NOVATO, CA-The trail dozerslices and dices trees, moves fallen timber and digs out small boulders, leaving in its wake a smooth multi-use trail.
This 9,000-pound yellow monster may be the next best thing to the International Mountain Bike Association when it comes to building mountain bike trails even if the two use opposing methods.
The trail dozer is capable of laying 1,000 feet of 4-foot wide trail every hour. These dozers are quickly becoming indispensable tools at some western ski resorts, giving resort mountain biking a boost.
While summer mountain bike rentals seem like an ideal off-season business for resorts, bicycle suppliers are finding resorts a hard sell. One of the biggest problems holding back growth in yo-yo mountain biking is a lack of good trails.
"Resort business is growing, but it isn't there yet," said Matt Jewett, Cannondale's fleet sales manager. "What is needed are good mountain bike trails, not just ski runs."
For some resorts, the small dozer is the answer. The dozers are replacing U.S. Forest Service trail crews as fast as regional offices can find $40,000 in their hollow budgets to pay for them.
Company owner, John Mueller, said he has sold 32 of the machines and rents them for trail construction, starting at $4,500 a month.
The speed at which the dozers can clear a trail, and their low cost when compared to paying a work crew, has ski resorts taking notice.
According to U. S. Forest Service studies, it costs about $20,900 for a supervised, 10-man crew to build one mile of trail. The study also found that a 2-man crew and a dozer can do the same work for about $6,000.
Vail may purchase one and Idaho's Sun Valley is renting one this summer, Mueller said. Other resorts are hiring private contractors who use the machines.
"We are trying to buy a mini dozer. It looks like a great machine. It fills a niche that no one else has filled," said Eric Toler, of Vail's resort and planning office. "We do a lot of construction projects, and it looks like it would work perfectly for a lot of different things."
Mountain bikers stand to be the biggest benefactors of the boom in trail construction.
Mountain bike rentals are becoming a popular way for resorts to generate income during the summer off-season. But too often a lack of planning and poor trail design cuts into business. Resorts sending mountain bikers down ski runs or service roads are finding that they get few return visitors.
He worked for Boulder County Open Space, managing a mountain bike trail system for eight years. Now he owns Arrowhead Trails, a company specializing in new trail construction. He uses a mini dozer to do his dirty work.
Ski trails that follow the fall line may be good for gonzo cyclists who take the lift up and bomb down. But resorts that have been most successful with mountain biking offer visitors milder, more varied terrain to ride.
"Resorts that do it right cater to families. These riders need beginning and intermediate trails to ride on. A ski resort doesn't just have black diamond runs The same goes for bike trails," said Rickey Strawn, Specialized's director of sales.
To save money, many resorts sketch out trails through tall grass with weed wackers, or use two rows of spaced logs to mark trails, hoping that mountain bikers will carve their own trails over time.
The typical ski area thinks they can do it better and cheaper than I can with the machine," said Troy Duffin, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit group that helps resorts and landowners build trails with a dozer.
Duffin made believers out of management at Utah's Wolf Mountain ski area after saving them from the embarrassment of not having a course ready for a scheduled race. "I went and made three miles of trails in two days," Duffin said.
The dozer's 4-foot-wide footprint gives hikers room to walk side by side, or room for equestrians and hikers to pass cyclists comfortably. It also is wide enough for wheelchair access. If left alone and allowed to become overgrown from the sides, a dozer built trail will become narrow single track.
"The wider dozer built trail is also less costly to maintain. If a tree falls over the trail I can get a ATV back to it and cut it out in no time.
"I can pull a grooming implement behind an ATV as well. And erosion is less because on a wider trail the bike tracks are not always going in the same place. They are more spread out," Arrowhead Trails' said.
©Bicycle Retailer and Industry News - May 15, 1997