Tunnel Mountain Bench/Topp Notch update


Parks Canada held a media event on June 13th at Tunnel Mountain in Banff to mark the “official” opening of the Tunnel Mountain Bench trail system. The event drew Parks Canada Staff, Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance directors, and Shaw, Global and CBC TV crews to the Hoodoo lookout near the Tunnel Mountain campground. While locals have been riding in the area for decades, this new recognition is an important milestone for both Parks Canada and the BVMBA. The two parties have a long standing relationship that has benefitted both Parks Canada and the mountain bike user group at large. The BVMBA is a volunteer based group that works with the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s trail construction guidelines to create incredible trail experiences inside Banff National Park. They go about their business under the umbrella of a signed memorandum of understanding with Parks that outlines the scope of the work they do. This includes the ongoing maintenance of the Tunnel Mountain Bench trails as well as the recent construction of – for the first time ever – a new, mtb specific technical XC trail. They have co-developed a new MTB model within the Parks Canada framework and this official opening is the culmination of over 15 years’ worth of collaboration between the two groups.


Prior to last week’s official opening, Parks Canada’s National Trails Analyst Mark Schmidt was in Banff on May 30/31 to spend some time with BVMBA directors and PC staff assessing the brand new, black-rated Topp Notch XC trail. Mark has a keen eye and a deep background in all things trail, having been the president of IMBA Canada as well as course leader at Capilano University’s Mountain Bike Operations program on the Sunshine Coast. Mark’s input and expertise helped the BVMBA to put the final touches on the advanced level trail; a new and exciting offering for Parks Canada.


Says Mark: “The BVMBA has built an incredible trail system on the Tunnel Mountain Bench. But, this is much more than just fun for biking on, it is much more. This trail system has shown that mountain bikes can be used on trails in Canada’s National Parks, and that volunteer organizations can work closely with Parks Canada to develop a system that provides an exciting experience and has minimal impacts on the environment”. The BVMBA is known to be very sensitive to other user groups and, as such, they make a point of maintaining the network so that bikers, hikers and equestrian users can all enjoy the same trail in different ways. In a clear reference to the MTB model, Mark also notes that “This is an example that other Parks Canada locations are noticing and this will lead to more and better trail opportunities in the future”.


The Tunnel Mountain Bench is a stacked loop style trail system that allows users of varying skill levels to gradually make their way further out onto more difficult terrain as they improve as riders. From the hard packed 2 meter wide crushed rock campground loop (perfect for the whole family) to green rated singletrack that takes riders out into open forest with some astonishing views, to more remote and advanced offerings for the skilled rider, the Tunnel Mountain Bench has something for everyone, though it should be noted here that the under Parks Canada’s National Mountain Bike Assessment (2010) downhill mountain biking is not an approved use inside any national park. The Tunnel Mountain Bench has been under the wing of the BVMBA from a sustainable maintenance perspective for about a decade, and the addition of Topp Notch as the hand built jewel-in-the-crown is already drawing rave reviews from Bow Valley residents and visitors alike.


Parks Canada’s Banff Field Unit Superintendent Dave McDonough and Product Development Specialist Judy Glowinski are thrilled with the BVMBA’s work and had the following comments to offer. “The Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance has contributed significant time and resources towards the enhancement of the trail network on the Tunnel Mountain Bench. Efforts to rehabilitate, develop and maintain trails have been aligned with the IMBA standards and have elevated the quality and diversity of Banff’s cycling offering. It has far exceeded our expectations in terms of quality, diversity and difficulty. We feel like the collective offer on the Tunnel Mountain Bench, in addition to our existing trails, now positions Banff as a classic cycling destination. What really stands out is the stories and passion the BVMBA has… and Parks Canada would like to recognise their significant efforts and achievements”.


The BVMBA was born in 1996 as the result of trail closures to mountain bikers in the area. That tiny little voice has grown to be one of the most respected grassroots user groups currently working with Parks Canada to offer a superior visitor experience.

Mark Schmidt summed things up nicely by adding the following. “As we walked the new Topp Notch trail during the assessment, I kept thinking – why are we walking? From the overall construction, the bermed corners, the use of natural and man-made features, and flowy descents followed by challenging punchy climbs I just couldn’t wait to fully experience the trail the way it is meant to – by bike. This is a trail that experienced mountain bikers dream of and I would say to all mountain bikers, add the Tunnel Mountain Bench trails, especially the Topp Notch trail, to your list of must do’s, you won’t be disappointed”.


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