Stowe’s bike trails are waiting for you — if you can find a bike, that is.
Enthusiasm for mountain biking grew in the summer of 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic prompted a reconsideration by in activities of choice for those looking to exercise safely. Last spring, with nearly all social activities slowed by the shutdown, Stowe’s trails became the site of renewed energy.
Now, as the pandemic wanes and COVID-19 vaccines have become available for Vermonters and visitors alike, the mountain bike community is preparing for a rush of first-timers and returning riders from both sides of the border.
According to Ross Scatchard, program director at Stowe Mountain Biking Academy, trail guides and coaches are looking to employ the lessons and practices learned in the pandemic in the new “normal” environment.
Smaller group sizes and social distancing made last summer safe, but it also made for a better riding experience.
“The positive lessons that we gained from last season we’re continuing to apply this season, with small groups and masking,” he said. “Especially working with youth who aren’t eligible for vaccines yet, we want to prioritize their health as well. So less riders in a group and those above age 16 are going to be unmasked riding, but we’re continuing the same practices as last year. We just found that the small group size worked really well. It’s great we’re growing riders and coaches outside of what started as just a Stowe demographic.”
Growing demand for dirt and rubber may only be tempered by a limited supply of metal frames.
Bike and outdoor apparel shops are struggling to keep up with customer requests for new bikes after a pause in production necessitated by the pandemic has tightened their supply.
Even though bikes are tough to find, Scatchard still sees Stowe’s local bike shops like MountainOps Outdoor Gear and Hitchhiker Bike Shop as the best shot for someone looking to find a new ride. Second-hand marketplaces like Craigslist and Front Porch Forum are also always available for creative buyers looking to score a deal.
“The best places to check are certainly the local bike shops, because manufacturers are trying to get bikes to shops as quickly as possible,” Scatchard said. “I know from talking to a lot of shops, their inventories are lower than they would hope and that’s all out of their control. With not as many in-person bike swaps happening, especially last year, it’s kind of an individualized search.”
Scatchard said a great alternative to purchasing a bike, particularly for visitors or novice riders looking to try out a variety of bikes, is renting.
Many of Stowe’s bike shops offer rentals, from higher end rides to more accessible models. This allows riders to get a feel for different frames and what each brand has to offer, a feel that can’t always be determined just from looking at a bike.
The Academy offers guided biking tours around the Stowe area along with clinics geared toward youth and adults. The organization’s Stowe operations this summer are based out of the Golden Eagle Resort, which allows easy access to trails in Cady Hill Forest, a trail Scatchard said is particularly well-suited for beginners. Other nearby recreational trails provide access to a variety of terrain fit for skills clinics and other more advanced mountain biking technique development.
“We and a lot of lot of other businesses in Stowe are expecting more travelers this summer, so we think it’s going to be a busier summer and for newer mountain bikers or visitors alike,” Scatchard said.