park.”

“We have cross-country trails that can be ridden as downhill, but we haven’t gone all in and said, hey we want to do gravity-fed mountain biking.”

Whatever the level of demand there may be for bike infrastructure at DMR, the resort does not expect to cut new trails any time soon.

I’ll show you where this is if you want to ride it.

While the Forest Service would have to conduct an environmental assessment on whatever plan that was brought forward, a recent bill in the U.S. Senate was passed that will permit year-round recreational activities at U.S. Forest Service ski resorts.

Under the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, the Forest Service could allow other snow sports on National Forest System Lands, as well as provide the potential to permit mountain bike terrain parks.

At Winter Park Resort’s Trestle Mountain Bike Park, they did not cut any trails for four years due to the planning and assessment that needed to be done by the Forest Service, according to Winter Park’s Bike Park Manager Bob Holme.

After the slow start, Holme now calls Winter Park the fastest growing bike park in America.

This only lift that currently serves mountain bikers and alpine sliders during the summer goes halfway up the mountain at DMR.

Their 10-person trail crew is employed year-round and transitions to managing the terrain park for skiers and snowboarders during the winter. Also working year-round for the resort are the 20 bike patrollers that transition to ski patrolling during the winters for a 11-month-long work year, said Holme.

They even hired Dave Kelly from Gravity Logic to help build their trails, Holme said.

Much of the investment in Winter Park Resort’s infrastructure is due to their large base of destination visitor’s coming from the front range. DMR’s Brunso sees destination visitors as a needed variable if DMR were to successfully market a new bike park.

It’s fun for the whole family, as you can see them enjoying Trestle Bike Park. Courtesy of Winter Park.

“In 2009 we commissioned a study up at Fort Lewis College that they had a group of their business interns do,” said Brunso. “I believe that Winter Parkand Keystone were their models. They went out and got as much information as they could as to what kind of investment those places made into their infrastructure, into building the downhill components. You know, the trestles, the bridges, the teeter totters—all that kind of stuff. They came back to us, and basically, the things they pointed out were both these places have enormous skier visits compared to ours. So they have a huge capital to reinvest into the mountain compared to what we do.”

“And they found that a majority of their riders coming to those places weren’t people from Fraser and Winter Park and Summit County. They were people coming from Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder. They’ve got 4 and half million people on the front range,” he said. “So they were seeing that the locals weren’t the one’s that were making it sustainable. It was their destination people. People coming up for a full day, or an over-night visit.”

“Would those people come up and spend $30 or $40 bucks a day to ride our trails,” asked Brunso.

Courtesy of Winter Park Resort.

“When we start doing a business plan, and saying here’s the cost of running a different lift for the summer, staffing it, retrofitting it to carry bikes, building ramps, building features, hiring a crew, I mean you’re talking a hundred thousand dollars or more just to get your foot in the door,” said Brunso.

“I totally get where the industry is going,” said Brunso. “But this is big business.”

The cost of building a successful bike park at DMR also comes down to who is running it, and how driven they are to promote the bike park and the riding of its trails as a culture, says Angel Fire Resort’s Bike Park Director Hogan Koesis.

“As long as you have the right person in place, your bike park will succeed. Because, it really comes down to what types of trails you’re building, too, and who you’re having build your trails,” said Koesis.

“Are you having Gravity Logic build your trails at 92 to 98 thousand dollars per mile of excavated pro trail, or are you going with a trail company like Alpine Bike Park or some kind of a little more private, but still good trail crew company that could do it for maybe half the price,” he said.

You’ve got to love those banking turns! Courtesy of Winter Park Resort.

“Or in Angel Fire’s case with me, I’m the lead trail developer and builder,” said Koesis. “So not only do I control the marketing and the branding of the bike park, but I also do risk management like a lot of other bike parks do, but I’m also in charge of what the trails feel like, too, and I work in house. It’s really cheap for us to build a bike park, compared to a lot of other bike parks.”

“I can tell you that what we’ve spent is not much for what our return on investment has been,” said Koesis. “We’ve made a lot of money.”

