Some stories about the Manitou Incline are like big-fish-that-got-away tales.
Someone knows a guy who knows a gal who climbed the Incline in less than 20 minutes, in the heat, with a pack and without breaking a sweat.
No one can be sure whether the stories are true or just part of the competitive lore that surrounds the Incline, a one-mile stretch of old mountainside railroad ties that offers the ultimate stair-stepping challenge, a painstaking climb 2,000 feet in elevation.
And now, if climbers say they’ve conquered it in record-setting time, they can prove it.
CoPilot Creative, a Colorado Springs graphic and web design studio, is set to launch the Incline app, a geo-tracking stopwatch that will document every step a contender takes.
“No B.S.-ing,” said CoPilot co-owner Tommy Eisenbeis. “The GPS coordinates track you at the bottom and you can’t hit stop until you get to the top — that way, it keeps it fair.”
It’s estimated that between 300,000 and 500,000 hikers climb the Incline each year. CoPilot Creative is hoping to capture between 10,000 and 20,000 of them who want to record their time.
“I don’t know anyone who has done it under 20 [minutes] but I have heard the rumors,” said CoPilot co-owner and Incline enthusiast Austin Buck. “Those are the people who will want to use this app, those who will want to share their time so they can say, ‘I’m the king of the mountain.’ ”
The Incline was made legal in January, a move that needed a presidential declaration. Since then, the Incline has been the talk of the town. And now, CoPilot is at the front of the pack creating new products around the legalized Incline.
And it’s not the first time they’ve been there.
The company made national headlines this summer when it joined with five other local design and marketing firms to launch a charity T-shirt initiative, Wildfire Tees, to aid victims of the Waldo Canyon fire.
Their hip designs and benevolent mission made the project an international social media success that raised more than a half million dollars through the sale of about 25,000 T-shirts.
That’s the kind of social media firestorm Buck and Eisenbeis want to duplicate with the Incline app.
They began working on it last summer and it’s expected to go live in April.
The app will be free but offer ad space to local businesses that market to outdoor-adventure types using the Incline.
The app will record elevation and individual time so climbers can track their progress, which can be automatically posted on Facebook where bragging rights can continue.
“We’ll have virtual events, monthly contests — fastest time, oldest, youngest — to keep it fun,” Buck said.
Since 1990, it had been considered trespassing to climb the abandoned Manitou railway. Now, there is business buzz surrounding the Incline. Aside from the new app, a former U.S. Olympic athlete is opening a recovery and nutrition center, at 337 Manitou Ave., targeting Incline users.
“I could see Incline brews, sandwiches — I can see people attach the name to different products,” said Michelle Starling, former executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions. “I think that is why Manitou has been so involved with the Incline — they could see that kind of possibility.”
Any time people collect at an event, a facility or landmark, there will be entrepreneurs, said Tom Duening, University of Colorado Colorado Springs College of Business professor and El Pomar chair of Business Entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurs will spring in and try to create value for them,” he said.
Duening believes one of the industry clusters that the Pikes Peak region should seize is sports and outdoor activities. He organizes an annual contest specifically to solicit business ideas for the sports/outdoor industry.
The Incline could become a centerpiece of outdoor activity in the Pikes Peak region, which drives more than T-shirt and pizza sales, he said. It becomes part of the outdoor activity cluster, where businesses build up around outdoor activities.
“The more kinds of things we have in place, the more entrepreneurs will fill in all the gaps,” Duening said. “The more sporting activities we create the more capital it will generate. I’m very encouraged by things like that.”
Buck remembers climbing the Incline years ago when hardly anyone was on the trail. Parking was a breeze and after the climb, his group would go to The Loop restaurant in Manitou for margaritas.
Now, he’s heard rumblings that some Manitou businesses are worrying that Incline users will pass them by, not stopping to eat or shop.
So, in addition to building on the Incline competitive spirit, Buck is hoping the app will highlight small businesses. Already Mountain Equipment Recyclers, a retail consignment store that specializes in outdoor equipment, is set to offer $5 coupons on the app to those who climb the Incline.
“What we really want to do is help build some business behind it,” Buck said. “Now that the Incline is legal, a lot more businesses are fired up about it.”