Quest for the Holy Trail 

The pursuit of perfection by the Sea to Sky's army of diggers

click to flip through (4) Thirsty Beaver in Cumberland, BC features hundreds of meters of flowing bridgework.
  • Thirsty Beaver in Cumberland, BC features hundreds of meters of flowing bridgework.

There are few moments more exciting for a mountain biker than riding a trail for the first time. The exhilarating mystery of what lays ahead; a sweeping g-force generating berm, a perfectly shaped kicker that boosts you through the air, the steep rock face that scares as much as it thrills you. Mountain bikers often yearn for that moment during their ride, that point in time when the trail, the bike and the rider are all seamlessly engaged. Sure, the nature that surrounds the rider is worth a look when climbing hills or stopping for a break to wait for your buddies, but when it's time to descend the riders' eyes are focused on little else but the trail before them.

While nature provides the canvas, it is the shovel-and-Pulaski-wielding soldiers of the trail building community that create the art. Mountain bike trail construction has come a long way over the years, just as mountain bikes have evolved from the early '70s "Klunkerz" that Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey and their hippy friends rode down the fire roads of Mt Tamalpais in Marin Country, California. While drifting around flat gravel corners on pre-WWII, reinforced Schwinns was a hoot for these young pioneers, as the bike technology developed so too did the method and design of building trails to ride them on. Single track soon followed with bikers riding down narrow trails used by hikers and horseback riders, though the inevitable conflicts eventually had bikers kicked off Mt. Tam altogether. As mountain biking spread across the world, riders began to take the matter of insufficient and overcrowded trails into their own hands and set out into the forest bearing the tools to chop, dig and shape the soil to their own liking.

It was with this fervour that the early trail builders went to work in the hills of North Vancouver and, soon thereafter, Whistler. Gruff dudes like Dan Swanstrom, a carpenter who brought us a handful of Whistler westside classics like Danimal, Industrial Disease and A River Runs Through It. Swanstrom would toil tirelessly on crown land, building trails that are still standing in Whistler's expansive trail network. That was until the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act Section 102 was introduced in 1995. This amendment to the Forest Practices Code required the approval from a district manager for any ground disturbance, clearing of vegetation and construction of structures.

Swanstrom was interviewed by Pique back in 1995 a month after Section 102 was introduced, about the time he'd decided to pack it in as an "outlaw" trail builder.

"It's just not worth the risk, there are all these new rules in place and to tell you the truth my forté is building trail, not filling out proposals," he said.


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