A few summers ago rumors of a new line secreted away high up on the Flank Trail in Whistler where little else existed started to trickle around the Whistler mountain bike community. The area where the speculated trail supposedly lay was regarded as a little challenging to build a trail because of the bubbling granite rock bluffs that dominated the terrain. There was an old, abandoned trail in that zone – Dairy Of A Milk Man, scratched in folks of the Evolution House back in 1996, or so the local folklore says – but this section of the Westside area was generally ignored.
I remember going out in search of this mythological new trail and stumbling through the bush until I found a few signs of activity. I kept walking in the woods, looking for telltale signs that someone had something to hide, until I found something very different from what I expected to find. I’d expected to find a rough, barely raked in, fall line loamer that would last only a season or two. What I found was a perfect ribbon of cut and brushed mossy rock singletrack. Ten inches wide and almost exclusively following the lines and contours of a series of granite rock slabs, it looked remarkably like someone had just ran lawnmower over the rock through the moss to create a pristine riding line. It swooped, swung, climbed, rolled over, took in remarkable views of the valley, and had a few challenging cruxes, but what was astonishing was how well it flowed. By flow I don’t mean a cookie-cutter-IMBA-spec-machine-made-trail, instead it was unique and rare in the way those trails rarely are but still managed the speed and braking and experience of the rider with such beautifully subtle line selection. This trail was named Korova Milkbar and over the past few years has been extended with successive sections, Rockwork Orange and Wizard Burial Ground so that is descends most of the way back down to the valley floor and has become a classic Whistler ride.
I had to find out who the person behind this line was. It turned out it was a builder that I was unfamiliar with at the time, Dan Raymond. I had the fortune of meeting Dan eventually and learning the fascinating backstory to this trail and himself. It turns out he is an ex-professional snowboarder, has competed on the Canadian National Freestyle team and was now a National Team coach. Korova Milkbar was the first trail he had built (!) but he has since being employed by the Whistler Municipal trail crew for several summers and this year is working on the huge Sproatt Alpine Trail Project.
I sat down with Dan one evening recently and asked him some of the most essential pieces of advice he would give to someone who wants to build (or maintain) trails in their community.
IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS
“The number one thing I’ve learned, and this started when I begun my first project thinking it would take a couple of afternoons to now undertaking a huge project to build 800m vertical of blue trail to the alpine, before you remove the moss then measure twice. Measure twice before you even bring the tools to the job because you have to be absolutely sure that you can finish the job and no one appreciates a trail that goes nowhere, and my personal pet peeve is leaving scars on the forest floor. So it just pays to think about things before you start.
“Everything will take a lot more work than you think to make it good. It doesn’t matter if you want to add a berm to something or build a jump or clean out a rock to add a line to your favorite trail, no matter what it will be harder than you thought and take longer. The moss in Whistler is an incredible thing in that it can be paper thin or it can be very deep and what is under that moss can be a horrible mishmash spongy mess that you don’t want to or can’t build on. Or sometimes you pull up a root and you’ve made a whole lot more work for yourself.”
“I also think it’s important to travel and see other trails and obverse other techniques. It helps to spark your imagination about what is possible, how people see trails, how they build through different terrain and the techniques they use. For example, before I rode Squid Line in Fraser Valley I would never thought it was possible to build a line like that in Whistler but now…I don’t know, maybe it could be possible with a lot of work.”
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS
“I’ve always been interested about who built which trails, and in this town everyone knows someone who has built something so it’s pretty easy access to that information. I’d try to have conversations with some of these people to ask them what they were thinking, how they built things, what’s the techniques they used and what things I could learn.
“Just like when I started snowboarding and I wanted to learn how to do it and teach it, the same sort of quest for knowledge extended to trailbuilding, so I asked questions. I’d suggest people do that: just ask questions these people about what they learned and what knowledge they can pass on. They are a wealth of knowledge, so the more information you can acquire the more prepared you will be to make the right decisions when you build yourself.”
KEEP RIDERS ON AND THE WATER OFF
“I’m not a fan of trails being changed not for the better. There’s trails that I wouldn’t want to see changed. Like in Emerald, you can’t and shouldn’t paved the cruxes because even though they are moves you only complete successfully maybe once or twice a year, they are challenges that are deserving of the difficulty.”
“I feel that you can experience something in your head and get the same physical reaction, the adrenalin rush, as you do when you do it for real. And I think that helps in snowboarding for doing new tricks but also helps in trailbuilding because you can imagine riding a line that doesn’t exist yet but that if you built it it will be fun. It’s about not just making a line between two points but anticipating what comes between those two points. Visualizing has helped me anticipate how to build lines that are fun. As builder you have to be able to imagine what is possible.
“I see trails as aesthetically beautiful things that with time and destruction can become horrible scars. In particular, I don’t like braided trails. You can see examples of where a trail builder has not anticipated the speed of riders or how riders will end up riding the trail, and that has led to damage to the trail. I like to remediate that and go where the riders will go and create the trail with flow so the experience is best. I hate seeing trails that are ten feet wide because…it’s ugly.”