Routt County Riders working to expand snowbiking on Emerald |

Routt County Riders working to expand snowbiking on Emerald

— The popularity of snowbiking is growing in town, and the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County Riders are experimenting this winter to see if fat tire biking opportunities can be expanded on Emerald Mountain.

“There is a need for these trails in the community,” said Eric Meyer, Routt County Riders president. “So we are going to give this a try and see how it goes.”

Through an agreement with the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County Riders started grooming a 1.7-mile loop in Orton Meadows last week. The group used a borrowed snowmobile to drag tires to pack the trail. The group since has purchased a used snowmobile and will continue to use the tires this winter.

Volunteer Aryeh Copa groomed the trails and said the trail width, which is about 48 inches, is perfect for snowbikers looking to continue riding in the winter months.

“The regular groomed trails were not great for biking anyway. It’s like riding your bike on the street,” Copa said. “The idea of winter trail grooming is exciting. Without the worry of erosion issues that must be considered with summer trails, it really allows for another level of creativity.”

Copa said the trails are ideal for snowbikers who still can put a foot down if needed as well as provide a more rewarding setting for mountain biking. Routt County Riders also is hoping that the new trails will take pressure off some of the groomed trails that already are being used by cross-county skiers.

Craig Robinson, Parks, Open Space and Trail manager for the city, said changes in procedures and education have helped limit complaints about snowbikers since it first was allowed at Howelsen Hill two winters ago. Bikers are not allowed on the trails early in the winter, before the snow sets up. They also are asked not to ride the Nordic trails on those extremely warm days when the bike’s fat tires tend to break through the surface of the snow, ruining the terrain for everyone.

He said complaints about snowbiking at Howelsen have trailed off since it first was introduced at Howelsen, but he also admitted that the limited complaints this winter might be the result of the space between winter storms. Hard-packed snow conditions have been the norm on Howelsen Hill’s Nordic trails, which is favorable to snowbiking.

However, Robinson is happy that Routt County Riders has started grooming trails specifically for snowbiking in Orton Meadows this winter. He is hoping that the option will be well-received by bikers looking for something different, and that it will also have a positive impact for the users of the Nordic trail system.

He said the efforts of Routt County Riders have opened up new winter terrain, and they also have taken a new school approach with “flow trails.” Flow trails are the downhill sections where bikers use gravity to cruise downhill on a course that has a certain rhythm to it.

Routt County Riders is hoping the new trail system will help reduce user-conflicts between cross country skiers and bikers on the paid Nordic trail system. The organization also is hopeful the new network of winter trails actually will accelerate the opening of mountain biking and hiking trails in the spring.

Meyer said it is thought that heavy trail use in the winter actually packs the snow to the point that it is some of the last snow to melt off in the spring. In the past, members of Routt County Riders actually have shoveled the snow from these areas in the spring to enhance melting.

Since the new trails don’t overlap the summer trails, Meyer is hoping those areas will melt faster when spring arrives.

Routt County Riders also is funding additional grooming with the city of Steamboat Springs full-sized grooming machine to extend Prayer Flag Road on a regular basis. This will open up additional terrain for bikers, hikers and even Nordic skiers and should decrease biking on the paid Nordic trail system.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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