Mountain Bike Schools
Mountain Bike October 2002
In retrospect, it's easy to see how it started. In 1990, on a long lonely stretch of blacktop along I-70 in Utah, Rod Kramer shared a ride from Napa, California, and back to his native Colorado with Oliver Starr, a Colorado rider who raced professionally for Team TVM in Europe.
"It was this beautiful, crisp, perfect October day." recalls Kramer. "When we passed the Moab turn-off, we started daydreaming, creating the perfect day of mountain biking - it would entail the best bikes, all of our friends and the best riders, and it would be on the perfect trail, like Porcupine Rim."
Kramer had experience with planning such outings. After all, he'd been running his Tandem Touring Company for two years, specializing in road-cycling trips through France's Burgundy region, as well as rides in California's wine country. It was one of his tours that brought Starr and him to that very moment on the highway - and the remainder of the trip focused on that magical spot in Moab.
"Four hours later, we'd developed this incredible fantasy, this perfect day of biking, and 1 said to ( Oliver, 'I think people would pay for this.' Sure enough, we decided to try it once to see what would happen."
The following year, Kramer held his first-ever mountain bike camp in Moab. "My vision was to cater to avid enthusiasts," says Kramer. "It was about sharing my passion for the sport with others who carried that same light in their hearts, the ones who were really driven on an emotional level by this sport." With first-rate coaches (like Skip Hamilton), generous sponsors and some well-timed magazine articles, the event generated serious buzz. It marked the birth of Dirt Camp, probably the best-known mountain bike camp on the planet.
The timing couldn't have been better. By 1992, the mountain bike market was booming - and so was Dirt Camp, which started spring and fall programs in Moab and summer events in Crested Butte, Colorado. "It was every mountain biker's dream come true,” says Kramer. "There was a burgeoning group of people coming into the sport, with money and excitement, who wanted to get better quickly. They understood professional instruction, and they saw value in paying someone to teach them." More top-flight coaches signed on, including racers Mark Howe, Sara Ballantyne, Laurie Brandt and brothers Ranjeet and Rishi Grewal, plus fitness experts Ed Burke, Andy Pruitt and Bob Anderson-not to mention the irrepressible Bob "Bobke" Roll ("the best storyteller on the planet," says Kramer). The high level of instruction is what made Dirt Camp famous-and it was more accidental than intentional. Kramer originally designed the instruction as a way to ensure rider safety and evaluate the abilities of individual campers, "so we wouldn't be injuring people out on the trails." The appraisal sessions on an obstacle course at a local park quickly evolved into world-class instructional clinics.
"There was all this high-powered talent. People like Skip could quickly assess someone's problems and help them," says Kramer. "Within three camps, we started to establish a protocol. The response was amazing."
The success caught the attention of outside investors. Kramer and Cannondale's Scott Montgomery first hooked up at the World Championships in Vail in 1994 - Montgomery
liked the stylish Dirt Camp logo, and Cannondale was soon producing jerseys for Kramer. In 1995, when Kramer was looking for money to nurture the camp, Cannondale went one better and bought the business.
At first, the purchase seemed brilliant. In short order, Dirt Camp blossomed into the spring showcase for Cannondale's star-studded racing team, which consisted of some of the best riders anywhere-Tinker Juarez, Alison Sydor and Missy Giove-and attracted droves of campers. Cannondale used the publicity to expand Dirt Camp. Soon, camps were offered at numerous locations, including Northstar at Tahoe in California, Waterville Valley in New Hampshire, Fontana Resort in North Carolina and Keystone in Colorado.
But the experience was starting to change. Authenticity gave way to the dollars needed to maintain the camps' viability. "As time went on, we had increased the numbers so greatly that I couldn't ensure the high level of instruction," Kramer says. "It was off-season ski instructors and college guys. They did a great job, but it wasn't like having Howe or Hamilton show you how to ride a bike."
By 1999, Kramer no longer recognized the very product he'd created and left to work for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) as its development director. Though Dirt Camp still exists-it's now operated by The Mountain Workshop of West Redding, CT-it seemed Kramer's original instructional-camp idea was dead.
Enter Gerry Zyfers. A former Microsoft executive, he toyed with the idea of buying Dirt Camp on several occasions in the late '90s. His plan was to bring in friend and ultra-endurance legend John Stamstad as the high-profile point man and return Dirt Camp to its glory days. When the pair discussed it, though, they decided that the Dirt Camp brand would take too much effort to revive to the level they wanted. Instead, they created a new entity-the Singletrack Ranch.
