Trailbuilders of the Shore - Part 3 - Digger

Dec 1, 2010
by Lee Lau  
Digger - For Ladies Only

The burly Digger

Trail Description:

"Ladies" is the classic Shore trail. It used to be slow, technical, rooty and more than a bit threatening. Ladies was that moody, but beautiful girlfriend who'd taunt & tantalize you, but then rear out with claws and cut you a new one if you didn't give her your full attention. Digger brought Ladies into the world in the mid 90s and, in 2009/2010 Digger has given Ladies new life. His end product shows his long experience working in dirt, wood and rock; Ladies has been reborn in golden soil, lovingly replanted ferns and glowing red and yellow cedar.

It's hard to remember now that riding has progressed so much, but Ladies (and Digger's route-finding ability) was far ahead of its time. Digger's work is influential and has inspired builders all over the world. In the days of rigid hardtails with canti-brakes, Ladies incorporated riding stunts that were inconceivable. If free-riding as we know it had its birthplace in the woods of North Vancouver, Ladies was the quintessential freeride trail.

"Big Stupid" is one of the signature lines on Ladies

When did you start doing trail work?
In 1984.

Why did you start?
We had lousy bikes and there weren't many trails. One of the trails we could ride was St Mary's. I built a shortcut around one spot that none of us could ride.

Sharon on one of the many bridges of Ladies

Do you look to inspire other builders or riders with your work or are you doing it for yourself and your friends?
When I first started in mid to late 80's it was just for myself and my friends, but then there weren't a lot of people riding back then. Now, I love to help people learn how to build trails. There's a whole section of my latest video (NSX 10) devoted to trail work I've got years of experience and hate to see people make the same mistakes I did when I first started. Sometimes it's hard for me to keep working because I get carried away talking to people who're so excited about the work I'm doing.

Chainsaw or hand saw?
Handsaw. Looks like I'm still the last hold-out. I've got a chainsaw and I'll use it if I have a huge pile of wood to work with.

The classic Ladies teeter-totter; the first one ever on the Shore. Maybe the first one ever on a trail? Just one of the products of Digger's fertile mind

Building used to be and some might say is still a questionable activity, have you ever been fined or threatened with actions?
Yes I have. The District of North Vancouver sent me a "cease and desist" letter about 7 years ago after I built the Wade Gap off the third switchback (author's note - that 40 foot canyon gap is deactivated - Wade Simmons broke his femur on an attempt).

Tell us about some politics that you've had to over come?
Well you know this because Mitch and me came up with the plan to start the NSMBA in 1997 and dragged you into it. Since then most of the politics have been around environmental concerns about trail building. I think that's more than a bit misplaced - after all look at the amount of houses and roads built in what was once woods. We live in a big city with lots of people. We're blessed with mountains and woods right next to the city. I think trails and biking or hiking or running get people out into the environment. Then these people appreciate the environment better. Then they might also understand and appreciate the forest and the mountains. And that's not such a bad thing because they might fight to protect it.

Some of the trail has easier re-routes; but the rooted tech-fest of the Shore still remains for those who can ride it

How did you learn to do trail work?
I taught myself. (Authors Note: Digger pioneered so many trail features that I cannot even begin to list them definitively. He built ladder bridges over wet sections. Then he "built them high, built them sick, built them skinny". He saw rideable rock faces before anyone even began to think of riding them & pioneered the use of "Digger's gold" to lay on top of trailwork to finish sections. Something for which Digger doesn't get enough credit is his attention to route finding; he hikes routes over and over again before putting in a single shovel. He's still one of the few builders to not use a chainsaw.

Have you ever built a secret trail? Is it still a secret?
Almost all trails I first built were secret. I would leave the entrances and exits covered up. But riders are lazy and don't respect that effort - they want to ride into the trails.

