mtn-bikeMountain biking is a passion shared by 50 million people in the U.S. In fact, biking in general is ranked the seventh-most popular activity in the country. We love the outdoors — so much so that our spending on leisure and recreation contributes about $730 billion to the U.S. economy annually. That’s more than the U.S. government’s defense budget.

That may add up big for Vermont.

Surveys report that visitors to Vermont consider themselves active, adventurous and outdoorsy. They spend $1.5 billion annually, create more than 33,000 tourism jobs and contribute nearly $200 million in tax revenue to the state. And most of them live within a five-hour drive — an important factor in our recovering Vermont economy.

They return year after year because they love our B&BS, hotels, restaurants, specialty foods, artisan products, spas and shops. But most of all, they love the unspoiled paradise and our outdoor adventures such as skiing — and mountain biking.

“Vermont offers some of the most pristine, comprehensive off-road biking trail systems in the country, accommodating all levels of ability,” says Scott Search, board member of the Stowe Mountain Bike Club. “The layout in the state makes it possible to ride a variety of terrain, all in the same day. If you are energetic, you can ride Stowe’s Adams Camp in the morning, Perry Hill in Waterbury after lunch, and end up on Trapps’ easier trails at night.”

And there’s a lot more nearby.

mtn-bike-2“You can also head over to East Burke, where the Kingdom Trails has created a 100-mile mapped complex of off-road trails, and single track; the Millstone Hill Touring Center in Barre; or even the Moosalamoo Region in Goshen,” Search says. “The Catamount Outdoor Family Center near Burlington has weekly races for all levels. In the Northeast Kingdom, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center offer clinics and guided tours.

“If you’re looking for lift-served downhill (without the arduous uphill), head over to Sugarbush, Burke Mountain or Mt. Snow. When my niece and nephew are in town, I rent bikes from one of the local shops, start out on the Stowe Rec Path and head into the Town Loops. You can also ride the Burlington Waterfront Bikeway or the Mississquoi rail trail between St. Albans and Richford. There seems to be no end to options for biking in Vermont.”

And, if you want to take a break, it’s easy. “Anywhere you ride, it’s quite acceptable to stop for water, a snack or lunch with helmet hair and bike clothes,” Search says — “providing you remember to kick the big chunks of dirt off your shoes.”

There is also plenty of support for mountain biking state-wide. Joe Milliken, in a South Central Real Estate blog, wrote, “Through the partnership and hard work of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, the U.S. Forest Service is allocating some $154,000 to create new and improve existing mountain bike trails and to increase bike access throughout the Green Mountain National Forest. The focus of this project is to improve sustainable mountain biking locations … to help diversify the state’s recreational facilities.”

mtn-bike-3Vermont public relations and marketing experts are gearing up mountain bike campaigns for summer, and leading the charge is the Vermont Department of Travel & Tourism. Commissioner Megan Smith stated in a recent press release, “Mountain bike tourism is the perfect fit for our Vermont brand. It encompasses the use of our natural landscape while promoting good health and family fun. As we expand our venues for mountain biking, we will be contributing to local economies in areas that might not have already had a focus on outdoor recreation, therefore bringing in new types of business. … With the dense population of New England — the 80 million people in our driving market — I just see our mountain bike scene growing and growing.”

Meanwhile, regional mountain bike associations are educating lodges and resorts on the importance of “bike-friendly” accommodations. “You don’t need to invest a lot of money,” says Rick Sokoloff, president of the Stowe Mountain Bike Club. “All you really need is a lockable place for bike storage, a water hose for cleaning, and maybe a simple repair kit. And be sure you have a list of bike shops and the best trailhead information available. “Plus, most organizations like ours are more than happy to teach your staff what they need to know and even take them on a ride.” Sokoloff sees “tremendous potential for economic gain from promoting Vermont as a mountain bike destination. It is an ideal product to encourage family travel.” Sokoloff sums it up from a conversation he had with a visitor. The man told him, “I am 32 years old and I am not afraid to admit that my ambition parallels that of my eight year old son. Biking is freedom. It keeps me young in heart and soul. And, it keeps me connected to him.”