ELKO – Elko has never had a designated place for mountain bikers to ride, but now with the opening of the SnoBowl trail system bikers and hikers have a new place to explore.
Sue Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Ranch, began the project for purely selfish reasons.
“I wanted someplace where I could ride,” she said. “You know I grew up here. I lived in Colorado for 15 years, I rode all over the place. And I moved here and there was no constructed mountain bike trail, and I thought that was a shame because there is so much terrain around here that is absolutely perfect for mountain biking.”
With the vision in place she and Brandon Short, one of her main “trail fairies,” began to look for the perfect place.
“We started scouting back in 2005,” Short said. “We scouted around all these canyons just thinking were we could put mountain bike trails. …Nothing really happened.”
Combining it with the SnoBowl five miles north of Elko gave the trail idea a home.
“They revived the SnoBowl Foundation, got that going in 2010 and started building trails at that time,” Short said. “It makes sense. Ski and bike parks are sort of a common thing nowadays … They convert the ski resorts into biking resorts in the summertime, so this is our own little city ski and bike park.”
Once the place was found, Kennedy began to organize trail days.
“The thing to remember is, this is a community driven project,” she said. “This was people that wanted to see this happen. This was people showing up, like Brandon, after work, you know, and seeing something that needed to be done and spending those hours doing it.”
For five years the work continued, but the pace was much too slow.
In 2016, the SnoBowl Foundation received funding to finish the trail from a federal grant for non-motorized trails.
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“Getting the grant was the savior for this project,” Short said. “It would have gone on forever had we never gotten that.”
The Foundation was able to hire Kevin Joell, owner of Sierra Trail Works, to professionally design and build the trail. His presence “supercharged” the project.
Joell, who has been building trails for more than 20 years, explained his company’s philosophy.
“We are building trails that are sustainable to the landscape but also fun for the users. You can be a really good mountain biker and you’re like, ‘I know how that trail should feel,’ but if you don’t know how to put it in a way that is the least damaging to the landscape and the most sustainable where it’s not going to require regular maintenance and have erosion issues ... the trail’s gonna fail.”
“And let’s say you totally understand how to make a trail for sustainability but you don’t understand how people are going to ride it, that trail is gonna fail. That’s what we pride ourselves in is that we have a good feel for what makes a fun trail for the users and also a really good understanding of how to blend the trail in with the landscape, you know minimize our disturbance. That’s what we did up here.”
The completed trail is over 9 miles long. Users can choose from several circuits, including climbs that lead to the top of the SnoBowl’s ski lifts.
“This has basically been a foundation project, but the transfer of ownership of this is to the city,” Kennedy said, expressing how she wanted to “welcome the city to taking over the show.”
Officially, the City of Elko took over management of the SnoBowl two years ago.
The transfer has been successful so far. Last year under city management the SnoBowl ran its longest ski season to date, staying open for 10 weeks.
“The year prior we weren’t even able to open,” James Wiley from Parks and Recreation said. “We only had about 2 inches of snow. That was a little disappointing, but we made up for it this year.”
As they move forward with the trail, the city is just feeling out what the community wants.
“Right now, it’s come up and use it. Eventually we want to get to where we can run the lift. Run people up the lift. We can haul their bikes up to the top and then pick up the trail. We’ll see how much interest we have in it.”