A gas at Stevens Pass

  • By Bill Sheets and Noah Haglund Herald Writers
  • Saturday, October 1, 2011 7:36pm
  • Local News

STEVENS PASS – Patrick Bowen was spattered in mud and grinning Saturday afternoon after four trips down the slope on his mountain bike.

The 33-year-old from Edmonds was one of hundreds of riders breaking in two new bike trails in an area normally frequented by skiers.

Though relativel

y new to the sport, Bowen has tried several popular biking spots closer to home.

Compared to them, he said, Stevens Pass Ski Resort and its modified ski lifts offer a big plus: “Not having to pedal uphill.”

“It’s pretty nice in that respect,”

Bowen said. “All downhill.”

About 400 people showed up for the bike park’s long-awaited opening, said Joel Martinez, Stevens Pass director of operations.

The number was better than Martinez expected.

The trails will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20. Mountain bikers will be able to take their bikes on the chairlifts to the trailheads.

The trails are likely to open this weekend only this year, with the possibility of the business adding one more weekend if the weather holds.

“It’s somewhat of a soft opening,” said John Meriwether, director of environmental planning for Stevens Pass.

Saturday afternoon brought rain and temperatures in the high 40s.

Near Granite Peaks Lodge, muddied riders waited in line for a hose to clean off their bikes and themselves.

The opinion of riders in line was overwhelmingly positive. That included a group of four electricians.

“Amazing,” said West Smith, 49, of Seattle who has competed in races in the Northwest. “The trails are wicked fun, even the mud was fun.”

The group included Erik Foldvik, 32, of Renton, who bought a five-year membership and was ecstatic to have the chance to use it. He’d been anticipating the trails for years.

“It’s only going to get better the more they build,” Foldvik said.

Mercedes Quinn-Blair, 40, a bike manufacturing representative from Kirkland, also had tried out the trails a week ago, when they were dry.

“It’s fun either way,” Quinn-Blair said.

Not everybody was digging the mud, though.

“They have a ton of potential,” Patrick Byrne, 32, of Sammamish said of the trails. “But the weather just made it like soup, so it was tough to carry any speed.”

The bike paths are part of a longer-term, $925,000 plan to build a total of five trails on the mountain for summer use. Environmental groups fought approval of the bike park last year. Conservation Northwest, which is also the Seattle chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Tulalip Tribes filed appeals of the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of the park.

Both groups argued that the bike park should have been reviewed as part of a long-term plan by Stevens Pass to expand its ski area.

Under that plan, Stevens Pass would grow from its current 588 acres to 938 over 10 to 20 years.

The Forest Service’s regional office in Portland shot down the appeals, however, ruling that the long-term plan was conceptual and not subject to environmental studies.

This past spring, the ski area quickly sold 200 five-year passes for the bike park — at $1,000 a pop. This quick infusion of $200,000 helped pay for the work on the trails this year, Meriwether said.

In addition to unlimited trail use through 2015, purchasers get a number of other perks under the “Drop In Alliance” program.

Passholders were invited to use the trails in a sneak preview two weekends ago, Meriwether said. “They had great reviews, they had a great time,” he said. One of the trails is an advanced trail, featuring steep, tight corners, Meriwether said. “It takes some technical skill for mountain bikers,” he said. The other trail is an intermediate one, a little smoother and flatter, with berms and big jumps, Meriwether said.

“You can just ride over them or catch air,” he said.

The ski area worked with Gravity Logic to create the trail system.

The design group won praise for its work on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia.

The trails are laid out on hardpan dirt, with boardwalk-type bridges built over streams and wetlands.

The intermediate trail is about half finished, the advanced one about two-thirds done, with both temporarily emptying out onto service roads. Stevens Pass will continue working on the trails as long as the weather holds out this fall, and resume when the snow melts next spring, Meriwether said.

Getting all five trails done might take a couple of more years, he said.

Longer term, Stevens Pass hopes to add 20 more trails to the first five, Meriwether said. It has yet to submit that plan to the U.S.

Forest Service for approval, he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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