On August 12 at a ceremony in Pocahontas County, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) officially recognized the Snowshoe Highlands as West Virginia’s first designated IMBA Ride Center.
Comprised of the trail systems at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Tea Creek Mountain, and Slatyfork, the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center kicks off its status as a Bronze-level Ride Center. The IMBA Ride Center designation recognizes top-notch mountain biking regions that offer extensive trail networks of varying difficulty, towns or resorts that offer exceptional amenities for visiting riders, and a local community that embraces the mountain biking culture through trail building, advocacy, and economic efforts.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, for starters, there are only 40 IMBA Ride Centers in the world, five of which are in the Mid-Atlantic region—now including the Snowshoe Highlands. The designation brings the region’s world-class terrain and trail systems to the national forefront, and should help encourage and bolster further economic development.
“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, in a press release from the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Cara Rose, executive director for the Pocahontas County CVB, coordinated efforts between a slew of organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Snowshoe Mountain, Pocahontas Trails, and West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Service. “Our economy is driven by tourism, and recreation is a vital part of that,” Rose said. “Right now our strongest season for recreation is winter, and what we’d really like to see is mountain biking becoming to spring, summer, and fall what snowsports brings to us in the winter. We have an opportunity to increase visitation through mountain biking and other recreational opportunities.”
Local IMBA chapter Pocahontas Trails, which was West Virginia’s first IMBA chapter, was heavily involved in the painstaking work and details that went into achieving the coveted Ride Center designation. “We formed as the first IMBA chapter in WV, which was significant, that gave us a lot of help to move forward with Snowshoe, the Forest Service, and other land managers,” said Eric Lindberg, president of Pocahontas Trails. “We look to the IMBA designation as the next boost for the area on new trials, trail maintenance, advertising, and notoriety. It will help the community with jobs and recreation, which is needed.”
According to Lindberg, the application process was over two years in the making, and included things like taking inventory of regional trails, signage, business, and amenities—including quintessential services like a local brew pub. “The IMBA criteria is particularly detailed; it’s more than just trails,” Lindberg said. “With any piece missing, you don’t get there.”
Poca Trails partnered up with regional entities to add green-level trails, trailhead kiosks, and trail signage to significantly improve access and the local riding experience. As Lindberg and many others will proudly mention, part of that local riding experience comes from appreciating the rugged terrain and conditions that West Virginia is known for.
Part of IMBA’s Ride Center criteria is to not diminish or alter the character of the trails. “IMBA is appreciating what we have here with our rugged riding and recognizes the need for that,” he said. “We’ve got remote, old school roots and rocks, absolutely spectacular forest, the creek bottoms and wetlands, and all the flora and fauna. It’s pretty hard to beat.”
The Ride Center designation serves to shine the well-deserved IMBA spotlight on the spectacular Monongahela National Forest, which contains over 300 miles of mountain bike trails in the Snowshoe Highlands region. According to IMBA, the wealth of trails available to riders on public lands was a big driver in becoming a bronze Ride Center.
Offering the bulk of the area’s available amenities, Snowshoe Mountain Resort serves as the central hub of the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center. With a significant portion of the resort’s trails making up the ride center—including the lift-served, gravity-fueled Snowshoe Bike Park and 11,000 acres of resort backcountry—Snowshoe welcomes the designation with open arms.
Snowshoe’s legendary trails have long been a part of West Virginia mountain biking lore, and the IMBA designation comes just in time for Snowshoe to host the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Finals from September 6 – 8. “The timing couldn’t be better and things are in as good as shape as they’ve ever been,” said Snowshoe PR Manager Shawn Cassell. “It’s a big deal, it basically just elevates us above your average mountain biking destination. I think the main thing is people know that by having the designation, people feel confident in taking a trip there.”
Although the designation is official, there’s more work to be done. “I’ve worked on a lot of projects in my lifetime, and no other project has been this rewarding,” Rose said. “It was a group of individuals who were committed to being successful with this from the very first day. We built long-lasting relationships, and that’s setting the foundation for a long-term planning process. Our long-term goal is to become a Gold Ride Center, but it’s a long term goal.”
According to Cassell, the Snowshow Highlands Ride Center is just a few points shy of reaching Silver status. “When IMBA designates a ride center, it’s not just about the trails, a big part is amenities and services,” he said. “We expect to be Silver by this time next year.”
“One of biggest things that came out of the process was better cooperation and understanding between the whole community, to recognize the need for trails and to recognize the connectivity between all these places,” Lindberg said. “People are recognizing that and making changes to improve everyone’s experience.”
For information on the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center, head over to the Pocahontas CVB’s Mountain Biking page, check out the official press release, or head down and explore for yourself. And don’t forget to head to Snowshoe from Sept. 6 – 8 to catch the world’s best riders putting it all on the line at the final stop of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.