May 16, 2012

Ski Areas’ Growing Interest in Bike Parks Could Create Opportunities for Retailers

Six months ago, President Obama signed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which was shaped with a lead role from the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) and support from Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA). Already some of the benefits of this legislation are becoming evident, notably in the form of more ski area talking about expanding mountain biking operations, which will create opportunities for bicycle retail stores at mountain bases.

Many large ski areas are planning to make significant investments in lift-assisted mountain bike trail systems in the coming year thanks to the legislation, which makes it easier for ski areas to develop year-round amenities on land they lease from the U.S. Forest Service. Leading consultants say they are urging resorts to partner with local bike dealers to provide repair and product expertise. About 20 percent of outdoor specialty retailers stock cycling SKUs, according to the 2011 Retailer Benchmarking Report published by OIA.

The bill amended the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 to specifically name zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, Frisbee golf courses, and ropes courses as potentially permitted summer activities.

While the permitting process for such parks remains complex, the bill immediately solidified interest in bike parks among ski resort operators. Within weeks of passage, the NSAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Mountain Bicycling Association that calls for the non-profit group to promote parks operated by NSAA members. The potential of bike parks has since been featured as the cover story of the NSAA Journal. In addition, bike parks emerged as a hot topic during NSAA’s 2012 annual conference in May, according to Dave Kelly, a principle with Gravity Logic, which designs such parks.

“All the major resort operators have plans to have bike parks up and running in the next two years, and the ones that do already are not slowing down capital investment,” said Kelly.

While ski resorts have been developing bike parks on private land for decades, the commercial success of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia and the Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort in Colorado have fanned the growing interest.

Opened in 1998, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park now attracts an estimated 130,000 visitors a year. Five years after its launch, Trestle Bike Park is expected to draw about 30,000 riders and generate $1 million in sales this year. This includes more than $400,000 in sales of used bikes, T-shirts, jerseys, caps, socks and other logo wear, said Paul Mutch, who oversees the park.

Beginning last summer, Mutch began leasing space at Trestle Bike Park to Denver-based independent bicycle dealer BikeSource to enhance customer service during the June to September season. Under the arrangement, Trestle focuses on renting bikes and selling lift tickets, logo wear and used rental and demo bikes, while BikeSource has rights to service rider’s personal bikes and sell new bikes and accessories.

Under the arrangement, BikeSource can send customers to Trestle to test ride demo bikes and Trestle sends customers to BikeSource for repair services and other needs. This arrangement has enabled BikeSource to expand sales of downhill and other high-end gravity bikes that typically feature burly frames and suspension and can cost thousands of dollars, said BikeSource President Marc Eisenberg. It has also boosted sales at the company’s Denver stores.

“So many of the people who go up there are Denver people,” said Eisenberg. “At the mountain, we are the emergency room. Down here in Denver we are the hospital. It helps with them getting to know us so that when we tell them they need a complete overhaul, they feel comfortable bringing it into our shop down here.”

Kelly and Mutch, who often consult on the same bike park projects, are urging other ski areas to pursue the same partnership model.

“Winter Park has no interest in being a bike shop and selling new bikes,” said Mutch, who also helped launch the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. “And we are so busy making sure our 250 bike fleet is in working shape that we really don’t want to be in the public repair business.”