Making ski resorts fit for mountain biking: a way to deal with climate change
Winter sports need winter.
But according to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, 2014 was the hottest year on records. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.
As temperatures rise, analysts predict that some ski centres, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish. A study released by the University of Waterloo just before the Sochi Winter Olympics last year highlights how difficult it will be in the future to replicate the Games in former host cities if the current climate change projections are proved true.
To offset concerns about erratic weather and snow conditions, ski resorts are increasingly looking at diversifying tourism revenues by enriching their offers with year-round operations. Mountain biking, for example.
We know that bicycles as a means of transport have the potential to mitigate the climate change by helping cut greenhouse gas emissions. But our sport can also help cure some economical woes by boosting tourism and saving jobs.
Diversifying towards mountain biking makes business sense. To learn more, we reached Darco Cazin, founder of a Swiss-based company specialised in developing ski resorts into MTB destinations. The company works for both the private sector (such as hotels and lift companies) and public entities (cities, mountain communities, tourism consortia). It delivers market analyses and spearheads the design and construction of trail networks in cooperation with the “Trail Solution” a branch of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).
It all started with a UCI Event, the 2005 Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in Livigno, Italy. The administrators there had the vision to build a legacy for local businesses, to help them flourish year-round. The UCI MTB Worlds were the catalyst for investments in a recreational cycling infrastructure. That reconversion was Cazin’s first project in MTB destination development. Around 40 other endeavours followed in the Alps and beyond: from Scotland to the UNESCO Heritage site of the Durmitor National Park, in Montenegro.
“Mountain resorts worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of the MTB to lengthen their tourist season,” says Cazin. “Mountain bikers are plentiful and are traditionally an affluent segment of the population”.
While global data on the socio-economics of the discipline are scarce, according to different Economic Impact Assessments assembled by the website PinkBike.com, the average US mountain biker has household income levels greater than USD 80,000, and a typical travel spend is USD 60-100 per day (costs to get to the destination excluded). On the IMBA website there are numerous studies on the economics of MTB tourism – some of which we reported in another article published on the UCI website.
“In the alpine Swiss canton of the Graubünden, the daily spend per MTB tourist has been calculated at CHF 159 (USD 175,)” continues Darco Cazin.
No global data exist, however, on how many people enjoy riding all-terrain bikes – although a Slovenian MTB consultancy firm is trying to map worldwide MTB participation.
“Ski resorts in the Alps are rushing to get mountain biker friendly. The single trails we help build start being profitable after only a year or two. It takes a bit longer when the investment includes extra transport infrastructure, such as cable cars.”
To help mountain sites make their strategic decisions in MTB tourism, the company has developed an app. Bikers use it to rate existing facilities and suggest improvements. Then Darco and his team work to provide solutions.
“Often, alongside the MTB trails, we deliver also pump-tracks for BMX. They are a sought-after facility by resorts as they have the potential to penetrate new and younger segments of the market.”
In the USA, thanks to the advocacy action of IMBA, policy-making supports diversification of winter tourism. In 2011 the Congress approved the “Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act” which lifted the limitations that restricted ski resorts from providing any recreation other than Nordic and alpine skiing. The creation of mountain bike terrain parks and trails is one of the activities specifically envisioned in the act, which last year was translated into a set of guidelines. A success for IMBA USA, advocate for MTB and outdoor.
“You need some great bike facilities to show the potential of mountain biking,” says Mark Torsius, Director at IMBA Europe, “But we would never underestimate the urge to work on local bicycle friendly policies too.”