Park City Mountain Bike trailblazer Cyndi Schwandt honored in memorial ride
Park City’s mountain biking community honored the life of one of its own on Monday as about 50 riders, many clad in purple, took to the Rail Trail in a memorial ride starting and ending at the Mountain Trails Foundation headquarters.
Schwandt, 68, died on June 11 while mountain biking on a trail near Solamere, leaving a hole in the cultural fabric of Park City’s biking scene, where she was known for her welcoming demeanor to new riders, for her longtime involvement in the sport, and for her contribution to shaping the city’s internationally recognized trail system.
She was particularly dear to Team Sugar, a weekly women’s riding group based of the White Pine Touring bike shop. According to Sugar ride leader Kari Murray, Schwandt would usually ride with an intermediate-level endurance group, where her knowledge of the trails shined.
“People knew if they were going on Cyndi’s ride, there was going to be a fair amount of climbing and it would be on some random, secret trail,” Murray said.
Tom Noaker, president of the South Summit Trails Foundation, said he first met Schwandt when she came to the mountain biking shop he owned in the mid-80s, called New Park Cyclery. Back then, she was part of a small group of cycling enthusiasts who were cutting out the future of sport from the mountainside, using the trails of the silver miners who carved their futures before them.
Schwandt had come to Park City by way of Aspen, Colorado. She was born in New Jersey and raised in Seneca Falls, New York, where she and her family grew up sailing on Cayuga Lake. She attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where she got a degree in mathematics, then, after a brief stint back home, decided to go West. Her first stop was Fort Collins, Colorado, where she earned a masters degree in horticulture, then on to Aspen, and, finally, Park City.
In Park City she befriended a group of avid cyclists, including the late Rich Perrier, and started digging out the city’s early trail network.
“They did it all, and it was all bootleg,” Noaker said. “Illegal as hell, but there was no enforcement back then.”
The mountain bikers would find paths that had been beaten by miners in the past and shape them into a trail system involving ski area service roads, double tracks and connections they made on their own.
Eventually, that became a problem for ski areas, and in an effort to legalize the trails that had been created, they were put under the purview of the Mountain Trails Foundation.
“She was always out there hacking away at it with the boys,” Noaker said of Schwandt. “I think she deserves credit for, certainly, some of the early trail work in town. If it hadn’t been for them we would probably be 10 years behind on that whole project.”
Schwandt was also a strong competitor. She competed in the Grundig/UCI World Mountain Bike Championships in 1994 and was the only women’s finisher in the inaugural 100-mile Endurance 100 mountain bike race around Park City in 2004, when she was already in her 50s. She continued to compete in grueling endurance races like the 24 Hours of Moab for years to come.
Her longevity in the sport became inspirational to those around her, particularly Team Sugar.
“She was super fit,” Murray said. “I never called out her age in front of a group, but she‘s 20 years older than me, and it was something to look up to and she was someone to look up to.”
On Monday, riders gathered in the Mountain Trails parking lot – many of them dressed in purple, Schwandt’s favorite color. Friends passed out purple accessories, including small ribbons that riders could pin on their gear in her memory.
“This is a good thing,” said Val Geist, a Sugar rider. “We needed to do this. They were going to wait until August, but I’m glad they are doing it now because I needed to see everybody, too, together, doing this.”
Tom Schwandt, Cyndi’s brother, was under the building’s awning, speaking with some of his sister’s friends. He said he and his daughter, Sara, had been surprised and happy to see that Cyndi was such a big part of the community. Some 50 riders and another 15 hikers had turned out, plus a collection of friends that stayed at Mountain Trails and socialized.
But Tom said his sister had always been popular when they were growing up.
In the past week, tributes to Schwandt have popped up in the community – from the Mountain Trails Foundation, Park City Councilwoman Lynn Ware Peek, individuals on Facebook and from the official newsletter of Soldier Hollow, where she was involved in the Nordic skiing scene.
“Cyndi will be missed by all of us,” wrote Judy Klautt, event coordinator for Soldier Hollow, in the race venue’s newsletter on Monday. “To Cyndi, and honestly I can’t remember this ever being more applicable and sincere, Happy Trails.”
Before the memorial ride, Mountain Trails Director Charlie Sturgis, his helmet trailing purple streamers, announced the group’s route over a megaphone as a gentle rain fell. The procession of riders started rolling onto Bonanza in a herd of purple, chiming their bells as they set off.
A group of hikers followed, then a Park City Police SUV, its sirens silent but lights flashing as the group left for the trail.
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How on earth will the Park City Council candidates address the traffic situation? What will they pledge to accomplish regarding housing? And how well do they understand the impact of the consolidation and corporatization of the ski industry? The fall campaign could answer those questions.