“We can so do this!” said Amanda Miller last Saturday as we waited to start the Copper Triangle, a 78-mile bike ride through the mountains. We’d be riding from Copper Mountain resort up Fremont Pass and down to Leadville on Colorado 91, up U.S. 24 to Tennessee Pass, Battle Mountain and Minturn, then the long slog up Vail Pass and a quick descent to the after-race party. Four mountain passes, 6,000 feet in altitude gain.
Amanda, a former Business Journal colleague, had talked me into signing up for the event back in May. Training consisted of 15-mile rides up Gold Camp Road every morning before work, with longer rides during the weekends.
Would it be enough? I wasn’t sure. It couldn’t be any worse than the Pikes Peak Marathon — but I hadn’t done Pikes Peak since 1993. Thanks to John Crandall at Old Town Bike Shop, my bike had a new cassette, chain and derailleur. Yet maybe I was a delusional 72-year-old fool anyway, riding a 10-year-old aluminum bike with flat pedals.
If so, I wasn’t alone. More than 3,000 riders participated in this year’s Copper Triangle, a superbly organized jaunt through some of the most beautiful country in Colorado. Many, like Amanda and her friends, were in their 20s and 30s, confident young people who saw the ride as part of a great weekend in the mountains. Others were my age or even older, tough old birds ready for a challenge.
Our city’s bias toward “structure tourism” is sadly apparent. We seem to think that visitors are viewers, not doers.
Twenty years ago, summer events were an afterthought for many Colorado mountain communities. Summer in the high country was for hikers, campers, climbers and fishermen/women. Fall was for hunters, winter for skiers, and spring for mud. Only Aspen broke the mold, with its array of cultural offerings.
Other resorts and communities have since followed suit. Vail, Crested Butte and Copper Mountain came to understand that many summer visitors, like their counterparts in the winter, wanted to do things, not just look at things. They might want to do epic road rides, race mountain bikes or soak in a hot tub after a 12-mile hike — but not just gawk at the mountains and shop.
The Copper Triangle made its debut in 2005, the brainchild of adventurous cyclists who knew the route, then called the Leadville Loop. Given that the ride starts at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, most participants turn it into a vacation weekend.
We were no exception. Amanda, her spouse Joe and a half-dozen of their friends rented a house for the weekend, while my wife Karen and I stayed in a condo a hundred yards from the start-finish line.
Never having actually visited Copper Mountain, I had supposed that it was an Interstate 70 drive-by, a bunch of 1980s condos clustered around a ski area. I couldn’t understand why my 34-year-old daughter liked it enough to consider buying there.
Now I do. And now I understand the power of participatory, event-driven tourism, which brought me to a place I never would have visited.
Considering the size and diversity of our city, we’re lagging behind. We have the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, the Warrior Games, the Rocky Mountain State Games and a plethora of strictly local events, but that’s about it. Sadly, our political establishment seems indifferent to new ones.
Remember last year’s proposal to create a Tour of Colorado Springs? It was billed as a moderately strenuous, organized ride, one that would have required closing streets and intersections as thousands of riders circled the city. Organizers were confident they could pull it off, based on successes elsewhere.
Mayor Steve Bach put the kibosh on it, citing liability issues that could potentially cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Maybe so, but how does Tucson manage to put on a similar event with 6,000 participants? How do the organizers of the Copper Triangle send out thousands of amateur riders on a 78-mile trek along public highways that remain open during the event?
We ought to find out. Judging from Copper’s event sponsors, it’s even a worthwhile advertising opportunity. Sponsors include Wells Fargo and Volkswagen. The name sponsor, Colorado Cyclist, is a web-based retailer of bike gear based in (drum roll, please) … Colorado Springs!
Our city’s bias toward “structure tourism” is sadly apparent. We seem to think that visitors are viewers, not doers. That may have been true 30 years ago, but not now — even for geezers.
Yeah, we finished in good time, slowed a bit by my crash and Amanda’s flat. Try it next year, and remember that Vail Pass waits for you at mile 57 — 14 miles, 3,000 feet of altitude gain in the afternoon sun.
You can so make it!