How then would people find trails?
Buy a map. Go explore. Ride uphill. Ride around. Don't just expect to see the trails right in front of you like a gift. Go find some friends so you can explore. Finding new things is a fun experience. And when you find new secret trails don't uncover the entrances and exits. Let other people have the fun of discovery

A section of the Baden-Powell connecting Ladies and Lower Ladies in the snow

What is your favourite food?

What is your favourite drink?
Coffee. Bean Around the World Coffee!

D'arcy being "Semi-Retarded".

What changes to the public's perception of MTB trails would you like to see happen?
I'd really like to see the trails stay challenging, but I can understand why people want easier trails. I know that sounds strange because I got some flak from people for all the work on Ladies, but remember when that trail was first built it was smooth and fast - because it hadn't eroded! All I've done is bring it back, but that doesn't mean every corner has to be bermed or every root hacked away. I'd definitely like see more acceptance of biking as a legitimate sport. I see that's starting to happen, but I'd still like to see more paid trail crews. Just like the government pays for football fields and tennis courts, how about more money into trails.

You've just released your last video of the NSX series - NSX 10. How does buying the video help you? When is the box set out?
I put 800 hours into Ladies and other trails this year alone (authors note - that's twenty weeks of a fourty-hour work week)). I'd put more work into trails if you guys all help me by buying the video! Get the video, you'll be entertained and you'll help the trails. You can get the video at the Pinkbike Store, or through bike stores.

The box set with all 10 videos will be coming out next year.

Views: 11,179    Faves: 36    Comments: 4

Digger not only had a lot to do with shaping the Shore, but he captured it in his movies - North Shore Extreme - over the years too. We owe a lot to his visions for the trails that we enjoy today. How has Digger influenced you?

Author Info:
leelau avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2009
125 articles

  • 12 0
 I never met Digger, but from the moment that I saw his work in the first couple NSX videos, I was 100% Hooked.

I grew up riding BMX and jumping garbage cans in my yard and then started Skateboarding, so when I saw the balance, skill and Gnar of riding stunts and ladders in the forest, it was all over.

SInce that time probably 8-10 years ago I have been building , maintaining and riding our own little North Shore Trail System in New England and even though I just got a knee replacement 2 weeks ago, mind you I was in the woods yesterday doing a little trail work, I will continue to build and ride till the day I die, its a great life, creativity and FUN all wrapped up in the same package.

Thanks Digger you inspired me to go out and make my own fun, and in the process I have built some of the funest trails and features in New England. I've met some great riders and even better friends, and I enjoy a great lifestyle, what more can one ask for? Thanks again for the inspiration.

  • 1 0
 I agree 100% with you.....cheers from italy
  • 7 0
 I have so much respect for this guy its ridiculous! The amount of effort he puts in to making the trails the way they are is unbelievable. No matter what the weather is he's up there making some of the best trails in the world so kudos to you Mr.Digger
  • 6 0
 Ive been building up here in the okanagan for over 7 years.I watched nsx 6 and was hooked.Digger made freeriding plain and simple.Not by just being a trail builder but filming his work and showing it to the masses.He arguably may not have made the first ladder bridge but he was the first to show everybody that they existed and were a blast to ride.Some may argue that the Frow riders started it all but i garentee that if riding down long washed out slopes was the only thing freeriding had to offer it would have not gone anywhere.How many people have made an awesome living off of what he started.The fact that he is still out there working away most of the time at his own expense is almost criminal.Digger your the best.I have all the nsx series and i will be getting nsx 10.
  • 6 1
 Well if you want to get into specificity it's a mineral soil an Ae horizon which is heavily alluviated with Iron and Aluminum oxides to give it that red/orange colour. It drains so well because it has a relatively large particle size and is more of a sandy loam. Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Thanks! Did not know that
  • 1 0
 HMMMM..... Interesting .
  • 5 0
  • 5 0
 I was out trying to find these so called north shore trails back in 1993-4and happened to stumble on ''for ladies only'' only to be met with the man himself Digger!!! he took one look at my moto style tires and said''please dont tear up my trail with those knobbies'' lol (back then there was no wooded stunts just the teeter)
I was hooked! Called my mom and told her to send me all my stuff a was moving to Van!.Spent 5 wonderful years riding the shore (didnt even want to go to Whistler) and working as a courrier. Great times
  • 9 0
 MTB hall of fame? shold be...
  • 1 0
 Very true. I'd second that idea.
  • 1 0
  • 1 0
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  • 2 0
 6th, and I believe there are plans to nominate him this year.
  • 4 0
 Digger is a true legend in mountain biking ! Meeting him while we were travelling in the Shore while he was filming Clayton Chitty from the Cove and a kid on a hardtail with the sickest skills, named Frasier from John Henry cycles back in 2000 he totally inspired me to build trail on my return home in Nz. I am sure there are many, many other trail builders world wide the Digger has inspired- Digger we salute you...
  • 2 0
 I met Todd "The digger" at Cyprus Bike Park in 2005, he was busy working on the bike park trails having been thrown off the North Shore by the DNV authority

