Mark Holt is the most productive trail builder in BC. I’m standing by that. If anyone wants to challenge me, go ahead. I’d like to see who else has built over 40 trails. I’m not sure there is anyone. Not just dinky little trails either; these are monstrous and sharp toothed snaking leviathans wrapping themselves around entire mountains. Mark never stops. He builds before work, after work, on weekends. He skips work to build. His mind is a vault of trail knowledge. As he rides, he files away spots needing repair, and then dutifully returns to upgrade the trail. He is unassuming, intense, committed, humble, and does not need the praise of others to motivate him. His drive is both personal and an act of sharing. His trails have contributed to the happiness of so many riders, both local and from elsewhere. The legends of Nelson, a true BC mountain town, are born and bred on his hand built ribbons of hillside gnarl. His drive to craft tracks of excessive downwardness through the timber strewn Kootenay slopes creates the tales, the stories that are shared amongst those who have given into the call of the mountains. The crashes, the new friends made, the obstacles conquered, the ridge line rides in perfect evening light, are in many ways all because of him. Trails are not just lines through the woods, they are places where people go to experience challenge, face fear, and find flow. Nobody knows that better than Mark.
What brought you to Nelson?
I’m originally from Montreal and had moved to Whistler in 1989 to ski. I worked in a bike shop there and did a bunch of mountain biking in the summers, although I had already been riding trails back in Quebec. I lived there for three years and then decided in August of 1992 that I wanted to move to Nelson to ski some “Kootenay Powder.” When did you start the Sacred Ride Bike Shop? Who did you start it with?
February of 1996 with Sean Jang and Jeff Grosch. I had worked with Sean for two years in Nelson at a sports shop and I knew Jeff from Whistler. Why do you build trails?
I started building trails after I moved to Nelson. I started building Kutcorners in 1994. There were very few trails in Nelson at the time and I got tired of riding the same old trails and logging roads. I like the challenge of building single track. The more the better and the more options there are for riding. What was the first trail you built in Nelson?
Kutcorners in 1994.
|Every time we end up finding a new trail or hearing about a new trail in Nelson it's always pretty much built by Mark. He is a machine. I would say of all his trails the one I have ridden most is Newtsack, I've ridden that trail so many times and never get bored of it. Every Wednesday night all the local dudes gang up and hang out at the Sacred Ride Bike Shop and I never miss it when I'm home. The Sacred Ride is definitely my go-to shop. - Kurt Sorge - Nelson resident and Redbull Rampage Champion|
Give us a rundown of your biggest and baddest trails:The Vein:
We could see the ridgeline from the Sacred Ride…my mechanic said “…we have to put that one in”….We named the trail after an old friend….he had an incident with his too tight snowboard binding that resulted in a twisted blue vein at the top of the foot…in the summer when we were putting in the trail he would come up the mountain and we would yell “the Blue Vein!”….hence the Vein as the trail was long and torturous….Paper Bag:
It was a wicked ridgeline visible from town. It had lots of slabs (it had the first granite rock slab lines ever in Nelson). It was named after a road trip up North when I saw a rock on the highway and my buddy who was driving said: “Nahhh it’s just a paper bag.'' He proceeded to bend his car’s frame as he drove over it.Frog Jam:
Needed a single track climb up Svoboda. While skirting around a wetland a huge chorus of frogs were just going off the week I was building. it took about seven or eight days before they stopped croaking.Elephant:
First big mountain descent in Nelson.Placenta:
Obvious ridge line to Morning Mountain ski hill (when it was still operating), this trail was the “rebirthing” of a new area of trails in Nelson (Giveout Creek).Bedframe:
Alternate to Placenta with a nice view of Nelson and Kokanee. I built a bridge over a miner’s sink hole using my old bedframe.Goldmember:
First trail up Gold Creek Service Road. This was the era of Mike Myers' Austin Powers
movies, seemed to be a good fit.Shannon Pass:
The Baldface trail system had no valley bottom (3000 feet). It took 70 days to put it in.Slabbalanche:
An “avalanche of slabs” presented itself after exploring this ridge line. Two years after I built the trail it was logged so I built it again. What was in Nelson before you showed up? What trails? Who had built them?
Nothing and almost nobody riding. The only trails were Long Svoboda, Legalize it, and Space Junk. Who built Spacejunk?
Kuba! He was such a savage dude. He was way ahead of his time, that trail was so aggressive for that era, it was just roughed in. It was named after a weather balloon that was crashed in the bush up there. Unfortunately Kuba passed away up at the ski hill. Did you ever live at 719 Latimer? (A legendary house rented and lived in by pretty much everyone in the Nelson riding scene it seems like).
