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Stevens Pass Bike Park Opening Day

It was a beautiful sight for many on Saturday, October 1, as chairlifts carried mountain bikes and riders up into the mist. They were bound for trailheads atop Stevens Pass Ski Resort to celebrate opening day of the long-anticipated Stevens Pass Bike Park, two hours east of Seattle, off Hwy 2.

The scene signaled many things to the Northwest riding community, chief among them lift access to downhill and freeride trails right in their own backyard.

Despite the rain pelting helmet visors and the frigid autumn air, bright smiles illuminated the overcast atmosphere; more than 400 riders showed up to check out the new trails. A hungry shred-crowd, ya think?

In a way, weather seemed a fitting way to usher in the latest chapter of mountain biking in the Northwest—where a good day of riding is defined by the amount of mud splatter accumulated on faces and bike bits. But for many, too, this day is a triumph in the effort to leave behind the years of illegal trail-building and gain legit, sanctioned trails.

A bike park is the ne plus ultra of legal mountain biking. And now, we got one, baby!

Saturday’s event was a “soft” opening, meaning there are currently only two trails open: a black-diamond downhill singletrack, and a blue-square excavated trail with tabletops. Neither is complete (digging will continue through the fall and resume next spring), but thanks to Steven’s partnership with Gravity Logic—of Whistler Bike Park acclaim–the trails are well-designed, and fun as hell. From the pros to the weekend warriors, everyone gushed about the flow.

The insane slop of the rain-soaked fresh-cut had the potential to mask the craftsmanship put into the downhill line—riders washed out left and right in the grease—but evidence of a gnarly trail is there: from the instant drop at the trailhead to the root-and-rock-mangled steep chutes, to the hairpin corners that steer riders out from the trees and into the vibrant orange- and yellow-leaf-confettied slopes of the lower mountain. The slip-and-slide mudfest only seemed to heighten the party atmosphere.

The immediate vision for Phase One is for five trails to run off the Hogsback lift, says Joel Martinez, a lifelong mountain biker and director of ops for the resort. A blue singletrack is in the works. “Next summer, we’ll start our Dirt Merchant/A-line comparison,” he says, referencing the popular Whistler trails. Then, a beginner trail.

Stevens sold 200 Drop In Alliance passes—five-year passes for $1,000—which helped pay for this initial phase. This opening day was also the culmination of eight years of hard work for Martinez and his crew. After attending an IMBA conference at Whistler, he proposed a bike park concept to the resort. “Mountain biking came up as sort of the catalyst to get summer operations started [here],” he says.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service approval-process and appeals from groups like the Sierra Club tied up the operation for years.

“I was telling somebody on the chair [today], you know, there were hurdles almost daily—even up to the last week,” says Martinez. Yet he’s empathetic. “I think what’s happening, with the Forest Service and with us, is this is new to Washington:  a bike park like this… So there’s things that we just [didn’t] see.” The resort has an environmentalist on staff who’s helped mitigate concerns.

But now, everyone can look toward the future of riding in this alpine locale surrounded by evergreen-cloaked peaks. “My goal is to support the state and riders and local companies as much as we can,” Martinez says. Diamondback Bicycles has already filmed at the park. And plans are in place to eventually host races.

Company tents from Shimano and Big Tree Bikes offered riders some respite from the rain Saturday. But many hot-lapped till the lift shut off at 4 p.m. Tim Zimmerman, a professional snowboard photographer with a growing mountain bike portfolio, came up from Portland to join the festivities. “I can’t wait to show these pictures to the people who are opposing trails in Oregon,” he says, referencing the huge turnout.

The large crowds were proof of the region’s healthy, hearty mountain bike community. But who wouldn’t be drawn to our mountains? To their dramatic beauty that cuts to the soul? Or the warm faces in the cold and damp?

Still, Martinez says, “Today surprises me. You don’t ever know if it’s really the right thing to do. We [the resort] think it is, other people tell us it is, but, honestly, until everybody shows up and rides it—in the pouring rain—you just never know.”

Now, they do.

Update: Sunday saw clearer skies—and an even larger turnout.

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