Kramer, who had once tried to coerce Stamstad to join the Dirt Camp staff, and who knew Zyfers through his involvement with IMBA, was thrilled to hear about the pairing. When the opportunity arose to return to his roots, the man who wrote the camp-concept blueprint couldn't resist.
"I went to Gerry and John and said, `Look, I've done this. Why reinvent the wheel? Why start over?' " Kramer says. "I could hand them the primer on how to do mountain bike camps. I had the written curriculum, the guide technical manuals. I gave them `mountain bike camp in a box.' "
But it was Kramer's vision that made the partnership click. Zyfers wanted to steer clear of a broad-based, all-abilities format. "If you start with a new brand, you can be really clear
about what you are-Singletrack Ranch is a place for serious enthusiasts to improve their skills," he says. "And our consumer promise is that you will go home a better rider."
The group delivers on that promise-and more. At the opening ranch in 2002 at Sonoita, in southeast Arizona, Stamstad, Kramer and endurance athlete/coach Brett Wolfe combined morning instruction with epic afternoon spins on challenging, high desert trails. Plus, riders got to sample high-end (and high-dollar) bikes from Maverick, Moots and Santa Cruz and recover with sumptuous meals, cushy accommodations and tales of Stamstad's exploits.
'The aim of Singletrack Ranch is to be a premium version of Dirt Camp-an all-access backstage pass to cool people, cool bikes and cool trails," says Kramer. "It's taking the original Dirt Camp vision and refining it, distilling it and making it what we always dreamed it could be."
"I missed sharing my passion for this sport with others in a real visceral way" says Kramer. "There was always a huge reward for me, to watch people get more excited about the sport, to see their abilities improve. I know that's why I got involved in the beginning, and I know that's what brought me back."
Coming from many industry types, that statement would sound like marketing hype. With Kramer, it's clearly coming from the heart. And now, that heart is back home.
In 2002, Singletrack Ranch plans to visit Arizona, Oregon, British Columbia and West Virginia. For more info, visit www.singletrackranch.com, or call 888/310-1212
IF ANYONE KNOWS HOW TO BE PREPARED, IT'S ULTRAENDURANCE LEGEND JOHN STAMSTAD. HERE'S WHAT HE RECOMMENDS YOU BRING ON YOUR NEXT RIDE.
RIDING ESSENTIALS (NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THESE):
· Tube and patch kit
· 2 tire levers
· Serviceable multi-tool, including chain tool, Allen wrenches and screwdrivers
· Food and water
EXTRA GEAR FOR LONGER (OR MORE REMOTE) RIDES:
· Rain jacket
· Knee warmers (below 60 degrees F)
· Cell phone (fully charged) Latex gloves (great for surprise rain showers)
· Superglue •Spoke wrench
· Torx driver (if using disc brakes)
· Spare bolts (cleats, water bottles, seat collar, etc.)
· Knife (locking serrated or Swiss Army)
· Matches (storm proof)
· Space blanket (Not to be used in lightning storms) • Duct tape (wrapped around pump or seatpost) • Zip-ties
· Extra food
· Water-purification tablets
· Spare bite valve for hydration bladder
· Spare brake pads
· 2 spare tubes
· Tire-booting material (to repair sidewall tears)
As an extra precaution, inspect your tool kit on a monthly basis-tubes can be punctured by a combination of tools and vibration. And consider using a hydration pack, which can hold tools, food and spare clothing, in addition to water.
THE SKILLS LIST
Looking for some other high-quality mountain bike instruction? Look no further.
CAMP HIGH TRAILS, Big Bear City, CA 909/228-4199; www.camphightrails.com
CATAMOUNT, WiIliston, VT 802/879-6001; www.cata-mountoutdoor.com
DIRT CAMP, INC. AND THE MOUNTAIN WORKSHOP, INC., West Redding, CT, 800/711-DIRT; www.dirt-camp.com
DURANGO MOUNTAIN BIKE CAMP, Durango, C0, 877/267-3622; www.bike-camp.com
MOUNT SNOW MOUNTAIN BIKE SCHOOL, West Dover, Vermont, 802/464-4040; www.mountsnow.com
THE MOUNTAIN BIKE SCHOOL, Park City, UT, 435/649-3101; www.mtnbikeschool.com
WEST COAST SCHOOL OF MOUNTAIN BIKING, Coquitlam, B.C., www.wcs-mb.com; 604/ 931-6066
WHISTLER MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK, Whistler, B.C.,
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Copyright © 2008 Art Beckman. All rights reserved.
Last Modified: March 9, 2008