Sanders: Mountain biking is an economic engine

Keith Sanders
Mountain Biking with Keith

It amazes me the number of people out biking on the trails this year. There is definitely a greater amount of users this year than in the past. I think this last weekend may be the most people I’ve seen on the trails in late October. In my opinion this is from several factors: Mother Nature stepped up with beautiful fall weather. Who would have thought that we could ride in shorts and short sleeves in late October. Add in all of the trail work and marketing efforts then you have a great recipe for more people to get out and use the trails.

I’ve stated before that the Town of Winter Park is a unique mountain bike destination in that we are able to to ride from town and communities without having to drive to the trailheads. New and rerouted trails have created a vastly different and better riding experience. Couple this with some great efforts by the Winter Park Chamber in marketing and people are now able to not only learn and discover Winter Park but also benefit from the infrastructure that is being created. This in turn creates a stronger economy for the Winter Park area as people spend money related to their being here.

Our economy is driven by outdoor recreation. After all that is why most of us are here. Did you know that $6.9 billion in direct spending in the northwest region of Colorado is from outdoor recreation (2014 Colorado Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan) and that one-third of the adult population- 91,000- has a job that is dependent on outdoor recreation. Mountain biking and trails do create a substantial economic benefit for our community.

The types of benefits that can be seen range from single day use expenditures to relocating here and purchasing a home. Just think of what you have spent on biking and not just the parts. How many times did you go out to eat after a ride? Did you drive and have to buy gas? Have you had to put up some racks in the garage to store the bikes? How much did you spend on that last biking trip? Would you live or visit here if the biking and outdoor recreation wasn’t the quality that it is?

Many times the value of mountain biking and trails is often overlooked when addressing economic development and some of the key drivers to the local economy. Often mountain bikers are thought of as those who camp and don’t spend money. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Jeff McNamee in his report of THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF MOUNTAIN BICYCLE EVENTS IN OREGON states: “We tend to envision mountain bikers as young punks, but most visitors at these events were older adults with disposable incomes,” he said. Almost three-quarters of the participants had incomes of $100,000 or higher, with 30 percent of all visitors making more than $200,000.” “These are the types of tourists communities want to attract,” said McNamee, whose findings also show that mountain bikers spend more than the average tourist and stay significantly longer, an average of four days.”

A study by the Colorado Mountain College in February 2013 has some great data regarding the impact of the Leadville Race Series in 2012. “the total economic impact to Lake County of the race series and training camps in 2012 was $15,077,456.” This study did not determine value to those who came back to Leadville to recreate outside of the race series. The value of mountain biking in Winter Park can be far greater than the experience in Leadville. We have a far superior trail system and experience as well as lodging opportunities in addition to other recreational offerings. The study also stated that four percent of the survey respondents reported purchasing a second home. You read that correctly, they purchased a home.

There are many other studies that have similar information, all pointing to substantial value of mountain biking to the local economies. One struggle that our business community has is the seasonal swings in business. Winter is the main driver but that alone is not enough to survive. Summer has been slowly increasing in revenue but has not reached the point where a stable business environment has stabilized . The challenge is how to maintain our lifestyle while increasing the economy. One key advantage of attracting the mountain bike destination guest is that they tend to stay twice as long as other guests resulting in more spending per user. Just something to think about as we plan for the future not only just for trails but what efforts can be made to improve the economy and quality of life. Few investments offer a return that has both of those attributes.

Winter Park and Grand County has always struggled to fund trail related projects and the vision for the future of the trail system. In just a few weeks voters in Winter Park and Fraser will go to the polls to decide if they want to approve a tax that will fund transportation. Part of this tax can be used to fund trails and help our local trails agency Headwaters Trails Alliance to create a better trail system and experience. This may be the greatest economic impact that we can do to create a better economy and lifestyle. There has been a lot of talk about economic development in Winter Park and Grand County. Winter Park has invested heavily in infrastructure including trails that directly contribute to economic growth of the area but outside of Winter Park what has actually been done in the area of economic development?

Headwaters Trails Alliance recently went in front of the Grand County Commissioners for their annual funding from Grand County. Funding Headwaters Trails Alliance may be the greatest step the commissioners could make in creating an infrastructure that will improve our economy. I’ve heard many times from parts of the county outside of the Winter Park area that Headwaters Trails Alliance doesn’t do much for their geographic area. In Winter Park trail users are actively helping Headwaters Trails Alliance on many levels including identifying a vision for the future. Is that happening in your community and if not, what can be done to get things moving forward? Every step forward in trails benefits our entire county. It may be indirectly from tax revenue generated or that the experience is available here without having to travel and spend time elsewhere.

There are a lot of possibilities out there for creating a greater lifestyle for all of us who live and enjoy Grand County. The question is, what will the future bring? Will it be status quo or will it be one that is dictated by our actions vs. our inactions?


Beavers Sports Shop at the Best Western in Winter Park does a weekly group ride on Friday’s at 5:15 pm. (new time) Intermediate and above skill level. Come join in! 970-726-5988

Looking for more information? Like Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) on Facebook. GMBA is your local mountain bike group. Check out Great site by the Winter Park Chamber!

Keith Sanders is the President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, 3x US National Mountain Bike Champion and owner of Beavers Sports Shop. You can reach him at

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