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IMBA rolls into Park City

The hundreds of cyclists that have filled the roads and trails of Park City for the past few days, took a break from riding on Wednesday for their opening ceremony at Utah Olympic Park. Although a few murmurs of snow were whispered by riders and speakers, the weather brought a perfect sunset for the opening reception of the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Summit. During the event, Hill Abell, IMBA president, turned to one of his teammates and asked "how are we ever gonna top this?"

The International Mountain Bicycling Association rode into Park City for its annual conference on Wednesday. The event brought nearly 400 riders into town from 22 different nations around the globe.

This summit is the sixth that the IMBA has held. Usually, the organization holds the event once every two years in a community known for its biking. The group, however, is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. Founded by a handful of Californians trying to protect trails for mountain bikers, members and affiliated organizations of the IMBA can now be found in all 50 states. Trail building still counts as one of IMBA’s key missions.

This surprisingly auspicious goal dominated the majority of the group’s talks and events throughout the week and even brought a little bit of controversy as National Park Service Director Mary Bomar spoke to the crowd about mountain biking on protected lands.

Opening ceremony

The event officially kicked off Wednesday night with an opening ceremony at the Utah Olympic Park. Bartenders served the IMBA Summit Ale specially brewed for the event by Wasatch Brewery. The beer was complemented by a Western cookout-style buffet and entertainment provided by practicing ski jumpers and Mayor Dana Williams’ band, Motherlode Canyon Band.

Williams later took the podium, but IMBA officers and the keynote speaker, Governor Jon Huntsman, preceded him. Abell talked about bringing the concept of critical mass out into the world and IMBA’s charge to increase its grass-root campaigns. He said of himself and his colleagues, "We’re all here, ‘cus we’re not all there."

Governor Huntsman took the podium next and expressed his displeasure that he was virtually the only person clothed in formal attire. Most people in the audience were dressed casually, a few even sported the bright socks typically worn by cyclists on a ride. Huntsman complained that his appearance at the Summit cut directly into his riding time. Finished with his playful gripes, Huntsman more seriously addressed the status of mountain biking in Utah. He claimed that Utah is the only state in the union with a mountain-biking development budget of $2 million. It is his intention, he continued, to "make our state the premier destination for mountain biking."

Williams and Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliot spoke to the crowd next in regards to the development of Park City as both a mountain-biking destination and as a public space and trails Mecca. Elliott cited the 400 miles of trails in the area as proof of that and Williams mentioned the 7,000 acres of land absorbed by the city that will never be developed.

The party continued for a few more hours with free beer and entertainment provided by the Flying Aces, who took themselves and their bikes into the air.

Keynote speakers

The first full day of events at the summit began with breakfast on Thursday and two marquee speakers with diverse, but similar messages. The Grand Ballroom at the Park City Marriott nearly filled to capacity.

John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles, took the stage first and presented a very simple message: Americans should ride their bikes more. He said that Americans on average take only about one percent of their trips on bicycle. A trip, as he defined it, is any sort of travel, be it travel to the grocery store or to another state.

As dismal as America’s bike record may sound, he pointed to at least one bright spot in the country. Davis, Calif., a college town not far from Sacramento, has a stellar record of cycle travel. About a quarter of all trips in the town are made on bicycle. (Burke didn’t mention it, but Davis is also one of the few towns in the United States where police are known to issue tickets for B.U.I, or Bicycling Under the Influence.) For Burke, the lesson Davis instructs is clear: solid biking infrastructure leads to increased usage.

Another model city that Burke mentioned, and this one surprised even him, was Paris, France. The historic capital has installed a bike share program that easily allows commuters to go for a spin for only a handful of centimes. Like Davis, its bike based-trip percentage towers above the American figure.

Burke’s final example of the efficacy of infrastructure on bike usage rates, took him to Trek headquarters. Although the company has historically held a large part of the bicycle market in the United States, its mountain bike sales, especially of full-suspension bikes, has never been as strong. A 10-mile trail built with the help of IMBA just outside their offices, said Burke, helped focus their efforts.

Now Burke’s intention is to continue with the recent launch of his program; "One World Two Wheels." The purpose of the program is to collect $15 from the sale of every Trek mountain bike and apply those funds to trail building. He challenged other manufacturers to do the same. For the audience, he echoed that call to arms by telling them, "We all have the opportunity to do something great."

National Park Service Director Mary Bomar voiced a similar sentiment as she addressed the potential for mountain biking in national parks. Currently, around 40 parks allow biking on their grounds. Bomar referred to the success of the mountain biking trails at the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area. The park, just outside of Los Angeles, has a newly built series of trails. The park is a great example of the grass roots institution of mountain biking at a national park.

Bomar expressed her admiration of mountain bikers as an organized group, opposed to the individual athletes who used to frighten superintendents. "There’s a special bond between the IMBA and the men and women of the NPS," she continued. She said she holds a great deal of hope for future cooperation with these types of organizations. Bomar also sang the praises and potential of the National Park Centennial coming up in 2016. Maybe, she joked, Trek could design a special centennial edition bike for the parks.

Celebrate singletrack film

It was fitting that IMBA should choose to hold its first film showing in the Jim Santy Auditorium, one of the theaters used by the Sundance Film Festival. Although other major outdoor film festivals, notably the Banff Mountain Film Festival and the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, make for good locales to introduce films, nothing similar really exists purely for mountain bikers. "Cycling across the country is growing and it’s about time they had a venue to show their work," said Kendall Card of http://www.feedthehabit.com , who helped launch the film festival. In its inaugural year, he said, 12 filmmakers entered films from which the IMBA staff selected five. Card’s hope is to continue to grow the festival in the future.

The evening started with a handful of short documentaries. The films, of course, all dealt with mountain bikers, but they all found different ways of exploring the sport. One film followed a Canadian couple as they struck out into the backcountry for several months. Another film tracked a Coloradan whiskey-maker who attempted the Great Divide trail from Canada to New Mexico on a fixed-gear bike. Maybe the most poignant of the films, especially in light of the major themes of the summit, documented a group of volunteers in New York City who transformed a park used by vagrants as a dump and drug refuge, into an active mountain-biking park. The feature film, "Seasons," interviewed a handful of skilled bikers as they rode their way through the year.

The event, used as a fundraiser for the Mountain Trails Foundation, also featured a drawing. The crowd got a little exuberant as thousands of dollars of biking gear went to lucky attendees. One person went home with a brand new $1,500 bike.

Other events

The Summit kept members and registered guests busy throughout the conference with a handful of other events from morning to evening. Most days began with a breakfast and moved into sessions on a myriad of topics regarding biking and trails.

Days wrapped up with guided rides over Park City’s trails. Dozens of people each day took demo bikes from a few different manufacturers out on the Rail Trail. Mechanics waited on site in tents to keep the bikes in shape for each rider.

Riding off

The Summit officially closes today with an epic ride and a barbecue at the Swaner Nature Preserve. Of Park City and the Summit, Abell said that he and his staff were "overjoyed" with the experience and added "We love Utah."


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