Q&A: TAMBA’s Ben Fish on trails, family and Tahoe mountain biking
He’s the man behind the resurgence of the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association — the formerly dormant bike organization now making a significant impact on the Tahoe riding scene. But if you’ve met Ben Fish you’d know it’s not just him; it’s a family affair. He, his wife Amy, and their son Max are the new backbone of all things mountain biking in the basin. If there’s a major trail work project or an event, you can bet they’re all there.
The Tribune caught up with Fish to find out how they became the first family of Tahoe mountain biking, get some trail pointers and see what’s in store for the future of the basin.
It’s seems like any time there’s something trail-related going on in Tahoe, you and your family are there. What’s the draw to being so invested in trails up here?
Since I was a kid I’ve loved trails. I scratched in close to 5 miles of trails behind my parents house as a kid growing up [in Connecticut]. I guess you could say it’s an addiction. I just love being out in the woods riding my bike, being on trails and sharing it with other people. It’s even better now that I have family. It’s just great.
Are you talking about riding or working on trails?
Both. The riding is better than the working.
Between you, your wife Amy and your son Max, how did it become such a family thing?
I think just by default, really. Because Amy and I, we both didn’t want to give up riding or working on trails. Max was literally a year old and we’d drag him out on trail days.
He’s six now — has he grown into it with the same passion?
Oh yeah. He takes pride in wearing his TAMBA trail work T-shirt to kindergarten. He has TAMBA stickers all over his stuff. He goes to the bike park and is like, “I helped build that.” He rides Corral Trail and he can identify what berm he worked on. It’s pretty crazy for a 6-year-old.
Does he like the work as much as the riding?
No. Not at all.
How would you describe the state of trails in the Tahoe Basin?
We’re kind of on an upward trajectory.
There’s still a long way to go. There are different areas that are better connected; for instance, South Lake is better connected than Kings Beach. I’m talking about connections to neighborhoods and mountain peaks and everything.
I think we could improve the interconnected network of trails so you’re not necessarily driving to a trailhead and can basically ride from your door or your hotel. South Lake is pretty good in that sense, but in other areas you have to get in a car to do something, or there are trails that just essentially dead-end. You have to do them as an out-and-back.
You and Amy moved here in 2003; how have you seen the mountain bike scene change since then?
When we moved here there were really a lot less trails. There wasn’t as much of a scene. TAMBA was dormant. You didn’t really know where to ride, I guess. Unless you ran into someone.
The first time I rode Toads, I rode up it, which was completely asinine.
Amy used to do a lot of racing, so we kind of got into that scene of meeting people through downhill racing. That really helped.
Since then, the Forest Service has done an amazing job of building more trails and making connections that make it possible to loop things. So you’re not just doing an out-and-back. They’ve built more trails, and in the right places.
They’ve also done some big improvements on existing trails. Some trails like Cold Creek were there, but they were kind of crummy; same thing with Armstrong Pass.
TAMBA is hosting its first Trail Summit this weekend. What’s the idea behind that?
It’s kind of a “pump up Tahoe” meeting. I’ve curated a lot of speakers to learn from them, industry leaders, other organizations. We’re trying to get a collection of the minds together so we can trade notes and look toward the future.
What kind of things would you like to see in the future?
There could be great things, like a trans-Sierra hut-to-hut system. The kind of things that are going on in New Zealand or Europe.
These kind of big ideas are what excites me.
Anything in the nearer future?
Heavenly. I think it’s the greatest opportunity to fill in a black hole of trails. There’s really no trails up there right now. To have the potential to have a lift-served bike park along with a better interconnected multi-use system will be great. Up and around Heavenly and by the largest population center at Tahoe, it’s going to be huge.
What is the timeline for that?
It’s moving forward. It should be within the next couple years.
What’s your favorite trail?
Toads. Toads and Star Lake Trail. If I have a new favorite it would be Star Lake. It’s a great trail up and down. Linking Star Lake over to Toads is good.
If someone comes to town for just one day, what is the must-ride?
If you’re in town for one day I think you have to ride Corral, just for the pure fun factor. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it’s not going to kill your endurance.
Or Van Sickle for the views. It’s another really well-built trail.