Bike trails at Mount Washington headed in a new direction
COMOX VALLEY, VANCOUVER ISLAND – Following a three-year hiatus, the chairlifts will once again be spinning this summer for lift-accessed mountain biking at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. The trail crew has been working steadily throughout the spring for an anticipated mid-July opening. They have been using new techniques to re-build some of the old trails and working to add new trails to the range of offerings.
Mike Manara, who is responsible for the design and construction of the Bike Park, recently spent three days riding over 100 kilometers of trail in the Park City, Utah area. While there, he met with Charlie Sturgis, the head of the Mountain Trails Foundation, to discuss their trail network, which the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designated five years ago as the world’s first Gold Level Ride Destination.
The meetings focused on new trail design and building techniques that helped Park City achieve its vaulted IMBA status – there are still only five Gold Level destinations in the world. This is not the first trail research Manara has done; he states “By spending time with industry partners we have been working on best practices with our connections at Whistler Bike Park and Silver Star to absorb knowledge from the top Parks in the industry.” His objective has been to bring these best practices in the mountain biking world back to the trails at Mount Washington.
Manara’s trip to Utah was at the invitation of the resort’s new owners, Pacific Group Resorts, Inc. (PGRI.) One of the principals of PGRI has been involved in the ongoing efforts to make Park City a world-class mountain biking destination, so biking is something they understand intimately. An estimated $250,000 will be invested into the mountain biking trails at Mount Washington this summer with enhancements planned for each year thereafter.
According to Manara, the trip was extremely worthwhile, “We rode an amazing array of terrain; flow trails, gravity trails, cross-country trails, bike parks, skills parks and pump tracks. I even had the chance to ride the brand new WOW! Trail which is 14 kilometers of some of the best downhill trail I have ever ridden. When you go to a place like that with such a variety of top-quality riding, you can’t help but be inspired to bring back great ideas we can use here.”
Manara is an avid and experienced mountain biker. He has been involved with the trails in Cumberland for the last 15 years and is one of the founders and longtime president of the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC) in the Comox Valley. He has seen the explosion in the number of riders so he understands how important the trails are to the success of Mount Washington’s mountain biking offering. “I am hands on with the crew,” Manara explained. “We are finding new ways to build great trails at the resort, including using smaller machines which require less reclamation work. This means the overall time spent on the trail work is more productive and less impactful on the environment, while producing more interesting riding because it can have a better flow with the terrain.”
The team is made up of 12 builders who share the same ideas and values of building fast, flowy, smooth and fun trails on Vancouver Island. “The crew building the trails are riders,” stated Manara. “It is important that the people building the trails understand the flow and style that makes the experience great for a rider.”
Mario Fehrenberg and Scott Stansbury from Cumberland are on the Mount Washington trail crew. Both builders are especially proud of their work on the trail called Vanilla, a flow trail that is part of the Cumberland system. Joining them are Bill McLane from Nanaimo and Jeremy Baker from Courtenay. McLane worked on the trails for “Builder,” a mountain biking trail film. Baker helped build the original “Monster Mile,” one of Mount Washington’s signature trails, in 1997. Fehrenberg, Manara’s right hand man, noted, “We’re having a blast putting together the trails this time around. There are definitely huge improvements, and we’re making sure they are dialed and work great for the riders.”
“We are rebuilding the trail-system in three phases,” noted Manara. “The first phase has been focusing on sculpting a new Bike Park entrance to the Hawk Chair with a series of berms that will be fun for every skill level. Additionally, our beginner trail Green Line, is being reworked and Back in Black has received a face lift. In phase two, we are connecting a number of trails into one new line which will create the first new intermediate run; Hot Wheels. Phase three will see the top sections of the mountain linked together in a new way. We are also rebuilding a scenic 10 km cross-country (XC) bike loop with a modest total elevation change of 200 meters, The Finger Trail, which can be ridden from the base area without requiring lift access.” The weather the first few weeks of June, while being a rainy challenge, has been an opportunity to see how the work that has be completed sets up in the alpine environment. Fehrenberg explains “When it rains, we build bridges over sensitive terrain and source out areas of possible erosion so we can create a more sustainable trail using grade reversals and low impact drainage. We want the trails to be here for the long-term so they need to be able to stand up to the weather in our region. It works out well for the riders, too, because it gives us natural opportunities to create the flow that today’s mountain bikers have so much fun riding.”
With four to six lift serviced, gravity fed trails expected for opening day, Mount Washington will have an experience available for every skill level and style of rider. The downhill and cross-country mountain biking trail systems will continue to expand throughout the summer season. The bike crew will work on new trails as weather permits. At the same time, they will ensure that the current trails remain in great shape through daily maintenance.
Peter Gibson, General Manager at Mount Washington commented “We are thrilled to be back in the bike business. The trails are looking amazing and having Mike heading up the team gives us a lot of confidence that the trail system will be top notch.” “The decision to reintroduce the Bike Park wasn’t taken lightly,” Don Sharpe, Director of Business Operations at the resort divulged this week. “Our new owners are committed to a successful long-term plan for summer development, so they wanted to make sure that whatever we did was sustainable. We have all been working on bringing mountain biking back to Mount Washington since last November.” Best practices from around the mountain biking world, sustainable trails, and bigger smiles on the riders’ faces from fast and flowing trails. Mount Washington’s trail builders may have hit on a winning formula.