MTB economics: South Lake Tahoe sees boost from mountain-bike tourism
Economics of Bicycling
According to a 2010 study prepared by the Outdoor Foundation, 60 million adult Americans (18 years of age and older) ride a bike each year, and bicycling creates major economic growth in the United States:
$133 billion annual contribution to the U.S. economy
Supports nearly 1.1 million jobs across the U.S.
Produces $53.1 billion annually in retail sales and services
$6.2 billion in bicycling gear sales and services
$46.9 billion in bicycling trip-related expenditures
Generates $17.7 billion in annual federal and state tax revenue
Provides sustainable growth in rural communities
In the Rocky Mountain region (AZ, CO, ID, NM, MT, UT, NV, WY) alone, bicycling contributes $6.2 billion annually to the regional economy:
Supports more than 60,000 jobs across the region
Generates more than $1 billion in annual state and federal tax revenues
Produces nearly $4.1 billion annually in retail sales and services
$429 million in bicycling gear sales and services
$3.7 billion in bicycling trip-related expenditures
The Mountain States are home to more than 4 million bicyclists – 27 percent of the adult population.
Source: International Mountain Biking Association, http://www.imba.com
When Over the Edge Sports opened locally in May, owners Sam and Brie Hyslop expanded a tourism brand already strong in other mountain-bike hot spots — like Fruita, Colo.; Hurricane, Utah; Sedona, Ariz.; and Melrose, Australia.
“People come specifically to us here because of awesome experiences at other stores,” he said. “They also come here because, since Over the Edge is here, they know it has to be world-class singletrack. People [who travel to mountain-bike destinations] recognize that.”
Founded in Fruita in 1995, Over the Edge first blossomed in western Colorado — founding Fruita Fat Tire Festival and bringing attention to the area’s singletrack around the globe.
Then the brand expanded to other destination locations with a focus on shuttling and visitor-focused services, along with bike tuning and repairs.
Hyslop first got connected with the Over the Edge family while living in Colorado. Now he shuttles South Lake Tahoe visitors to Tahoe Rim Trail rides from three locations — Kingsbury Grade, Luther Pass and Spooner Summit; and the shop hosts women’s events and night rides.
Jordan Rarick, son of Over the Edge’s founder Troy Rarick, worked in South Lake Tahoe’s new shop this summer. He grew up tuning bikes in Fruita, and now he splits time between Hurricane and South Lake Tahoe.
“Our focus is destination mountain biking, and our goal is to come into places that have really good singletrack” — but may not be viewed as a destination yet, Jordan Rarick explained. “South Lake Tahoe has been famous for mountain biking for a long time; it’s just off people’s radar.
IS MOUNTAIN BIKING CHANGING TAHOE?
Over the Edge arriving in South Lake Tahoe is only one example of how the community is growing as an expansive recreation destination.
The lakeside tourism spot has long been known for its beauty, along with gaming and casinos amenities. Community efforts to improve the area’s singletrack, along with a recreation-focused marketing push from Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA), shows a mountain town intent on tourism diversification.
“From the active lifestyle that we promote, as part of our culture and our brand, cycling fits in really nicely,” said Carol Chaplin, executive director of LTVA.
LTVA currently uses images of cycling to attract visitors in marketing campaigns. Though it’s hard to quantify how much money mountain-bike tourism brings to the area, market research is currently being conducted. Chaplin also stressed the importance of continued work to improve bike-focused resources to grow the tourism segment.
“We have world-class mountain biking opportunities and we think it’s definitely increasing in popularly,” she said. “We have a ways to go to be one of the top destinations, however. We have great trails — are they signed? Do we have enough bike racks in front of restaurants bikers like to go to? Can we get them to the trails in a very convenient and streamlined manner?
“We need to develop the product completely. I think we’re getting there.”
WORKING TOGETHER IS PARAMOUNT
Mark Eller, International Mountain Bike Association’s director of communications, suggested that a diversity of riding options must be created — spanning beginner to expert levels — for a destination to grow as a mountain-bike hot spot.
“Continuing to develop trails in all those categories and having a good relationship with the Forest Service is really key,” he said. “If you want it to be an economic driver, the sport must appeal to a larger demographic.”
Luckily, South Lake Tahoe’s active mountain-bike community is already working together with the U.S. Forest Service to develop and maintain area trails.
Mike Gabor, a forest engineer with the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said collaborative efforts with Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA) and the Tahoe Rim Trail Association continue to expand.
“Tahoe is a place that people come to recreate,” he said. “ … We’re interested in giving mountain bikers what they want, while conserving resources in the area.”
Preserving the area’s natural beauty is a main focus of Forest Service efforts, Gabor noted. This includes relocating trails that may be damaging to the environment, and building trail features that fit the area’s landscape.
“We’re willing to reach out to do as much as we can to create an experience, but we won’t build ramps like at the new Bijou Bike Park,” he said.
‘PROTECT THE EXPERIENCE OF THE LOCALS’
Ben Fish, president of TAMBA, agreed that having a symbiotic partnership with the Forest Service is key to creating a mountain-bike destination.
“We give input, help build trails, and we’ve helped create a vision for a connected, multi-use trail system,” he said.
According to Fish, South Lake Tahoe has always been a cycling destination, but connections and infrastructure were not in place until recently.
“There are miles and miles of new trails and improved trails that weren’t here 10 years ago,” he explained.
Just as Eller and Chaplin suggested, Gabor also communicated the need for a South Lake Tahoe trail system spanning a variety of levels and uses.
“We’re quickly reaching the point where we have a trail system that is connected to the community,” Gabor explained. “Our ultimate goal is to have a trail system that meets a broad spectrum of users.”
Gary Bell, owner/operator of South Lake Tahoe’s Sierra Ski and Cycle Works, stressed the importance of trail protection, along with promotion of the area as a mountain-bike destination.
“I believe in a fine line to keep the quality of the experience as good as possible, and to protect the experience of the locals — which is really important,” said Bell, who’s lived in the area for 40 years and operated a bike shop for more than three decades.
“Don’t ‘Moab’ Tahoe — they just have too much traffic there and it diminishes the quality of the experience.”
With that sentiment in mind, Bell confirmed the importance of mountain-biking visitors to his business and the area, along with a growing contingent of locals loving area singletrack.
“It’s important that we are able to control growth — we don’t want it to be explosive,” he said. “But it’s a great source of income for the town.”
AN ECONOMIC BOOST
Hyslop and Bell both confirmed that cyclists are traveling to Tahoe from all over the world — Germany, Switzerland and Holland most recently. And many cyclists also visit from around California.
For example, Jeff Shute, a software engineer from the Bay Area, recently joined an Over the Edge shuttle ride while vacationing in the area.
“It’s a nice change from the trails at home,” he said. “It’s more rocky and technical.”
According to Fish, the new Bijou Bike Park is additionally becoming the “hub of the cycling community,” where local families are rubbing elbows with the sport’s elite riders.
“I think mountain biking is an economic boost to area,” Fish added. “I heard a lot of shops have certainly been a lot busier, and restaurants and hotels are catering to the mountain-bike crowd. It’s pretty interesting. People are looking for hotels that are close to a trailhead. … Mountain biking is on a par with the skiing and snowboarding industry now.”
Ty Polastri, a longtime local and mountain biker, recently launched BikeTahoe.org as way to serve visiting cyclists as well. The website, managed by Team Tahoe (a nonprofit) showcases area trails through descriptions and GPS mapping.
“When I talk with bike shops around the lake, all have increased business,” he said. “Anecdotally you can see it on bike paths and on weekends with bikes on cars.”
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