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You don’t have to be a hard-core mountain biker to enjoy the new trails at Angel Fire

 

ANGEL FIRE — There are riders who can blaze down Angel Fire’s 2,000-foot mountain in less than five minutes, but Hogan Koesis is currently more interested in everybody else.

As the manager of Angel Fire Bike Park, Koesis’ challenge is to make the Northern New Mexico resort just as accommodating to the beginning or intermediate rider as it long has been for the most proficient downhill whiz.

“I don’t really care about daredevils,” Koesis said last week as he stood among the carefully sculpted dirt mounds of the resort’s new bike skills park. “My passion is to be an advocate for the sport and introduce people (to it).”

Though the mountain has a 25-year history of summer riding, 2011 marks its first season as a “bike park” and today is its first day of operations as such.

It’s the latest ski resort to add the dimension, a trend that Koesis says dates back about a decade.

“The chair-lift accessible bike park has just grown so fast,” said Koesis, a former professional cross-country rider. “We’re still in the beginning stages of what’s possible.”

Angel Fire currently boasts 29 miles’ worth of trails for riders of all levels and interests, including cross-country, downhill and the “all-mountain” category. The park will offer rental bikes and clinics. Visitors will also have access to the skills park and pump track at the base; each can be enjoyed on its own merits or used as a taste of the challenges that exist farther uphill.

Those who come coated in heavy-duty protective gear to ride their $5,000 bikes at top speed and over the rockiest and trickiest features always have been a mainstay at Angel Fire. For years, the trails were established by and for that type of rider, said Angel Fire’s marketing director, Dave Dekema.

Angel Fire has hosted events as high-profile as the 2005 Union Cyclist Internationale World Cup and the NCAA Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships, and many of the trails reflect that level of athlete.

“A lot of the downhill terrain built here was built for racing events,” Dekema said.

Although the resort aims to become a more inclusive, family-friendly bike destination, Dekema said it’s not at the expense of the ace riders.

“You can still ride the World Cup downhill trail, all the same very, very technical sections. There is terrain to attract those experts. They love it here, and we wouldn’t get rid of any of that,” Dekema said. “…  (But) we also want to cater to the people who see them and think ‘Wow. That looks fun and easy.’ ”

The park currently has 10 trails. Six of them are what Koesis called “black” or expert-level. Four are considered “blue” or “green” and therefore designated intermediate or beginner.

“Most places have a ratio of 3-to-1 green and blue to black, and we’re almost the reverse,” Koesis said.

That will soon change. Although weather has been a factor and limited the amount of progress that could be made since the end of ski season — employees were working in the snow last week — three new trails will be finished at some point this season. They include a new cross-country trail with a four-mile lower loop and eight-mile upper loop, and “green” trail that will connect riders from the top of the chair lift to existing trails.

The new pump track and skills park can already accommodate riders.

Koesis likens the pump track to a “mini BMX track” and says the loop’s purpose is to teach riders how to navigate miniature hills and berms without pedaling but by strategic body movements and gravity.

“It teaches you how to transfer energy efficiently,” he said.

The newest riders can get their bearings on a basic skills park route that lines up a series of wooden ramps (each about 1½ feet high) and a teensy rock garden.

The skills park also includes a series of “jump lines,” each composed of three earthen hills. There’s a row for each level of rider, with the most advanced getting the tallest jumps.

A bumpy jumble of rocks simulate terrain on the park’s most challenging trails.

The skills park incorporates elements that an experienced athlete would enjoy but creates an environment that appeals to the newbies, Koesis said.

“When you have something like this, it’s easy to learn with low risk,” he said. “It’s not to the point where you’re rolling the dice.”

Koesis said he’s not interested in sending people to the hospital. In fact, his initial work at Angel Fire involved making everything safer.

“What we did a lot of last year was manage things. There are no puddles on the trail anymore; there’s no more dangerous sticks pointing at your face,” he said. “You have a sign you can follow down the mountain and not get lost.”

After working last year as a contractor, Koesis has been hired on at Angel Fire and is in the midst of his five-year bike park plan. He intends to add three trails this year, plus another each year after that, including cross-country trails on the back of the mountain.

Dekema said the resort is making “a six-figure investment” with the hopes that the payoff is 10,000 riders per season, up from about 3,000 to 4,000 in past years.

“We could be the Southwest’s destination point for bike riders,” Koesis said. “There’s a lot of potential.”

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