The International Mountain Bicycling Association announced this week the new recipient of its IMBA Ride Center designation—the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.
“It is our pleasure to welcome Snowshoe Highlands as IMBA’s newest Ride Center and first Ride Center in West Virginia," said Dave Wiens, executive director of the association.
"The IMBA Ride Center designation solidifies the enthusiasm for mountain biking in Snowshoe Highlands and recognizes it as one of today's exceptional mountain bike destinations.”
The Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center is being awarded the bronze designation by the association, which means that the area meets the trail, services, and mountain biking experience criteria that elevates Snowshoe above the average biking destination and offers a variety of single-track riding for all levels of riding abilities.
The designation also recognizes the center as being at the pinnacle of mountain biking communities, Wiens said. These are large-scale facilities with something for every rider, from a variety of riding experiences to a variety of ways to have fun off the bike.
Ride Centers feature extensive trail networks, masterfully designed for mountain bikers of every skill level and built by professional trail builders and local volunteers.
From backcountry adventures to shuttle-served gravity trails, and from expert-only trails to family-friendly riding, mountain bikers can expect the best the sport has to offer at each center.
Trails systems are integrated and well-designed and are embraced by the surrounding communities for the economic, tourism, and other benefits they provide, he said.
There are currently 40 centers worldwide. In the Mid-Atlantic Region, there are five, including the new Snowshoe center.
Cara Rose, executive director for the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, lauded the teamwork that helped establish the designation.
“This project was made possible with a team of organizations working together,” she said.
“The Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Mountain, Pocahontas Trails, West Virginia University Extension Service, and the Pocahontas County CVB have been working on this project for more than two years.”
The forest plays a significant role in the success of the center, according to Shawn Cochran, supervisor for the Monongahela National Forest. With more than 300 miles of mountain biking trails in this area of the forest, its public lands helped significantly to reach the bronze status
“The Forest Service has been working closely with our community partners over the last two years to develop recreational opportunities that will enhance the economy and quality of life for residents and visitors," Cochran said.
"We are thrilled to be a part of the first IMBA Ride Center Designation in West Virginia."
Snowshoe Mountain is the central point of the center with a radius of about 40 minutes drive time making up the Ride Center area, and a significant portion of the trails in the center is on Snowshoe property, both in its lift-accessible bike park and 11,000-acre backcountry.
”Those of us who live here have always known that the mountain biking in our community is world-class," said Ken Gaitor, vice president of mountain operations for Snowshoe Mountain, "but this new Ride Center designation will help us spread the word."
"We feel confident that when folks visit our area and ride our trails, they’ll be hooked, and they’ll be planning plenty of return trips to ride them again," Gaitor said.
Snowshoe has a storied history with mountain biking, culminating with their selection as the host site for this year’s UCI MTB World Cup Finals (Sept. 6-8, 2019), the first UCI World Cup stop in the U.S. since 2015.
“This September, thousands of mountain bikers from all over the world will be coming to Snowshoe, and, for many of them, it will be their first time visiting West Virginia," Gaitor said.
"We see it as a golden opportunity to put our best foot forward and turn them into repeat visitors."
The local IMBA chapter, Pocahontas Trails, teamed up with the project from the beginning, according to Eric Lindberg, chapter president.
“Five years ago Pocahontas Trails became the first IMBA Chapter in West Virginia. From the start the community support has enabled us to promote, maintain and improve our local trails all while preserving the rugged character Pocahontas County, Snowshoe and Slatyfork is known for,” Lingberg said.
“We are thrilled to be part of the effort leading to the IMBA Ride Center designation—the first in West Virginia, the next big step in making this a destination mountain biking center and the growth opportunity this gives to the community.”
Mountain biking and mountain biking facilities can bring an array of benefits to rural communities. They leverage communities’ natural assets to create places that are attractive to visitors, businesses, and both new and current residents. Specific, documented benefits include health benefits for local users, increased tourism and economic development opportunities, and benefits to the local environment.
In the U.S., an estimated 50 million people (20 percent of Americans age 16 and older) mountain bike. The most recent IMBA membership statistics show that their riders are young professionals who are well educated and affluent.
The median age for members is 44 years old; 76 [percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 31% for the U.S. and 21% for WV); 53 percent reported work in professional and managerial positions, and the market's median household income is $100,000, compared to $60,336 for the nation and $43,469 for the state.
Tourism delivers an estimated $94 million to the economy in Pocahontas County, according to Rose.
“According to a 2017 survey, about fifteen percent of visitors to the county participate in mountain biking,” Rose said.
“We see this number growing with the new IMBA Ride Center designation and leveraging our trails and natural beauty to enhance the overall tourism economy through mountain biking recreation.”
Mountain biking can bring economic benefit to the entire state as well, according to state tourism commissioner Chelsea Ruby.
“For years, our mountains have been home to world-class recreation, including skiing, biking, rafting, ATV rides, and more," Ruby said.
"This designation puts West Virginia’s mountain biking trails among the best in the world. It also stands to increase visitation from the growing mountain biking community now and for years to come.
“We can’t wait to bring more riders here to see and experience Almost Heaven."
Rose said the bureau and its partners will now work to improve center status.
“The CVB, partners and Pocahontas County communities are invested in mountain biking and the recreation economy,” she said.
“Reaching silver ride center status is within reach and working with our partners on strategic planning, community connectivity, and improved guest services, the Ride Center establishes Nature’s Mountain Playground, the region, and West Virginia as a premier mountain biking destination.”
Steve Kasacek, Trail Solutions program manager for the association said attaining the status should help provide the community with the tools it needs to further build its status as a destination.
“The Ride Center designation is as much about the process as it is the award," Kasacek said," helping community partners use the process as a guide and educational experience for creating amazing places to ride mountain bikes."