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Ski Resorts Are Turning to Mountain Biking in Summer

August 27, 1994|From Associated Press

DENVER — The chairlifts are running and the mountaintop restaurants are bustling, all under the hot August sun.

In an effort to keep vacationers coming after the last snow melts, ski resorts from Mammoth Lakes in California to Killington, Vt., are turning their slopes over to a new sport: mountain biking.

"In the past, summertime was an off season and everything pretty much shut down," said Sara Esau of Colorado Ski Country USA. "Now they're realizing people want to come to the resorts in the summer."

In most cases, the conversion involves installing bike racks or hooks on the chair lifts, creating trails and designing maps for riders.

"People are discovering mountain biking, and I think they're really liking what's available at ski areas," said Joan Christensen, a spokeswoman at the Winter Park Resort, about 35 miles west of Denver.

Winter Park spent about $100,000 upgrading its facilities for mountain bikers. "The infrastructure already existed. The lifts were already here, and the mountaintop restaurant," said Christensen.

For $15 riders can come for the whole day, ride up the lift an unlimited number of times and ride down 45 miles of mountain trails and another 600 miles of trails and logging roads in the valley.

The area expects 20,000 bikers to come this summer, a projected increase of 7,600 from last year. Mountain biker visits are already up 66% from last year.

Officials from Vail, another big winter destination, tell a similar story.

Call Vail's reservations number and a recording greets callers by saying: "The snow may be gone, but there's still plenty to do during the summer."

Vail fitted its lifts for mountain bikes seven years ago.

A $17 lift ticket buys unlimited rides and access to 85 miles of trails, including the Grand Traverse, a trail that begins at 10,000 feet and skirts the top of the mountain, offering rolling hills and views into the Back Bowls.

Vail spent about $500,000 to transform the area for mountain biking. From 1988--the first season of summer mountain biking--through 1993, group lodging reservations have gone up about 80%.

In the interest of helping the summers catch up, Vail and other resorts put on a number of promotions and events to get people to the mountains.

But while the summer business may help, it's still not in the same league as the winter ski season. About 135,000 people ride the lifts in the summer, but 2 million skiers visit in the winter.

"Skier visits definitely dwarf anything else," said John Bailey, Vail's summer mountain manager.

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