Altruism Part of the Spirit in Crested Butte’s MTB Culture

Volunteers work near Crested Butte on the Washington Gulch Trail No. 403 reroute during the 2018 Annual Campout and Work Weekend. Photos: Neill Pieper

Volunteers work near Crested Butte on the Washington Gulch Trail No. 403 reroute during the 2018 Annual Campout and Work Weekend. Photos: Neill Pieper

Exploring the high country with the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association

By Neill Pieper

Maybe you’re familiar with Crested Butte’s legendary status as a mountain biking paradise. Trail 401, Teocalli, Doctor Park, Snodgrass/Lupine Loop … the list of trails that take your breath away in the Crested Butte area are as numerous as they are varied. Since the 1970s, the area has become synonymous with the beginnings of mountain biking (a distinction it shares with Marin County, California) and features 150-plus trails covering more than 750 miles.

Less celebrated is the group of free riders and enthusiasts that has been shaping the network of trails around Crested Butte since the beginning.

The Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association, known locally as CBMBA (pronounced simba), is the oldest mountain biking club in the world. Founded in 1983, the club consists of volunteers, a mixed-bag of passionate mountain bikers, hippies and local advocates. Their goals are united in crafting a better place to ride. As the organization puts it, “CBMBA has been creating, maintaining, advocating for, and putting mad love into 450-plus miles of single track around Crested Butte (since ‘83).”

According to the Gunnison/Crested Butte Tourism Association, Crested Butte’s mountain biking (often dubbed MTB) culture began when residents started adapting bikes that could navigate the towns pot-hole-strewn roads. This then led to Crested Butte’s first biking enthusiasts, who began riding the old mining roads that spider-web their way into the mountains above town. Crested Butte residents would piece together “klunkers” (a mix of road, dirt and cruiser bikes) and ride the passes high above town. Soon after, a group of like-minded riders came together and formed CBMBA in ’83.

As the word got out about Crested Butte’s thrilling rides, more and more people flooded into the area to try their hand at the new extreme sport. The need to create, maintain and lobby for the trails surrounding town continued to grow.

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Campout and Work Weekend

The spirit of this volunteer group is most evident during their signature event, held each year in July.

The Annual Campout and Work Weekend has become one of the most popular events of the year. The goal is to gather members and enthusiasts for a weekend of trail building and maintenance, camping and community building. Some years, up to 200 volunteers (including aspiring MTB offspring) arrive on location to volunteer.

Last summer, the Thirst Colorado team was lucky enough to experience the camaraderie firsthand.

It’s not your run-of-the-mill volunteer gig. The 2018 goal was to relocate 1.3 miles of trail from private to public land. Pickaxes, industrial size trowels, saws and shovels were piled high at the trailhead. About 30 full-suspension bikes lay among the wildflowers on the grassy hillside that glistened from a recent shower.

As we labored up the trail, the work was in full swing. Young men and women swung mattocks (a cousin to the pickax), shaping a two-foot wide trail. Further up the newly formed trail, kids laughed, worked and played in the dirt. Yet further up the trail, a group of older volunteers (possibly from the original ’83 group) worked on a narrow shale-laden switchback.

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There was something for every age group to contribute, and you could see the generational wisdom being passed among everyone from one switchback to the next.

But the event is not only about getting blisters from a hard day’s work. When the group takes an afternoon break, sponsor Upslope Brewing stepped up with adult refreshments. “Bikes and brews go great together,” said CBMBA deputy director Laura Puckett Daniels, singing Upslope Brewing’s praises as a great sponsor.

I caught up with Daniels as she scouted terrain higher up the ridge where the volunteers toiled. The weather was quintessential Colorado: sunny with intermittent pouring rain. Yet, along the trail, dozens of grinning volunteers worked through it all.

Daniels was quick to point out the self-serving, yet noble logic for the group’s success. “As riders we want a beautiful place to ride through,” she said. She explained the diverse attendance. “It’s about stewardship. CBMBA members aim to pass on to future generations the same quality of riding and pristine environment that they have become accustomed to.”

So, if getting a little dirt on your hands while improving world-class MTB trails sounds like a fun day, check out crestedbuttemountainbike.com for upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Neill Pieper uses his considerable thirst for the craft beer scene to provide editorial, marketing and photography at Thirst Colorado.