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A Standout Southern Mountain Bike Summit

A Standout Southern Mountain Bike Summit

By: Mark Eller
Posted: March 20, 2016

Main photo: Paul Stahlschmidt and Julie White accept "SORBIE" awards from IMBA-SORBA Region Director Tom Sauret for their advocacy efforts. 

In the Southeastern portion of the country, the Southern Off-Road Mountain Bicycle Association (SORBA) has established a 27-year legacy of success, helping dozens of thriving local groups organize, and building some of the most popular riding areas in the nation. SORBA eventually merged with IMBA, and their chapter system became the model, in many ways, for IMBA's national chapter program. Recently, IMBA-SORBA hosted the 2016 Southern Mountain Bike Summit in Bryson City, North Carolina. 

Trail systems, land manager relations and social events are top-notch in SORBA-land, but challenges exist, as they do for mountain bikers everywhere. When the agenda for the Southern Summit and SORBA Board of Director's meeting came together, the topics at hand included a desire for more challenging trails, particularly on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Enhancing the gender and racial diversity of SORBA's 43 chapters was another point of emphasis on the docket.  

SORBA Executive Director and IMBA Region Director Tom Sauret decided to invite The Forest Service's Garrett Villanueva to lead a discussion about creating trails with technical challenge. A 17-year veteran with the agency, Villanueva has spent most of his career focusing on building and maintaining trails in California's Lake Tahoe Basin, including efforts like the Corral Trail, which offers bike-optimized features such as table top jumps and berms.

Watch a video highlighting the Corral Trail riding. 

"In an attempt to create better communication with land mangers, and especially with the Forest Service, IMBA-SORBA, seeks to offer content in its summits that will appeal to land manger sensibilities and well as mountain bikers," said Sauret, adding "Garrett's workshop represents a significant step forward in that regard." In addition to regional Forest Service staff, representatives from the National Park Service, and Alabama and North Carolina State Parks, attended the session.

During two presentations—more than four hours in total—Villanueva outlined his experiences working with mountain bikers and partnering with them to create trail experiences. "I learned that it's possible to allow mountain groups to drive much of the design and build process, so long as they can agree as a community on what they want, and learn to work within the agency’s parameters,” said Villanueva. 

Beyond trail knowledge, the summit educational sessions included a presentation on “The Significance of the Women's Market” by Robin Bylenga, owner of two female-focused bike shops operating under the Pedal Chic banner, followed by a panel discussion titled “Women in Mountain Biking,” led by Sharon Anderson, Angela Chambers, Lynda Green and Carrie Johnston. SORBA’s attention to gender diversity seems to be working as the session classroom included at least 25 female participants—with an equal number participating in a concurrent women’s-only skills clinic, led by MTB instructor Sue Haywood. 

The Southern Summit also included opportunities to ride bikes and enjoy southern hospitality, including excellent lodging and meeting facilities provided by the hosts at Lands Creek Log Cabins, and mechanical/logistical support from Bryson City Bicycles and SRAM. The Tsali trail system, an Epic ride area for well over a decade, easily swallowed and highly entertained a well-attended group ride.

Generous gear raffles? Check. Fireside beer drinking? Yep. A SORBA board of directors meeting and the announcement of two new chapters? Yes sir. The list goes on. Let’s just say that if you ever have an opportunity to attend a SORBA region summit you need to make it happen.

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As IMBA's communications director, Mark Eller publishes newsletters (both print and electronic), special reports and web pages to illuminate all of the organization's activities. Eller has worked for IMBA since 2005. Before that he was a magazine editor, working for publications ranging from Rock and Ice to Vegetarian Times.

As IMBA's communications director, Mark Eller publishes newsletters (both print and electronic), special reports and web pages to illuminate all of the organization's activities. Eller has worked for IMBA since 2005. Before that he was a magazine editor, working for publications ranging from Rock and Ice to Vegetarian Times.

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