IMBA Unveils West Virginia’s FIRST Official Ride Center

If you’re a mountain biker, then you probably already know Pocahontas County, WV is the place to go. With nearly 350,000 acres holding hundreds of miles of trails, it has a little something for everyone.

Pocahontas County has some unique beginner trails that circle the world’s largest steerable radio telescope at Green Bank Observatory. Other beginner trails take you on a scenic cruise along the Greenbrier River Trail State Park.

Photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

Some of the more adrenaline-pumping trails can be found at Snowshoe Mountain Bike Park or the Snowshoe Mountain Gravity Park. One trail that you don’t want to miss is the Gauley Mountain Trail, an IMBA designated “Epic Trail” in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest.

The word on Pocahontas County biking has spread to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) which led to the newest recipient of their IMBA Ride Center™ designation to be the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center.

The Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center is being awarded the bronze designation by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, meaning that the area meets specific trail, services and mountain biking experience criteria that elevates the overall mountain biking experience above the average destination and offers a variety of single track riding for all levels of riding abilities. 

“It is our pleasure to welcome Snowshoe Highlands as IMBA’s newest Ride Center, and first Ride Center in West Virginia. The IMBA Ride Center designation solidifies the enthusiasm for mountain biking in Snowshoe Highlands and recognizes it as one of today’s exceptional mountain bike destinations,” said Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director. 

Photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

WHAT IS AN IMBA RIDE CENTER? 

The IMBA Ride Center designation recognizes the pinnacle of mountain biking communities. These are large-scale facilities with something for every rider, from a variety of riding experiences to a variety of ways to have fun off the bike. 

IMBA Ride Centers feature extensive trail networks, masterfully designed for mountain bikers of every skill level and built by professional trail builders and local volunteers. From backcountry adventures to shuttle-served gravity trails, and from expert-only trails to family-friendly riding, mountain bikers can expect the best the sport has to offer at an IMBA Ride Center. Trails systems are integrated, well-designed, and embraced by the surrounding communities for the economic, tourism and other benefits they provide. 

There are a total of 40 IMBA Ride Centers in the world. In the Mid Atlantic Region, there are five IMBA Ride Centers including the new Snowshoe Highlands IMBA Ride Center. 

Photo courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

REGIONAL COLLABORATION 

“This project was made possible with a team of organizations working together,” said Cara Rose, Executive Director for the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Mountain, Pocahontas Trails, West Virginia University Extension Service and the Pocahontas County CVB have been working on this project for more than two years.” 

The Monongahela National Forest plays a significant role in the success of the Snowshoe Highlands IMBA Ride Center. With over three hundred miles of mountain biking trails in this area of the Forest, these public lands helped significantly to reach the bronze status. “The Forest Service has been working closely with our community partners over the last two years to develop recreational opportunities that will enhance the economy and quality of life for residents and visitors

We are thrilled to be a part of the first IMBA Ride Center Designation in West Virginia,” said Shawn Cochran, Monongahela National Forest Supervisor. 

Snowshoe Mountain is the central point of the IMBA Ride Center with a radius of about forty minutes’ drive time making up the Ride Center area. A significant portion of the trails included in the IMBA Ride Center is on Snowshoe property, both in their lift-accessed bike park and their 11,000-acre backcountry. 

Slatyfork Enduro Photo Courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

“Those of us who live here have always known that the mountain biking in our community is world-class, but this new Ride Center designation will help us spread the word,” said Ken Gaitor, Vice President of Mountain Operations for Snowshoe Mountain. “We feel confident that when folks visit our area and ride our trails, they’ll be hooked, and they’ll be planning plenty of return trips to ride them again.” 

Snowshoe has a storied history with mountain biking, culminating with their selection as the host site for this year’s UCI MTB World Cup Finals (Sept. 6-8, 2019), the first UCI World Cup stop on U.S. soil since 2015. “This September, thousands of mountain bikers from all over the world will be coming to Snowshoe, and for many of them, it will be their first time visiting West Virginia. We see it as a golden opportunity to put our best foot forward and turn them into repeat visitors,” said Gaitor. 

The local IMBA chapter, Pocahontas Trails, teamed up with the project from the beginning. “Five years ago Pocahontas Trails became the first IMBA Chapter in West Virginia. From the start the community support has enabled us to promote, maintain and improve our local trails all while preserving the rugged character Pocahontas County, Snowshoe and Slatyfork is known for,” said Eric Lindberg, president of Pocahontas Trails, the local IMBA chapter. “We are thrilled to be part of the effort leading to the IMBA Ride Center designation—the first in West Virginia—the next big step in making this a destination mountain biking center and the growth opportunity this gives to the community.” 

Slatyfork Enduro Photo Courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF MOUNTAIN BIKE TOURISM 

Mountain biking and mountain biking facilities can bring an array of benefits to rural communities. They leverage communities’ natural assets to create places that are attractive to visitors, businesses, and both new and current residents. Specific, documented benefits include health benefits for local users, increased tourism and economic development opportunities, and benefits to the local environment. 

In the U.S., an estimated 50 million people (20% of Americans 16 and over) mountain bike. The most recent membership statistics from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) show that their riders are young professionals who are well educated and affluent. The median age for members is 44 years old; 76% have a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 31% for the U.S. and 21% for WV); 53% reported work in professional/managerial positions; median household income is $100,000 (compared to $60,336 for the nation and $43,469 for the state). 

Slatyfork Enduro Photo Courtesy of Snowshoe Mountain

Tourism delivers an estimated $94M to the economy in Pocahontas County, WV. “According to a 2017 survey, about fifteen percent of visitors to the county participate in mountain biking,” said Cara Rose, Executive Director. “We see this number growing with the new IMBA Ride Center designation and leveraging our trails and natural beauty to enhance the overall tourism economy through mountain biking recreation.” 

Mountain biking can bring economic benefit to the entire State of West Virginia as well. “For years, our mountains have been home to world-class recreation, including skiing, biking, rafting, ATV rides and more. This designation puts West Virginia’s mountain biking trails among the best in the world. It also stands to increase visitation from the growing mountain biking community now and for years to come,” says Chelsea Ruby, Commissioner, West Virginia Tourism Office. “We can’t wait to bring more riders here to see and experience Almost Heaven.” 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE SNOWSHOE HIGHLANDS RIDE CENTER? 

“The CVB, partners and Pocahontas County communities are invested in mountain biking and the recreation economy,” Rose goes on to say. “Reaching silver ride center status is within reach and working with our partners on strategic planning, community connectivity and improved guest services, the Ride Center establishes Nature’s Mountain Playground, the region and West Virginia as a premier mountain biking destination.” 

“The Ride Center designation is as much about the process as it is the award, by helping community partners use the process as a guide and educational experience for creating amazing places to ride mountain bikes,” said Steve Kasacek, Trail Solutions Program Manager at IMBA. 

SNOWSHOE HIGHLANDS RIDE CENTER WEBSITE 

www.RideSnowshoeHighlands.com