Tale of the Trail
The Goods on Girdwood’s MTB Scene
By P.M. Fadden
Already established among Alaska’s foremost perennial recreation destinations, Girdwood Valley and Mount Alyeska are seeing bike culture growth in 2018.
Coincidental efforts from Girdwood Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA), Alyeska Resort Company and Powder Hound sports shop are improving maintenance and building new multi-use trails.
Formed in 2016, non-profit GMBA includes sixty members led by a six-person board. Thanks to volunteers, over $10,000 in fundraising initiatives and receipt of a Recreational Trails Program [RTP] grant, GMBA is capable of pitching projects, accruing resources and providing labor.
Via construction of a one-mile “Girdwood Bike Park” along 5K Nordic Loop Trail, GMBA hopes to inspire continued bike-oriented development.
“It makes sense to start at the 5K,” said GMBA spokesperson Dan Starr. “The terrain lends itself to mountain biking. It’s already a recreational corridor, and we can maximize the use of existing trail while minimizing footprint by adding summertime use to a mainly winter trail.”
Starr states the GMBA project will come at no cost to tax payers, be supported by self-raised funding and be offered free to the public. Girdwood Trails Committee voted in unanimous support for the new trail, which received similar approvals from Land Use Committee, Girdwood Board of Supervisors, Anchorage Assembly and Heritage Land Bank.
“It’s difficult to get projects off the ground here, but worth the effort because so many people are excited to use and maintain trails,” Starr said. “Our private donations are a testament to that.”
As resort companies continue to build summer bike parks as compensation for shorter winters, Girdwood Bike Park will offer free access to a sport that is close to town.
“A downhill bike or tons of gear are not required,” Starr said. “Just hop on any bike and head out for a few laps.”
GMBA says its project compliments Alyeska Bike Park as it offers riders alternative to pure downhill.
“With two adjacent bike parks, we could really have a cool mountain bike destination here in Girdwood,” Starr said.
Seven year-old Alyeska Bike Park is the state’s largest commercial downhill operation and boasts Alaska’s only lift-enabled gravity bike network, carving 2,400 vertical feet of all ability terrain.
“From steep, tight and technical; to flow-y cruisers, jump lines and man-made features; Bike Park has something for all ability levels,” said Alyeska Resort’s Mountain Marketing Manager, Ben Napolitano.
Bike Park plans in 2018 include new trail creation. Intended to launch from top station at Ted’s Express, the project emulates the park’s current downhill style, opening new zones across Max’s Mountain.
Alyeska Resort is member to International Mountain Bike Association as well as corporate partner to manufacturer Kona Bikes. Riders describe Bike Park atmosphere as homey or invigorating while in keeping with a family feel.
“I would definitely encourage first-time riders to visit Alyeska and the Girdwood Valley trails,” one Bike Park instructor said. “There are beginner trails to start at your own pace, with plenty of harder ones to progress.”
So-called harder trails typically imply peddling away from established networks.
At this level, trek-meets-ride trails take on an “in the know” element, a colorful factor which implies not only a commune with nature but also an inter-appreciation among user groups.
“Stepping away from beaten hiking paths in Girdwood Valley allow bikers to ride in soft dirt among a large variety of challenging obstacles that dramatically improve bike handling skills and offer a more fun overall experience,” said long-time local rider Hunter McConnel.
“However, as trails become well known; volume of bike traffic increases, opening up challenges to bikers and hikers alike,” he said.
This development, according to McConnel, is where GMBA may begin addressing the issue of limited trails. The bike trail at 5K loop is thought to offer new challenge for local riders while keeping excitement high. Beyond that, capability of modern bike technology, coupled with rider motivation, is expected to take trail riding to zones currently only tapped by winter recreation.
“In the meantime,” McConnel said. “The Forest Service has undertaken improvement projects on both Beaver Pond and Upper Winner Creek while local bike traffic across the valley’s further extending trail networks have, to some extent, kept foliage growth at bay.”
McConnel believes Girdwood is embracing the influx of bike riders and will support expanding current valley trails as well as creation of new ones.
“As with skiing,” McConnel said, “this will further cement Girdwood as a year round outdoor destination.”
Recently, volunteer efforts organized by local sport shop, Powder Hound have made gains toward that very end.
Thursday, August 2 saw twelve rain-slogged volunteers, including GMBA members, address labor intensive maintenance along nearly two miles of trail that will host area racing until September.
“There aren’t many places you can leave your front door and have a fantastic ride without a lick of commute,” said Powder Hound owner and maintenance organizer, Eric Helmbrecht. “And improving our trail systems will only make for a more active community.”
Recreation advocates believe additional trail presence in Girdwood results in more tourism, bringing enhanced prosperity to all local businesses while creating more tax revenue.
“We, as a community need to put energy into bettering the trails in Girdwood,” Helmbrecht said. “Create not only mixed use, but separate use trails designated solely for mountain biking or hiking.”
Achieving this, Helmbrecht feels, ensures comfort for all parties upon trails of their preference, both today and tomorrow.