No but I hung out there lots, met my wife there. The 719 gap up on Mountain Station was named after that house. Who built 13 Steps To Doom? That is another trail that is just so gnarly, especially for the era it was built in.
The 719 guys built it, Brain Bell, John Broi, Chad Smith. Who are the most original local dog dudes still riding and living in Nelson?
Mike Seniak, Chris George, Ramin Sherkat, Jon Broi, Derek Westerlund, Scott Dikson, Carey Boxser (RIP)... How many days roughly would you say you've spent trail building in the last 20 years?
Close to 1000 days. Have you ever ran into problems with land owners, government, etc?
No. What is the most frustrating thing about trail building for you?
Getting ready, loading the truck, getting the gear together, getting to the location. Once I’m there and start building I get into the zone. What is the most rewarding thing about trail building for you?
Having a fresh trail for me and my buddies to ride. What is your style: quick and dirty? Elaborate?
Get the trail in, find a good entrance and exit. Try to stay on high ground. Tweak it later. Trail building is done whenever possible, after work 'till dark, weekdays at 5:00am before work, telling my wife Kirsty that I was going to the store and squeaking a few hours in... Knowing the trails of Nelson quite well, I can only assume you did some insanely massive hikes just to get to where you were working?
Paper Bag was built top down with bike and chainsaw and then hiking back out, until it got low enough. Then I rode the rail-grade for six kilometers or so to get to the bottom. Massive hikes to get to Slabalanche and the Vein at least 2500ft to the top of each, with a chainsaw and mattock, gas, oil, three or four liters of water, food, first aid, tools, rain jacket, ear protection, and a six pack of Kootenay True Ale! Pretty much every trail takes about 70 days. Slabbalanche was tough because I built it, and then it got logged shortly after. So I went back in there for an ‘anger build’ and put it back in. It lost a few amazing rock slabs, but I found more.
|Mark is definitely the father of the Nelson riding scene: that guy built like every trail! I've been riding his trails since I was about 10 years old and he just keeps adding them! It's pretty crazy if you stop and just think about all the work he has done out there. Mind blowing actually. - Garett Buehler - Nelson resident, BC's Big Mountain Badass|
You're known for climbing any trail on any bike. Were you ever a big shuttler?
Big shuttler over the years for sure, but no matter what I was still climbing, quick rides, solo rides, etc. I never stopped climbing. I rode to the top on big bikes: Brodie 8 Ball, Banshee Scream, Rocky RMX, what else... the Marin Wildcat Trail which was a 10-inch bike! I pedaled all those things up the mountains. With riders like Joe Schwartz, Mike Kinrade, Robbie Bourdon, Garett Buehler, Kurt Sorge calling Nelson home, what was it like watching so many big names come up out of Nelson over the years?
It was awesome. All those guys were just riders in town who rode a lot and I think our trails shaped them into the riders they are today. Those guys went into filming situations, and things like the Redbull Rampage, and were used to riding gnarly fall line terrain. Joe and Robbie were super keen riders, they would ride with us lots in Nelson, and we used to take them to Rossland and stuff when they were still in high school. I remember finishing riding and making them wait outside the pub sitting on the curb while we drank a bunch of beers. Joe and Robbie built the Gimp in 1995 and that was a pretty solid piece of scary steep as shit trail to add to the area, it's likely still one of the steepest trails in BC. I noticed when I first moved to Nelson, there were always tons of broken bikes and injuries. Did Nelson go through a period of almost being ‘too gnarly?'
Yeah in the early 2000’s lots of people were getting hurt and bikes were getting broken a lot. I think our riding was basically super rowdy shit, and when you add in the fact so many of the trails are 2500-3000 ft vertical descents, that much vertical makes people super tired, especially when the gnarl doesn’t stop and they are getting too tired to make sure their front wheel goes where it needs to go! Do you think Nelson had a heyday bike tourism wise?
Absolutely, in 2005-2008 Nelson was super hyped up, we just had so many trails so close to town. Since then so many other places have become really developed trails-wise, places like Williams Lake, Revelstoke, Vernon with Silver Star, lots of those places are drawing tons of visitors. But in terms of a single town with 125 trails that will test any rider’s limits, I think Nelson is still the place to be. What's the Nelson Cycling Club all about?
Well the Nelson Cycling Club has been getting some money - government funding through forestry initiatives and also from the Regional District of Central Kootenays. Rounding that out are trail map sales, the bike swap, memberships, and events, like the toonie race we had this spring raised 1000 bucks in one night for the Cycling Club. What bike are you on this year?
