Over the past two years, a change in attitude has evolved toward mountain biking and its lucrative market for tourism destinations such as Powell River, according to people closely associated with the industry and the sport.
Even with a gap in data to support conclusions about the positive economic impact mountain biking has on a community, Russell Brewer, Powell River city councillor, president of Powell River Cycling Association and a competitor in this year’s BC Bike Race (BCBR), said a study would confirm that with more and more mountain bikers hitting regional trails, more money is being cycled back into the local economy.
“It would be great if we could get a sense of the numbers,” said Brewer, “but we see it just from the amount of time we spend out on the trails and the number of people we run into; and they are coming from all over the place. It’s anecdotal, for sure, but if I compare this year and the last two with the last five years and the last 10 years, there’s no question it’s up.”
A July analysis of the sport’s economics in the online publication Pinkbike determined that mountain bikers were predominantly male, between 25 and 45 years old; 19 to 25 year olds were the second largest category. A majority had household income levels greater than $80,000. The average stay at each location was 3 to 5 days and the average spend per day was between $60 and $100, including accommodations, food and recreation.
“A number of studies have come out over the years,” said Tourism Powell River marketing director Paul Kamon. “The one often citied is the Sea-to-Sky economic impact study done in 2006 with Mountain Biking BC, which is the mountain bike tourism association. It is going to get an update at the end of this year so we’ll have fresher, more relevant data coming, but ultimately it points to mountain biking as being a lucrative sector in tourism and that mountain bikers typically spend more money than other tourists and stay in a region longer.”
According to Kamon, when an economic-impact study relevant to this area is done, numbers will show a reflection of the growing attraction of Powell River to sports enthusiasts.
“This is a big part of the Sunshine Coasts’ primary attraction, we have year-round mountain biking because our region is at sea level and our climate is quite moderate,” he said. “We don’t have snow.”
The other draw to Powell River, according to Brewer, is the trails, mostly in and around the Duck Lake protected area where a BCBR stage takes place every year. The stage is a favourite of its competitors who, in turn, spread the word about local mountain biking.
“Powell River has a lot of the classic, cross-country terrain that families are looking for, too, not necessarily the extreme stuff,” said Brewer.
According to Kamon, in addition to BCBR popularity that brings 600 competitors to the region, the Coast Gravity Park near Sechelt is an example of the future of mountain biking on the coast.
“It’s the first purpose-built mountain bike park in North America,” he said. “It’s not built on ski infrastructure. It’s built as a mountain bike park and open year-round.
In Powell River, Kamon points to trail building and the BCBR as being part of this area’s biking infrastructure, which includes the bike and skate park at Powell River Recreation Complex. All are part of the investment in the culture of mountain biking, “which is a bright light in the tourism sector,” he said.
As far as actual numbers are concerned, according to Brewer, until Powell River can conduct its own study or a combined study of the lower and upper Sunshine Coast, this area will have to take data from other places, such as the Sea-to-Sky study, to get a sense of what is happening.
“Sea-to-Sky is the second one to be done so they’ll be able to compare with the last one and extrapolate what that might be for an area like us, but it would be nice to do something local, even if it was exit surveys or trail surveys,” said Brewer.
Kamon said more data is always better because it provides a legitimate economic argument that compels local governments to contribute continual investment to keep the sector healthy, take care of the environment and create a healthy culture where Powell River can benefit.
“There’s maintenance that needs to be done,” said Kamon. “It’s one thing to build a trail, it’s another thing to maintain a trail. If we have more users coming to our area to use the trails and create an economic impact for tourism, we also need to provide the proper care and maintenance so impacts to the environment are limited.”
Another economic impact derived from mountain biking is that it may entice people to move here. According to Kamon, the bigger return is with Powell River’s resident-attraction campaign.
“It’s important that we recognize these amenities: mountain bike trails and mountain bike culture contribute to what is also drawing young people to the coast,” said Kamon. “We need young people to keep our communities alive and mountain biking is a part of their life and lifestyle. If we have the amenities, it’s part of the package that draws people to our region and creates healthy communities.”