Mention summers in Windsor, Canada; Crested Butte, Col.; or Moab, Utah, and — no doubt — visions of bicycles with fat, knobby tires rolling across the landscape are sure to follow.
Now mention Angel Fire, N.M., and, well, it doesn’t quite have the same effect — but that could change, said Hogan Koesis on Thursday at the International Mountain Biking World Summit at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Koesis, the bike park manager at Angel Fire, was one of a dozen speakers and hundreds of attendees at the three-day conference, which ends today.
During his session, Koesis discussed the transformation of the Angel Fire Resort from a strictly snow-sport destination to one with activities year-round, centered on mountain biking.
“In 2010, we had 1,200 mountain bike users — that’s lift tickets sold,” he said. “Now we’re the No. 1 summer recreation — even better than zip-lining.”
In one year, the number of riders at Angel Fire grew to 4,000, he said. And this past summer, the number eclipsed the 7,000 mark. “That’s 400 percent growth,” he added.
Mountain biking now accounts for about 15 percent of total revenue at the resort, which is tucked away in the town of roughly 900 full-time residents.
But the newfound popularity of the resort during the dog days of summer didn’t come easily — or cheaply, Koesis said.
Downhill, cross-country and dirt-jumping features were added, along with high-speed chair lifts, needed to avoid long lines, since rider and bike require separate chairs. Proper signage and trail maintenance became a high priority. And the resort also reached out to area clubs, such as Team Fit Taos and Heart+Soul Racing of Albuquerque, to increase exposure.
The result: “If the bike park continues to grow at this rate, it’ll be more popular than the ski hill,” he said.
The only thing limiting its growth, he added, is the population. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
A limited population also means limited support, which is the main problem with the completion of the long-awaited South Boundary Trail, which would connect Angel Fire, Taos and surrounding communities.
“Years ago, there was interest in a regional trail connection plan for the Moreno Valley that would connect Angel Fire, Eagle Nest — the whole thing,” said Attila Bality , who is an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service. “That had some momentum for a while from a group called the Moreno Valley Trekkers. But with staff changes at the resort and in Colfax County, the plan just got lost.
“This is really all about local momentum. … There is no (government) agency that will just step in there and make everything happen. This is really about grassroots, community support.”
Through negotiations with various communities in the Four Corners, community support — albeit slowly — led to the completion of arguably the most comprehensive biking trail system in the state, said New Mexico state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom , D-Gallup.
The result is a boon of nearly $2 million annually to the area, thanks to events like the “Dawn ’til Dusk Adventure Race,” which draws roughly 3,000 competitors every year. Now, she added, don’t be surprised if other communities try their hand at “adventure tourism.”
“We’re even going to add another race — ‘24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest’ — that will bring in probably another 1,000 participants,” she said. “When other communities and other legislators heard about this, they were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’
“But like I’ve always told them, adventure tourism is a major economic driver. This what we have in New Mexico, so let’s take advantage of it.”
Currently, there are 26 miles of single-track biking trails, but plans are in the works for 250 miles of trails connecting McKinley and Cibola counties with Zuni.
“What is so cool about this is that it fills the gaps of tourism — we were primarily cultural tourism. Now we’re able to expand like Taos has,” Lundstrom said.