Alyeska to open downhill mountain biking trail

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

GIRDWOOD (AP) A portion of Alyeska Resort will be open to downhill mountain bikers for the first time this summer.

It's an effort that has for years been on the minds of managers at Alyeska, who entertained the idea of free-riding opportunities when it was first presented to them by mountain bikers but were wary of potential conflicts.

Warren Rowe, a Girdwood resident and owner of Downhill Division, which is part of Alaska Mountain and Glacier Guides and will operate the trail, says he hopes it will be ready by June 27.

Dave Wilson, mountain manager at Alyeska, said this year will be considered a test run to see how popular the mountain biking venture will be. The beginner trail, which will feature a few switchbacks and consistent decline but nothing technical like rock and log hopping or jumps, will likely draw the most clients.

''For the time being, (Rowe's company is) constructing one downhill bike trail, and after that goes we'll see about building a second one for more advanced riders,'' Wilson said. ''They will be operating it. All we'll do is allow them to operate a trail on our property and to use the lift.''

Bike attachments are being added to a chairlift, and for a $29 per day fee, riders can go up and down the mountain as many times as they like during the Friday through Sunday operating period.

''This is a small population of riders, but the demand is there,'' Rowe said. ''One of my goals in setting this operation up is to stop the pirated trails. The ones who are creating those trails are the ones who have no other places to ride.''

Chugach State Park chief ranger Mike Goodwin said he doesn't know how many times he has had to ask downhill mountain bikers to get off of the Bird Ridge Trail, and he has also heard that the Falls Creek Trail is becoming a popular spot for those wanting a downhill biking challenge.

Because there are so few technical downhill trails for riders, illegal renegade trails such as one off of Spencer Loop on the Hillside have developed to fill the need.

''I have contacted some of the downhill fat-tire bike riders, and they're frustrated,'' Goodwin said. ''They're looking for a place for their very specialized activity, but I don't believe Bird Ridge is the place for that. There are small children, dogs and other hikers using that trail.''

Still, Goodwin said, free-riders are a recognized user group and should have a place to play.

''It's an elite group of riders that are doing this type of thing, and there's nothing wrong with it in the appropriate place, so I'm glad to hear they've got a plan,'' he added.

Past efforts at starting downhill mountain biking at Alyeska have stalled, Wilson said, largely because the proposals included using the Alyeska tram to put cyclists at the top of the mountain.

Tourists use the tram heavily, wandering the mountain, eating lunch and dinner, and taking part in guided glacier hikes. The possibility of conflict is just too high, Wilson said.

Under the new plans, bikes will be relegated to the far side of the mountain, on a lower slope but still one that is high enough to allow free-riders to gain some speed.

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