Much like the surge of new skateboard parks being built during the past decade, mountain bike parks have been consistently popping up in parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe, and their popularity is spawning a new generation of gravity-fueled enthusiasts pushing the boundaries of what can be done on two wheels.
Places like Whistler, British Columbia, and Winter Park, Colo., have been leading the way in North America and are proving that winter resorts can draw plenty of visitors, if not more, during the summer months. Located just 78 miles from Seattle, Stevens Pass Bike Park has joined the ranks.
Lift accessed riding is not new. Downhill mountain biking’s popularity during the 1990s cemented the need for access to trails that didn’t require riders and racers to climb back up to get in their next run. Enter the lift chair — a device that quickly carries cyclists, their bikes and gear to the top where they can focus their energy on the descent instead of expending it all going uphill.
Most bike parks feature a mix of downhill, dirt jumps and free-ride terrain. Similar to how ski runs are designated, most are signed with green, blue and black to indicate whether it’s easy, intermediate, or expert level. Due to the general nature of these manmade trails, a bike with full suspension is generally the best option, although hard tail bikes can, for the most part, be ridden as well.
Last summer, Stevens Pass Bike Park officially opened for business, allowing riders to fully experience the new trails, although in September and October of 2011 there was a “soft opening” for those in the know.
“It was pretty rough,” said Stevens Pass vice president of operations Joel Martinez, referring to the 2011 trails.
Now that operations are up and running and Stevens is in its second official season, things are much better, and many of the growing pains have been worked out. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy or quick process.
In 2006, the idea of opening the mountain for summer operations began to gain momentum when research included a trip to Whistler for the International Mountain Bike Association’s World Conference. It was there that Stevens employees gained knowledge from other resort operators and also met with Gravity Logic, the consultants and designers of many of today’s largest bike parks, including Whistler and Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park. Soon after the event, Gravity Logic performed a feasibility study at Stevens and began the design process.
In order for the project to move forward, the resort needed approval from the area’s U.S. Forest Service branch, which was not familiar with bike parks at that time.
“They didn’t know what it was. We then went through the informational process with locals and the Forest Service to introduce them to it,” Martinez said. “We brought two folks from the Forest Service to Whistler to show them what it’s about. They quickly saw the light. It took seven years to get through the entire process. We’ve learned a lot through (this).”
The Stevens trail crew has spent all last summer and this spring and summer building and maintain the trails during the week to get them ready for regular business hours — Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The mountain bike park’s full-time staff consists entirely of the resort’s winter employees, about 20 people, and the new summer operation provides them with work for most of the year when combined with the skiing/snowboarding season.
Currently, three trails are open that feature advanced singletrack, and the crew is also working on a jump line similar to Whistler’s, expected to be complete by mid-August. Two more trails were recently approved and should be open in the near future. With the help of Gravity Logic, the resort is also planning to build seven more next summer, which, according to Martinez, will interconnect with the trail system presently in place. Additionally, they are buffing out a beginner’s trail to round out the experience for all levels of riders.
Between 150 and 250 visitors per day ride the park, and Martinez said that number is growing every weekend. He observes that the majority of riders come from towns on the west side of the pass such as Everett, Seattle, Bellingham and the San Juan Islands, although a fair amount of users also reside in close-by Leavenworth and parts of Eastern Washington. Several pros from the Seattle area such as Luke Strobel, Byrn Atkinson, Kevin Littlefield and Jill Kintner use Stevens’ new park regularly.
Speaking of Kintner, the three-time mountain bike world champion and BMX Olympian will host Gravity Skills classes this fall. These all-day clinics are women’s specific and Kintner will be teaching a variety of downhill techniques and bike handling skills that are sure to be beneficial to all attendees. The next session is on Sept. 6 followed by Sept. 27 and Oct 4. The NW Cup, one of the region’s premier downhill race series, will swing through Stevens Aug. 2-4 and again Sept. 6-8.
Martinez and the Stevens crew are planning to throw a mountain bike festival, most likely to happen in September. Details are still being worked out, but it should include riding, music, food and beverage and other fun activities.
For the first time, the resort is offering a 2013 summer season pass for $199. Day passes are available for $35 per day for adults and teens and $29 for those under 13. A ‘four-pack’ ticket goes for $119 for those 14 and over, and $99 for 13 and under and are good through closing. Three chairlifts are now running: Daisy, Hogsback and Skyline. For those planning on staying a while, the resort has recreational vehicle parking with electrical hookups for a fee of $20 per night. There are bikes, padding, and other equipment including POV video cameras available to rent as well. The closing day for Stevens Pass Bike Park is Oct. 13. Those with an inclination to spend some time getting carted up the mountain and then maximize their descent time should pencil in a date before then.
“We’re building as we go and tweaking the trails in the process,” Martinez said. “(The bike park) been a success. Our mantra is to do it right or not do it at all, we plan to keep doing it right. So far, so good.”
For more information about Stevens Pass Bike Park and its scheduled events and clinics, visit stevensbikepark.com.
This story originally appeared in the August 2013 edition of BicyclePaper.