With less snow and warmer weather, mountain biking is starting earlier than ever in Grand County.
Craig Kozak has been riding the lower part of the Phases near the Fraser River in Tabernash.
"It's not super long, you do laps on it. It's like early season skiing Larry Sale. It's awesome for a week."
Other trail areas reported to be dry are in Idlewild and Granby Ranch trail system.
Mountain biking enthusiasts in the Fraser Valley have formed a group and have recently become a member of International Mountain Biking Association.
An advocacy group with a mission, the newly formed mountain bike group, Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA), has been meeting for the past six months. They have a mission and vision: Enhance the mountain bike experience in the Fraser Valley.
The group was started by Keith Sanders and Peggy Smith. Craig Kozak also joined the group to help it get organized.
"We have a lot of great ideas, and if these ideas come to fruition, this place is going to be awesome for mountain biking," said Kozak.
More than 10 years ago Winter Park was one of three mountain biking meccas including Crested Butte and Moab, said Kozak. He remembers coming to Winter Park in 1995 from Boulder to race King of the Rockies weekend.
"It was huge, there were two races, there was a buzz in town. Winter Park was one of THE places to go. Since then, we have gotten complacent and other (mountain towns) have been more aggressive."
Other places capitalizing on mountain biking's popularity include Moab and Park City, Utah, and several California towns, he said.
The mountain biking group started meeting in November 2011. He wanted to have better communication with all the entities making decisions about trails and trail users.
"There were issues with social trails people had been using for decades," said Sanders.
Sanders wanted to create a vision for trails and hopes to accomplish this with GMBA and to make Winter Park the true mountain bike capital.
As an IMBA member, the group is affiliated with the international group's experts in trail building, fundraising, and legislation. IMBA can help GMBA with access to information and resources not readily available here and can help obtain grants, assist with funding, and give advice on mountain biking trails.
GMBA is a nonprofit; however, the funds the group will be requesting are not available to any other nonprofit in Grand County because they are a part of IMBA, said Sanders.
The most important mission of the group was identifying what is important to the community, he said.
Results from a survey sent to members of the community and from the Facebook page reinforced GMBA's mission and vision. Respondents commented that they wanted better signage, more single track trails, an epic trail for the valley, easy to find trailheads, a dirt track, better trail maintenance, and better communication with the Forest Service about trail closures, according to Sanders.
The group will also work on the Master Plan of Trails by inventorying all the trails in the Fraser Valley.
The area they are inventorying encompasses the southern part of Grand County north to Granby Ranch along the Continental Divide and west to the Experimental Forest and south to Vasquez Wilderness.
Sanders said the group will give the mountain bike trail data to Headwaters Trails Alliance to use for the mountain biking trails section in the overall Trail Master Plan.
GMBA's vision is creating different trail experiences for children and epic rides for more experienced, long-distance riders. A part of the trail system would be geared toward families and children and other parts of the system will connect trails to allow for an epic ride.
The group wants to work with all the towns and county entities and help support their goals and objectives as well, said Sanders.
The trails they hope to get completed soon are in the town of Winter Park such as re-creating Sunset Pink and connectors to town.
"Interconnectivity is our big thrust," said Kozak.
"There are a lot of small spots that are cool to ride; we want to put them together for a multi-day ride."
They hope to accomplish this first.
"We want to support what HTA is doing and take action right away," said Sanders.
HTA will be moving into 120 Zerex in Fraser, formerly the Fraser Visitor Center. Bikers can park, get information, and then ride out to trails from this hub.
Mountain Bike Capital USA?
The Winter Park Chamber marketing council began working on the "Mountain Bike Capital USA" strategy in 1993. Even earlier than that the community was trying to establish Winter Park as a mountain biking mecca, said Catherine Ross, executive director of Winter Park and Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce.
It was the group of people who put on King of the Rockies and began marketing the term and also helped Winter Park Resort get started with their summer product, she said.
"It was pretty innovative back then to say we have a lot of trails and they are being maintained. Then, to work on chairlifts to handle bikes," said Ross.
The chamber began its marketing efforts by creating trail maps, going to Front Range bike shops, and attending bike trade shows.
They also trademarked the phrase Mountain Bike Capital USA.
From a guest point of view, we have a great product for trails, said Ross.
Ross commends the individuals who have worked on trails for the last 25 years.
"All the people that have been working on these trails have been doing a great job. With the new mountain bike group, there may be new energy, and I respect that."
"The criticism of the trails is good, it calls attention to things. Trees have added to our challenges."
The group benefits from having both the fresh users and the seasoned volunteers with a rich history, she said.
"They are inviting people to be part of the solution, a group of like-minded people. They got motivated by the problem and have turned it around to be a positive."
It's not just about trails, it's about local economic development, and giving people more reasons to visit, to buy a second home, or to live here," said Kozak.
Once the trails are here, local businesses will expand or come here, he said.
Grand County Commissioner James Newberry is supportive of the group's efforts.
"This group wants to elevate the trail system, document the trails, and grow on our strengths, not only in Colorado, but in the U.S.," he said.
Newberry wants to create economic development opportunities and keep businesses viable throughout the county. He believes this trail group will create an economic opportunity.
"We are 100 percent behind what the mountain bike group and HTA are doing - bringing in more people in," he said.
While admittedly not a mountain biker, Newberry is a strong supporter of trails.
"I see this as another layer to increase activity and bring people here," he said.
"Growing mountain biking is an opportunity to recover from the recession," said Kozak.
The county is a player in this just like the towns are, said Kozak.
"The mountain biking group is working with all these entities (county and towns) to bring everyone to the table," he said.
"Let's make something really cool and let us thrive."