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The Dirt Deities

Great trail systems dont just appear out of thin air and good intentions. They take dedication, planning, navigating government bureaucracy, and lots of hard work to build. To praise that effort, we honor the folks responsible for providing you with these sweet rides.

It used to be that mountain bikers could just follow whatever trail unfurled before them. But to be good stewards and users of the land, designers must build well-thought-out trails properly built to mitigate rutting from erosion and to minimize any impact on wildlife. The greater Rocky Mountain region has a number of groups and organizations with thousands of people, a few paid and the majority volunteer, working as trail designers and builders to provide mountain bikers the most fun and the most ecological riding experience possible in their areas. Here are a few of our favorite trail heroes. Maybe it’s time you become one, too?

Buena Vista, Colorado

Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition (BVSC)

Trail Hero: André Chalifoux, 57, moved to Buena Vista four years ago from Lyons, Colorado, and has spent many hours on his own and leading crews to build and maintain trails. He retired three years ago and immediately became WFR certified and joined the Chaffee County Search and Rescue chapter. When BVSC started in 2016, Chalifoux saw it as an opportunity to give back to the local community as a trail runner and avid mountain biker who’d been using and loving the local trails. He organized and led crews on the newly approved Vitamin B system and on the new Camp Elevation Trail. He logged many hours installing seasonal wildlife closure gates and new trail system signage. BVSC Executive Director Nancy Andersen says, “I can’t even begin to guess how many hours André has spent on his own out building new trails and maintaining existing trail. BVSC, like most other trail orgs, could not function without volunteers like André!” And it’s not just for Chalifoux’s own use. “It is very rewarding to see trails built with thoughtful design and scenic views in a sustainable way,” he says. “An additional bonus is seeing trail users having a blast on them.”

Favorite Trail: “I like the epic vibe of Vitamin B, but my favorite trail is Unchained—a beautifully designed technical trail with flowy, rocky sections and challenging drops,” says Chalifoux. “It’s possibly the best trail that we have built yet, and an indication of what is coming next.”

New Trails: Vitamin B, Sausage Link

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Western Slope, Colorado

Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA)

Trail Hero: Scott Winans, 55, grew up in Arizona where he first recognized the value of volunteer efforts by watching his dad agent a 4-H group. When Scott moved to the Westen Slope in the early 1990s and started working at a bike shop, he and a small group of other mountain biking enthusiasts started riding cattle trails in the area that would eventually become the 18 Road trails. At first, they  built and improved  trails on their own—heading out early in the morning to build, then ride, then head to work. Sometimes, they were back at it after work in the evenings. COPMOBA was founded in 1989 but it wasn’t until 1993 that Winans got involved and had the ah-ha moment of understanding the need to work through the structure of the organization in coordination with BLM and the Forest Service and to stop building unapproved and damaging rogue trails through the desert. Winans joined the COPMOBA board in 2009, and his interest runs deeper than just having fun places to ride. “COPMOBA is an economic development organization that masquerades as a trail crew supporting jobs and attracting tourism,” he says.

Favorite Trail: “The Palisade Rim Trail on the flank of the Mesa is the ride that centers me,” says Winans. “Views include the Brook Cliffs range, the Colorado National Monument, the agricultural fields, and the green band along the Colorado river.”

New Trails: Finished late last year and ready to ride now are a few additions to the Kokopeli network with extensions of The Wrangler Trail, Steve’s Loop, and More Fun. By the end of summer, the first half of the Palisade Plunge (see page 19) should be ready and the rest of the trail should be rideable in the spring of 2021.

