Wednesday, May 30, 2012

‘Ski season for summertime’

17.2-mile mountain bike trail system planned for Baldy


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Co. Director of Mountain Operations Peter Stearns, left, and Mountain Projects Manager Julian Tyo revealed a planned system of mountain biking trails for Bald Mountain at a public meeting at River Run Lodge on Thursday. Tyo and Stearns said the plan isn’t final, but could lead to a positive economic impact for the region. Photo by David N. Seelig

Sun Valley Co. could soon be counting "biker days" as well as skier days if plans to build more than 17 miles of new mountain biking trails come to fruition over the next few years.

Julian Tyo, the resort's mountain projects manager, hosted a meeting last Thursday at the River Run Lodge in Ketchum to discuss the company's plans for building a network of lift-accessed mountain biking trails on Bald Mountain.

"We started out with the mission to create a 'ski season' for the summertime," Tyo said with a laugh.

The network would include 14.2 miles of downhill mountain biking trails for skill levels ranging from beginner to expert. Novice and intermediate trails are located mostly on the less-steep top of the mountain, Tyo said, with expert-level trails running from top to bottom. Downhill trails could be accessed by taking the Roundhouse Gondola and the Christmas Lift to the top of the mountain, or by using one of the two uphill climbing trails.

Tyo said the proposal, which must be approved by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service before construction begins, is an attempt to capitalize on the already-existing local enthusiasm for mountain biking.

"It's no secret that we wanted to develop a business plan to help Sun Valley Co.," Tyo said. "We already have the facilities, we have the lifts spinning [in summer]. Most of all, we have community interest."

That community interest was only strengthened by the construction of two one-mile "flow trails" last summer, one-way downhill bike trails with features such as "rollers"—rises that allow fast-moving bikers to lift off at the high point before the descent, as well as banked turns and rock obstacles.

Tyo said the trails, Forbidden Fruit north of Ketchum and Punchline in Croy Canyon near Hailey, are similar to what a biker might eventually find on Baldy. However, the Baldy trails will be much longer.

The first trail to be constructed will be a climbing 1.2-mile hiking and biking trail from the Bald Mountain Trail to the River Run Chairlift, followed by a remodel of part of the existing River Run trail.

Overall, the plan adds 2.4 miles of hiking trail in addition to the biking trails, but takes away 3.7 miles from the River Run and Broadway trails and redesignates those trails for bikers only. Tyo said the Bald Mountain Trail, the most popular hiking trail that goes from the top to the bottom of the mountain, will still be open to hikers.

Tyo said the trails would be 35 percent novice, 58 percent intermediate and 7 percent expert level.

"A lot of bike parks learned and learned the hard way that building the best park doesn't mean killing your guests," he said with a laugh.

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He added that each trail will have a variety of "line choices," or ways for beginners to miss features they don't feel ready for—but might take on during their second or third trip downhill.

"It can be one trail with multiple experiences," he said. "There's really never a dull moment on these trails."

Tyo said the routes were chosen to minimize both visual impact and impacts on vegetation.

"We've laid this out so we can avoid ski runs at all costs," he said.

Tyo and International Mountain Biking Association members Chris Leman and Randy Spangler walked the mountain for six weeks, choosing the correct places for trails and making sure the routes kept on a fairly consistent grade.

All of the trails will feature banked turns and switchbacks for easier maneuvering, and will avoid ski runs, snowmaking lines and crossovers with existing trails. Like a ski season, the bike season will include lift access passes and bike patrol, and the resort will even keep track of "biker days" to track the season's success.

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said no formal proposal has been made to the Forest Service as Sun Valley continues to gather informal comment in preparation for making a formal proposal. Once a proposal is made, the plan will be subject to a 30-day public comment period.

Nelson said he hoped to have a decision by this winter, with construction beginning in summer 2012. Three of the nine proposed trails are set to be completed in the first nine weeks of summer, with a fourth possibly completed in the following month.

Tyo said that mountain biking consultants Gravity Logic, who has worked with resorts such as Whistler, Aspen/Snowmass and Jackson Hole on their bike parks, believe the trail system will have a significant economic impact on the valley.

While Tyo said he didn't have permission to release the study that proved it, he said he was confident that the system would be good for the valley.

"The proof is there," he said. "The economic impact is absolutely huge. There will be new bikes sold and there will be additional visits [to Sun Valley] because of this park."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Sounds familiar ...

The Sun Valley Marketing Alliance announced earlier this month that it would step up efforts to promote the region's mountain biking trails—and reporter Rebecca Meany reported on it last week. For the full story, search the headline "Can the valley be a fat-tire mecca?" on our website, www.mtexpress.com.




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