Trail Dozer Carves Out Resort Niche

By MattWiebe

NOVATO, CAUF.-TO build a new ski run, a resort often sends out hand crews to laboriously thin trees and widen the path.

But that approach doesn't work well for mountain bike or equestrian trails, which resorts are increasingly relying upon to grow their summer business.

The typical ski area mentality that I run into is that they think they can dolt better and cheaper then you can with the machine," said Troy Duffin, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, a non-profit group that helps resorts and landowners build trails.

"They have all these year-round employees that they can put to work. But I can come in with my trail dozer and do more work faster, cheaper and better than their hand crews," Duffin said.

Vail Resorts plans to buy one of the 4 ton, $40,000 machines. Sun Valley plans to rent one this summer. Other resorts hire private contractors who use the dozers.

"We are trying to buy a mini dozer. It looks like a great machine," Eric Toler of Vail's resort and planning office said. "It fills a niche that no one else has filled. We do a lot of construction projects and it looks like it would work perfectly to do a lot of different things."

"Our summer business is a good part of our operation and it's popular and growing," Toler added. "These machines can cut and pack a bank easily for trail building. It is hard work to cut a bank with a 10-man crew and picks."

A poor trail system is a handicap for resorts that want to build a successful summer program.

A resort can't send hikers, mountain bikers or equestrians down a wide-open ski run or a service trail and expect them to enjoy it. These summer visitors want narrow trails, swooping turns, and a more graceful grade than skiers or boarders enjoy.

"Many resorts don't know what it takes for mountain bikers to enjoy themselves. It could be a lucrative business if they can work out a good trail system," said Steve Dodson, rental program coordinator at Trek Bicycle, one of the country's largest bicycle manufacturers.

A poorly designed trail system can cause other problems, Toler said.

Some resorts sketch out trails with weed wackers, or mark a path with logs and let the traffic carve the trail.

"You let mountain bikers cut their own trails and they will end up cutting six feet of slope with major erosion problems," Toler said.

"It's too bad resorts don't want to invest a fraction of what they invest in snowmaking on trails that people will want to ride, Resorts like Winter Park have a well designed trail system, and it is paying."

©Wintersport Business - June 1997