When I moved here nearly a decade ago from Colorado, I noticed there were more boats than bikes attached to vehicles. Coming from a bike-centered town I found this fact a bit surprising. Sure, there’s a lot of water here so that makes sense however, there are mountains and trails here too so what’s up?
Nine years later, there are more bikes hanging over the tailgates of trucks, attached to car roofs, and hanging from S.U.V hitches. The word has gotten out, to travelers and locals alike: the mountain biking is good in those woods.
Now 2020 will go down in history for quite a few reasons yet one of the positives to come out of it all is a new appreciation for the bicycle. Bike sales were up 50% in March across the country, and bike shops were deemed essential. Along with other home-based DIY projects we discovered while confined to our homes, old bikes emerged from dusty corners and riders rediscovered the simple joy of riding a bike.
Before our summer operations resumed, we had reason to think that business would be down. While there was a slow start for most of our activities up here, mountain bikers showed up with the same fervor as skiers and snowboarders on a winter’s Opening Day. Bike visits, the number of people per day counted accumulatively, has been growing exponentially every summer. In fact, at the rate we are going it is possible that as you read this, we have just surpassed last year’s total and we will have another record year.
Back in 2013, when we tripled the amount of terrain, we began to call it a “bike park” defined so for the chairlift accessed trails, bike rentals, bike patrol, bike lessons, and in-house maintenance crew along with all the other built-in amenities like restaurants and lodging. In other words, we were a destination. While you can walk through the parking lots and count the license plates from other states, it is only part of the story as there is a healthy dose of local flavor as well.
The number of passholders grew from 229 in 2019 to 367 this summer. As mentioned above, our bike visits will soon be ahead of last year’s total, and that is without hosting any major events this summer. COVID-19 cancelled the Montana Enduro Series and the Northwest Cup did not plan a stop here this summer, both events brought in racers and boosted our numbers. That’s right, much of our success story is WE are riding more.
After implementing our “Learn To Bike Downhill” lesson package in 2016 that took advantage of new, shorter novice trails serviced by the Bad Rock lift on the lower mountain, we bridged the gap we had created with the expert only riding from the summit. Numbers are good there too, in 2019 we gave 233 lessons—91 more than the previous summer—and this year we have already surpassed that number, averaging four students per day.
Our Bike Park’s success parallels our Ski Area’s success by applying the same efforts: consistent investment in the product and services. Every year the trail maintenance crew works tirelessly on projects moving dirt and reshaping features to improve the rider’s experience. Just last week we opened a new trail, Pinball Wizard, in the “B-Side Zone” in the Chair 2 area. After a significant logging project that took out trails this spring, the crew took advantage of a new blank slate to replace them. At least one more trail in the area is planned for next summer.
On deck for 2021, we are planning to run Chair 2 for bikes and riders. This will take the Bike Park up another level, offering a mid-mountain drop off will help those that have warmed up on Bad Rock have another option than heading to all the way to the summit (and it will take some pressure off of Chair 1). It will be good for lapping trails in the B-Side Zone too.
Speaking of B-Side—a nod to the vinyl and cassette eras gone by—you know how we love our rock and roll theme for naming trails? Well, we thought it would be fun to have a Spotify playlist. You can search for “Whitefish Mountain Resort” and find a master list, as well as other playlists curated by our crew.
Steady growth in the park also means steady growth in the staff and those folks deserve the kudos for our success. Thanks to the stellar trail crew that builds and maintains trails. Also, the bike patrol as ski patrol does in the winter, they keep us all safe and are there when we need them. The events crew that run our race leagues. Our team at Village Rentals that keep our rental bike fleet in service. Finally, our instructors who have been sharing the love of the sport and creating better riders for our tribe.
If Summer 2020 can be this successful, the future of the Whitefish Bike Park, and biking in northwest Montana in general, looks awesome.
S.N.O.W. Bus Raffle!
The S.N.O.W. Bus is not just for skiers and snowboarders, bikers love it too! It runs all summer long and can carry you and your bike from town to mountain. With the Brewfest cancelled this year due to you know what, they are holding an online raffle to raise funds for new bike racks for the busses. Win a Norco Aurum downhill mountain bike or five 1-day tickets to ski this winter. Purchase your tickets today at bigmtncommercial.org.