Getting a grip on mountain bikes 

Conference stresses the importance of managing growing sport

Although exact statistics on the growth of mountain biking are hard to come by, the consensus among bike clubs, land managers and resort managers who attended the fourth annual IMBA Summit/second annual World Mountain Bike Conference in Whistler last week (June 20-23) is that the sport is growing and changing almost too quickly to measure.

While more riders create more concern about trail erosion, rogue trail building, and liability, growth also creates opportunity for towns and resorts looking to attract tourists through the summer months. If trails and riders are properly managed, mountain biking also has other benefits for society, from promoting better health to providing a social outlet for a community.

Although some communities, land owners and land managers have said no to mountain biking for a variety of reasons, most communities recognize the potential of the sport and are looking for ways to manage trails and accommodate riders. It isn’t easy – mountain biking has grown more or less under its own steam for decades, and only recently is getting attention. The fact that bikes, trails and riding styles are constantly evolving also creates a few issues, and it’s hard to please everybody.

The conference was a success in that it drew over 400 delegates from 17 different countries. The sessions were divided for three main groups of attendees – bike clubs and trail advocates, land managers such as local governments, and resort development.

Sitting in on several of the sessionS, event producer Richard Juryn was impressed by the high level of the discussions.

When asked what the festival accomplished, Juryn pointed to the fact that all the different groups are at the table and talking, which is an accomplishment in itself.

"One of the things we wanted to do was make sure to educate and enlighten, but more than that to empower people to feel like they can take the tools and skill sets they picked up here and go back to their areas and make a difference," he said.

"Everyone here learned new things. On the advocate side, we learned how to build trails and how clubs can handle themselves politically – it’s important to know how to talk to land managers."

Whistler was also an ideal model for riding. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is recognized as one of the biggest, best and most progressive anywhere, while the Resort Municipality of Whistler supports mountain biking elsewhere in the valley with money, trail building efforts and advocacy at a higher level. In addition, WORCA is one of the largest and most active bike clubs in the world with more than 1,000 members, or roughly 10 per cent of the population signing up each year.

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