“At Angel Fire Resort the bike park beat the golf course this year as far as numbers,” said Koesis. “As far as return on investment, the bike park trumped the golf course, and the golf course is already paid for.”

“It’s the most lucrative thing that Angel Fire Resort has going on in the summer time,” said Koesis. “We’ve got a brand new zip line thing. It’s beaten that.”

For only being in its second year, Koesis thinks that Angel Fire’s Bike Park is growing in popularity and expects it to be even busier next year.

“That’s a huge part of the bike park in being successful, is creating that culture,” he said.

DMR currently has a variety of cross country trails, but it has the terrain that could be used for a multi-disciplinary bike park.

Creating a local culture that attracts a broad array of return customers from a 45-minute radius, as well as from towns within a day’s drive would be crucial to making DMR’s bike park succeed, Koesis said.

“I think you have to differentiate your bike park in such a way that it’s going to be successful for all disciplines of mountain biking,” he said.

“You kind of have to compare everything to Whistler and what Whistler has, and what your bike park doesn’t in comparison to that. That’s a very refined machine right there.”

With all of the prosperity that Angel Fire and its seasonal trail crew have achieved, there also come challenges and mistakes.

At Angel Fire, Koesis says they’ve had challenges putting up features on trails during the biking season due to the construction forcing them to sometimes have to close the entire trail down until it’s completed. Plus they’ve had to remove a trail that goes down a ski run due to erosion and its lack of sustainability, he said.

Given DMR’s skepticism about the demand and financial solvency needed to begin planning for a bike park at their mountain, any timetable for its construction will be on hold.

“I think that we’re probably hedging on the side of taking our time, maybe not being the first one in Southwest Colorado to really embrace this, but making sure that we do it the right way, so that we build something that’s really good when we have a chance to do it,” said Brunso. “And I think there’s so much other stuff going on, that the resort hasn’t said, ‘hey this is our number one initiative moving forward is to build downhill mountain biking.’”

Components of a successful bike park at Purg:

  • Build conceptual plan with a working group consisting of professional trail builder(s) and local bikers.
  • Build a relationship with Forest Service officials.
  • Submit plan to Columbine Ranger District for Environmental Assessment.
  • Hire a seasonal 5- person trail crew during first two biking seasons with two, year-round crew leads that could double in working the snow terrain park during the winter (estimated cost: $135,000 per year).
  • If a seasonal crew cannot be hired, consider letting people work on trails under a hired crew leader as a trade for an uplift ticket.
  • Send entire trail crew to S-212 Wildfire Power Saws class through NWCG (check training link on Durango Interagency Dispatch Center website).
  • Construct > 25 more miles of multi-disciplinary trails in addition to the existing cross-country trails, using the back side as well.
  • Build off ramps at the tops of lifts 6 and 8 (estimated cost: $20,000).
  • Retrofit chairlifts 6 and 8 with bike racks (estimated cost: unknown) for uplifts.
  • Facilitate easier bike access from ticket office to chairlifts on front side.
  • Build new trails away from Forest Service road running through resort to prevent car-shuttling.
  • Build most of new trails in the trees or areas that are roped-off during the winter.
  • Harvest, mill, and utilize dead and down lumber on site for trestles, bridges or jumps.
  • Build nationally-renowned freeride, downhill, slopestyle/dirt jumping, and skills-building trails.
  • Support bike-park culture to the fullest.

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2 Responses to “Ambitions for bike park at DMR airborne; demand and financial solvency questionable”

  1. I hope to see progress on this in the very near future. As a dhs student in Durango, a Durango devo flyer, and a downhill biker, I would be most excited if purg had an awesome bike park. It would make it easier and more fun than going to far away bike parks. Purg has the potential and I how to see at least plans this year! Fully suport you guys at purg, and l’m excited to hear that you guys are thinking bike park again!


    jake hurworth

  2. Thank you for supporting freeride mountain bike culture! It needs all the help it can get! I’m hoping that DMR gets the ball rolling on this soon, as well.


    Adam Howell

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