IMBA Announces New Pay-to-Play Model Trails Program

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.