Sustainability has been the buzz word for years in the trail building world, but how often do you stop to consider what that really means? Is there a demand for the trail? Is what’s being built appropriate for the user group? The land manager? The location and climate? Will it require ongoing maintenance? Is it readily accessible for maintenance? As Squamish’s trail network grows, and the mountain bike demographic along with it, these questions become more and more relevant.
Back in the day when Ted Tempany was a pro DH rider, he cut his teeth out in the bush secretly building trails with a pick, shovel and rake. Fifteen years later he owns and operates Dream Wizards Events, and his widespread reputation as a highly skilled trail builder speaks for itself. But things are different now. He works with land managers for the necessary approvals. He shapes his creations by machine and finishes everything by hand. Water management is a huge issue so things like nicks, grade reversals and rolling contour trails are now common practice rather than the exception. There is a big demand for his service, and holy crap he actually gets paid.
It hasn’t always been so rosy, and there’s been times when he’s taken it on the chin for working for anyone other than the mountain bike user group, but at the end of the day he’s a trail builder, he loves his job, and he’s loathe to discriminate. Ted’s typically neutral position with respect to user conflict usually facilitates the solving of a problem.
The first time I ever saw Ted he was on a panel at the BC Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium in Victoria. He said something at the time that I’ll never forget: “Building a trail that you can go fast on is easy; building a trail that you can go slow on is hard”. Words to live by if you’re ever going to get anywhere building trails, and perfectly illustrated by his most celebrated creation, the smile inducing Squamish icon Half Nelson. Whether you love flow or not, whether you feel the world is dumbing down or not, there is no arguing with the numbers. Of Squamish’s 200 trails, Half Nelson sees by far the most activity, and for good reason: it’s fun, beautifully built, and yes, it’s sustainable.
Ted also has a reputation locally as having a remarkable ability to stretch a dollar. When SORCA commissioned 3 km of Legacy Climb, Ted gave them 6.5 km. When asked to build Half Nelson for $100K, Ted agreed to $50K instead, and deferred $50K in favour of other local builders. When Wonderland needed some love last year, Ted went in with original builder Matt Parker and they rebuilt an 1100 m section, gratis. The give-back is obvious and when Ted isn’t getting paid to build, he’s often working up on Diamond Head, putting in his time for free. That’s what I call sustainable. It’s a labour of L-O-V-E and there’s more to come my friends.
Dream Wizards is now under contract to create the trail offering at the top of the new Sea to Sky Gondola, and have already completed 2 km of gently graded walking loops. I’ve seen wheelchairs up there twice already. They are working on a new running trail on the far side of Shannon Creek, and expect to have the MTB trails completed and rideable by 2016. That’s right, gondola accessed MTB trails that should get you right up into the alpine. The area is remote, so building with longevity in mind is a primary consideration and Ted and his crew are hitting their stride right now, with a lot of work ahead of them. No one wants to have to come back to maintain a poorly designed or built trail but if Half Nelson or the Legacy Climb are any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Ever wondered why there’s so many black-rated trails in the Squamish-Whistler-Pemberton corridor, and little blue and green by comparison? Ever wonder why an emerging tourism market like Squamish, with an already tremendous black MTB offering isn’t building more with the less experienced rider in mind? To simplify Ted’s earlier comment, building green is hard. It means taking the time to surf the contours, to be aware of drainage, organic material, appropriate access and exits, to look at the landscape with a completely different eye and to respect the conditions we live to ride in. Sure, you could go out and dumb down an existing trail from black to blue, but what purpose would that serve if sustainability is not a consideration? Half Nelson is ridden by top level pros and little kids alike, and is proof that a really great sustainable trail can be green, blue and black all at once.
A quick review of the costly, major rehabbing currently underway on the North Shore provides a strong indication of what lies ahead if best practices aren’t used. Ted Tempany and Dream Wizards have clearly demonstrated that sustainable building has a place here, and a big part of that sustainable practice is future relief from the burden of maintenance.