IMBA Epic Monarch Crest. Photo: IMBA

IMBA Epic Monarch Crest, Salida, CO. Photo: IMBA

For years, receiving an IMBA Epic designation for your local trail or trail system was a badge of honor. A right of passage. If your trail was labeled “epic” by IMBA, you had officially made it. The application process to become an Epic trail was pretty democratic, with an annual Epic nomination process that was open to anyone.

Then, IMBA launched their Ride Center designations, among others. Ride Centers became the new gold standard for a town or destination, as it took into account all of the various types of riding opportunities in the entire region, and not just one Epic trail. There was a catch, though: the town or region had to pay IMBA to come out and evaluate their destination, and in order to remain on the list the town would have to pay to have IMBA reevaluate them every few years. This is why we never saw the likes of Whistler or Moab on IMBA’s Ride Center list. Despite the entire world knowing that these are two of the greatest ride centers on the planet, they didn’t appear because they didn’t pay to appear.

Anniston, AL Ride Center. Photo: IMBA

Anniston, AL Ride Center. Photo: IMBA

As IMBA has restructured over the last year or so, due in large part to the loss of the Subaru sponsorship and ensuing cash flow issues, they’ve been pretty quiet on the model trails front–until yesterday, when they announced the relaunch of the model trails program. “It was time for IMBA to evolve its Model Trails program to mirror the evolution of our organization and our sport,” said Dave Wiens, IMBA’s Executive Director. “We’re ready to roll out a program that continues elevating communities showing a commitment to mountain biking, from the essential backyard trails to those backcountry classics.”

However, exactly what the new process will look like in order to become an Epic, a Ride Center, etc. is not totally clear, since “the revised application process for 2017 designations will open in early May.” Here’s what we do know from IMBA’s release:

“An in-person, in-depth review of each application by IMBA’s expert team of reviewers will take place over the summer and early fall, and designee announcements will be made in November. Tiered fees will be associated with the application and review process, based on the length of review required and optional additional technical support requested by applicants.”

Since IMBA is grouping both the Epics and Ride Centers under the heading of “Model Trails,” it seems Epic nominations will now involve a fee associated with IMBA conducting an “in-person, in-depth review,” just as Ride Centers did in the past. Based on the mention of “tiered fees” it does sound as if evaluating a single Epic trail may be less expensive than evaluating an entire Ride Center. Still, the takeaway is it appears there will now be a cost associated with a trail system being designated “Epic.”

Stay tuned for more on this topic as we wait for the application period to open.

# Comments

  • Seth's Bike Hacks

    Like a few others have said, IMBA has fought and consulted on behalf of mountain bikers everywhere. The VAST majority of riders know nothing about this. We need IMBA, and IMBA needs a way to cover their operating costs, and even thrive.

    I don’t claim to understand the organizational structure of IMBA, nor can I attest to the viability of their business model. With that said, I do think they could benefit from better marketing. If more riders knew about what IMBA actually does for them they could more than sustain themselves off a $1 monthly donation from less than 1% of riders—hell that’s a lot of people.

    If this new fee structure is how IMBA plans to cover operating costs then I really do hope it works out. Just like most riders don’t understand what IMBA does, most riders don’t care if IMBA has rated a trail. This is a matter of marketing, and unfortunately it’s part of running a large non profit.

    You guys are right to express skepticism about ride centers and trails when some of the best ones have been excluded in light of their failure to pay. IMBA is also right to find ways of covering their expenses. Thoughts?

  • mongwolf

    Does IMBA do some good work? Certainly. Some have given ample example of that in the comments. Is IMBA without problems? Certainly not. Does IMBA need to cover expenses somehow? Well yes. Is there an inherent question of integrity and potential bias in this current approach to rating trails and riding area? It sure looks like it and that’s not helpful to them as an organization (i.e. public perception issues). If this is their best or most preferred approached to ranking, maybe they should disband this part of their work. and stick with trail building and advocacy work. However, I’m not a huge fan of their trail building approach … … there is some good and bad in it also imo.

  • bonkedagain

    I think the whole “IMBA approved trail” concept is a relic of another era. We now have multiple web-sites like this one where we can quickly learn where the coolest, most popular trails are. Just look at all of the “Best” lists that are regularly refreshed by the editors. If IMBA wants to remain relevant then they will need to find a need that isn’t being fulfilled and step in and own it. Does that mean protecting existing trails? Helping get new trails built? Acting as an umbrella organization for local volunteer groups? I don’t know, but maybe Dave Wiens has a good read on what is needed and can come up with a purpose for IMBA. In the mean time, I will give them the benefit of the doubt, send in my dues, and go riding.

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