Years ago, IMBA’s only designation for truly excellent singletrack was the term “Epic.” Over the last several years that has slowly been changing, with new designations including “Gateway Trails,” “Flow Trails,” and “Ride Centers” being added to the vocabulary.
“Ride Centers” are areas that are truly mountain biking destinations in every sense of the word. The best ride centers have trails of all difficulties ranging from beginner to expert. They also include trails for all disciplines of mountain biking, from cross country to downhill and everything in between. Not only do they have great trails, but these areas provide great lodging, great restaurants, and great places to buy a drink.
IMBA has currently designated only seven locations as true “Ride Centers,” and even those are broken down into three categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Here they are in descending order:
Park City, Utah (Gold)
As IMBA’s only Gold-level ride center, Park City embodies every single one of the factors that I mentioned above. It has miles and miles of pristine singletrack with gorgeous Rocky Mountain views, trails ranging in difficulty from easy to hard, trails for all different types of riders, and plenty of facilities to support the droves of people that travel from out of town.
According to IMBA Regional Director Ryan Schutz, “what’s really important is that [the trails] function as a cohesive network, with signage and trail connections that create a model riding area.”
Oakridge Area, Oregon (Silver)
The communities of Oakridge and Westfir have poured considerable resources into transforming their economies from ones driven by timber to economies driven by tourism–and mountain biking plays a big part of it. With everything from close-to-town loops to all-day epics, Oakridge is sure to please both the beginners and the veteran rippers with 500+ miles of singletrack.
Copper Harbor, Michigan (Bronze)
Located at the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula above the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Copper Harbor is about as remote as you can get, making this a true “destination” trip. Copper Harbor is home to an ever-expanding network of trails ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. Surprisingly, many of the trails are designed as gravity-fueled freeride trails with plenty of berms, jumps, and gnar to keep most any freerider grinning from ear to ear! Shuttles run during peak times, but if you have the legs and the bike for it, you can earn your turns as well.
Cuyuna Lakes, Minnesota (Bronze)
Cuyuna Lakes just held their grand opening this summer, but the brand-new purpose-built trail system is already a “Midwest Mecca.” Mountain bike legend Hans Rey, after sampling the trails on opening day, said, “They’re among the best I have ridden — super flowy and fun.” Coming from Rey, that’s a real compliment! The trails currently include fast, flowy sections, challenging slow-speed technical sections, and everything in between. Cuyuna Lakes is also exploring the possibilities for challenging downhill-esque descents. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this new destination!
Harrisonburg, Virginia (Bronze)
Harrisonburg, located in the beautiful Shenandoah valley, has a wealth of characteristically gnarly East Coast singletrack, with a few sections of beginner-friendly trail thrown in here and there. The community features excellent in-town singletrack, with several certified Epics just outside of town. The racing scene is alive and well in Harrisonburg, with local races of various distances all the way up to the Shenandoah 100, part of the NUE series.
Santos, Florida (Bronze)
The fact that a trail system in Florida has made it onto such a short list of world-wide ride centers speaks volumes of the quality of the riding at Santos. Santos features everything from groomed to rowdy cross country singletrack and from technical stunts to a progressive freeride/jump area, as well as the opportunity to get some serious air in the Vortex! Factor in nearby camping, bike shops, several popular festivals and races, and a thriving year-round mountain bike scene, and you have a true mountain biking destination… in Florida!
Photo credit: http://www.singltrekpodsmrkem.cz
According to IMBA, this “is the first purpose-built mountain bicycle trail system in continental Europe.” Translated as “Singletrack Under the Spruce,” this trail system follows the border of the Czech Republic and Poland and features 40 miles of pristine singletrack. In a place where people are accustomed to riding fire roads and old hiking trails, Singletrack Under the Spruce is a radical departure from the norm, and a breath of fresh air. Taking after popular facilities in the United Kingdom, the trailhead “boasts a comprehensive. . .facility that includes a bike shop, rentals, café, bike wash, showers and changing rooms — all situated above a gorgeous lake.”
More information about Singletrack Under the Spurce is available on their website.
Your turn: Which factors do you think are most important in a mountain bike destination? Is it just about having miles and miles of trails, or does a real mecca need to have more?