Intense Carbine 650b, which for living in Nelson isn’t quite beefy enough. I also ride an Intense Uzzi. People here are dropping down a bit to shorter travel climbable bikes but for the most part everyone is riding full on DH bikes, you just have to with our terrain.
|Holt showed me how awesome mountain biking could be. He let me, a 15-year-old punk, tag along on group rides up Idaho Peak or Rossland, he'd drive me to races all over the Kootenays, and put up with my little crew spending hours in his bike shop, poring over catalogs and bike movies. He eventually relented and gave me a summer job wrenching on bikes. Mark showed us how to build bike trails, and instilled in us the importance of giving back to the community you live in. My first awesome (and to this day my favourite) bike I bought from Mark was a custom painted Dekerf Team hardtail, with matching painted Judy DH forks. I didn't think it could get any better than that. Simply put, Nelson mountain biking would not exist without Mark Holt. - Joe Schwartz - Born and bred in Nelson, legendary freerider and mountain guide|
Which trail are you most proud of?
Not one specifically. Shannon Pass for connecting to the upper goods, creating one huge descent from the top of Baldface. Paper Bag because it’s so unique; all the slabs and just a wild ridge, and also Slabbalanche because its radical and off the radar. I’ve built over 40 trails in Nelson and like them all and still ride them all. I don’t get stuck riding one trail over and over, I really like to keep it diverse and ride them all. Tell us more about the Paper Bag. In my opinion it is the coolest trail in Nelson.
The Paper Bag was built in 1995/1996. I had noticed that there was a pretty unique ridgeline flowing off the Svoboda area down to Troupe Beach. I basically started hiking it from the height of land and walked a line that turned out to be the trail pretty much. Jon Broi, a Nelson local was involved on that one a lot, he came out there pushing the limits, finding tons of wild rock slabs and just pushing the route to include them all, which lead to a lot of weird awkward climbs but we just didn’t care. Back then some of the rock slab roll-downs were really pushing the limits, there are lots of stories of sheared head tubes, frames held together just by the cables. A gnarly dude named Darrel was out there too and he was the first one to ride the Dirty Crack which to this day is one of Nelson’s most enigmatic and well known moves. Which trail would you consider to be your masterpiece?
I don’t have a favorite trail. Once I’m finished building a trail I’m already thinking about the next one.
|My favourite thing about a Holt trail is how you know it's a Holt trail. The man likes to make you work. He's not afraid to put some tech side-hill into a DH run, or a climb for that matter. His trails take you places, not just the path of least resistance, and he still does that without losing flow. His trails work by making you work. - Mitchell Scott - Nelson resident and mountain biking's most prolific writer|
Which trail do you get the most compliments about?
Always the latest and greatest! Some of the trails, like Upper Sitkum, have sort of faded away, now people think it’s too steep, but it's gnarly and great in my opinion. Fall line gnarl. A trail that makes you second guess your line and you have to be on it. Nowadays I am building more across the hill type stuff but at the end of the day I still love the burl, the fall line stuff. You never stop digging, have you had much in the way of trail building injuries?
Ohhhh ya. Tennis elbow, rotator cuff strain, ankle sprains, claw hand, and some delayed onset muscle soreness. Otherwise feeling pretty good these days. Never stopped building, maybe just a few light duty days when I'm sore. So is your building almost obsessive? Do you ever get tired out?
No, it’s been 40 trails now and I just never stop. Are you going to slow down with the building now that you have kids?
Yeah I hope so, please make it stop.
That concludes this edition of Characters. Thanks: Mark Holt, Bruno Long, Garett Buehler, the Hume Hotel, Sacred Ride Bike Shop, and Tourism Kootenay Rockies for helping put this one together. Check out: www.hellobc.com
Riley McIntosh is a mountain biker from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. He has done a fair bit of trail building and has dabbled in writing. He loves interviewing interesting people and learning more about them. He hopes that Pinkbike’s readers enjoy the Characters series.Bruno Long is a Revelstoke-based professional adventure photographer. A self-taught photographer who spends his winters chasing deep powder and steep lines in the backcountry, he also thoroughly enjoys the summers, shooting mountain biking and staying considerably warmer than the winter months. Look for his work in the upcoming Deep Summer photography competition, where he will be putting his work up against a stacked field of fellow professionals during Crankworx.
Characters #1 - Thomas Schoen
Characters #2 - Bill McLane
Characters #3 - Tig Cross and Sasha LeBaron