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Northern Colorado & Southern Wyoming

Overland Mountain Bike Association (OMBA)

Trail Hero: Mick Syzek, 68, grew up an Army brat but has lived on the Front Range for decades. He was involved in Scouting, which he credits with instilling a love for the outdoors and recognizing the need for volunteering, specifically trail building. He first started volunteering in 1992 with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) to save himself from becoming a workaholic and to build a social community. He moved to Fort Collins in 1997, when his wife’s job moved them there and he was able to retire and get more involved in his volunteering efforts. He continued working with VOC, but also discovered a group of ski patrollers who formed the Diamond Peaks Mountain Bike Patrol to have something to do when the snow melted. In 2008, that group evolved into the Overland Mountain Bike Club (and later Association). Mick says that as he gets older, he loves having a way to stay active. Now that he’s gained experience over the years, he’s enjoying passing his knowledge down to the next generation of trail builders and stewards. Mick is the Trails Committee Chairperson for OMBA and still volunteers with VOC, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, and is a member of the Colorado Addicted Trail Building Society.

Favorite Trail: “Limber Pine Trail at Hermit Park Open Space, managed by Larimer County near Estes Park is a fun, intermediate trail that connects with Homestead Meadows and Lion Gulch Trail, both managed by USFS,” he says.

New Trails: A new, 1-mile flow trail in Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming, with berms, rollers, rock drops, and wooden features. Trails in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District have been upgraded after 10 years of neglect—limited rollout this year with more to come as funding becomes available.

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New trail construction on Young Gulch Trail. Photo by Mick Syzek

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe Fat Tire Society (SFFTS)

Trail Hero: Henry Lanman, 76, grew up in Santa Fe but relocated to the Bay Area to work as a fire department captain. He started riding while in California and now has about 40 years of experience. He returned home 20 years ago and has been involved in leading crews in the building and maintaining of trails across the county including the Galisteo Basin Preserve, the Dale Ball Trail system, the La Tierra trails, and Alto Park. Henry learned about trail engineering while grading fire trails in California. When he returned to Santa Fe he took a Forest Service Trail Crew Leader Course to get involved with fixing the trails that he thought needed some help. He works with the Glorieta 2.0 organization, is a member of the Santa Fe Trails Alliance, the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, and he’s a founding member of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society. He is a leader representing the trails community at meetings with many of the organizations interfacing with the Forest Service, and the city and county of Santa Fe. According to Brent Bonwell, who’s in charge of Government Relations for SFFTS, “Any Santa Fe bikers or hikers who use local trails have benefited from Henry’s behind-the-scenes work.”

Favorite Trail: “I love technical Rio en Madio in the Santa Fe National Forest,” Lanman says, “even though I can’t ride all of it.”

New Trails: Fellow trailbuilders voted to name a new 2-mile loop in the Galisteo Basin Preserve Henry’s World. It’s moderately flowy through the pinon, juniper, and grasslands terrain, and it runs into a technical rocky area with multiple lines for various rider levels.

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Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA)

Trail Hero: Robbie Robinson, 68, was born in Virginia and graduated from CU in 1975 but didn’t make it out to Crested Butte until 2004 to visit an old friend. Years later, he spotted some local folks doing trail work and he was instantly inspired to volunteer himself. Robbie was at a low point in life and the camaraderie, physical effort, and sense of accomplishment gained through the trail work “helped me physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he says. In 2014, an off-handed invite to stay after a summer of work was all he needed to permanently move to Crested Butte, and that October, he was named CBMBA’s volunteer of the year. Robbie appreciated CBMBA’s core culture, and after 30 years in a thankless cubicle job back in Virginia, it meant a lot when someone told him “good job” while working on the trails (even if that person had to go back and “touch up” spots). “Robbie volunteers for so many things, but he is incredibly dedicated to trails both here in Crested Butte and in Gunnison,” says David Ochs of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.

Favorite Trail: “Gunsight Connector is moderately difficult and a fun downhill ride through the Aspen forest,” says Robinson. “I worked on it from start to finish and learned a lot of humility in the process. After it was laid out and the deadfall was removed, 225 volunteers worked on it over one weekend to set two miles of trail in place. It’s a real community trail.”

New Trails: Middle Cement Creek was finished at the end of the season last year—a moderate/intermediate trail that makes a great “lunch loop” with Walrod and Lower Cement Creek Trail. Riding it clockwise (down) is recommended.

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