He remembered my buddy and I from several late night phonecalls we made to him from England as were supposed to have a section in one of The Digger's NSX films and had shot a wicked section here in the UK at Esher and Woburn but my idiot friend lost the mini DV tape- kinda embarrassing!

Really good to meet "The Digger" in person and talk about trail building - hes a legend in the North Shore community for good reason, and I thoroughly enjoyed his NSX films and riding his sweet trails in North Vancouver on the several trips I've taken to the North Shore

great article, and great to see The Digger still working on the mountains - long may he dig!
  • 3 1
 Great article Lee. The line described as Milky Wade in the upper photo is not Milky Wade. Milky Wade is the rock to log line further to the rider's left from there. You can see the start of the slimy old green log in the last picture.
  • 2 0
 You're right - major brain fart and will correct. That's Big stupid
  • 2 0
 Good article Lee. I was sitting next to Digger at the NSMBA AGM last week and during the open forum there was a segment of talks about a place for renegade trails on the north shore today. There was a bit of talk about revitalizing some of the old school, difficult trails that have gone into disrepair. But the problem being the landowners might not agree with it all and end up cutting down what the builders built. Digger's side comment to me was that, although we should play by some rules and get permits and all, organizations for riding could also put some concern into protecting or at least supporting the trail builders when this happens. It's a tough line to walk as I see it as for the longest time we've built stuff on other peoples properties without their consent, but now are making headway. At the same time, like mentioned in the article above, these trails on the shore were built out of inspiration, creativity and a drive to fulfill the desire for challanges and exploration into the wilderness at our backstep. What do you guys think? Is there a realistic middle ground between renegade trails and trail revitalization, and organized, sanctioned trail maintenance? I know it's an ongoing topic of discussion, but ...
  • 2 0
 I think there's room for optimism and progress. We've come a long way from the War in the Woods days of 1997 when Digger, Mitch, me and a lot of other old-timers sat down at the Black Bear and tried to figure out ways to persuade the municipalities to not whole-sale chainsaw trails
  • 2 0
 No doubt a tough subject to approach. It seems what we need is people to join forces (such as NSMBA) and really make our presence known. This may be lobbying legislators, holding rallies and fundraisers, using resources such as PB for letter writing campaigns, etc. It's hard to do when you show your hand though, no doubt. Can't speak of exact locations, but can hint at "zones" where you may want to build. From a cost perspective it no doubt drives local tourism (I drove up to N Van religiously for years), but building million dollar homes and golf courses are more profitable. We need to shift the focus to sustainability and recreational opportunities, not "one and done" development.

Separately- Digger, thanks so much for your vision, work, inspiration, and drive. You're a legend and I hope to some day meet you....until then....happy trails!!!
  • 5 1
 nice to see an mtb video without the ubiquitous rockesq soundtrack. great video, great riding!!
  • 3 0
 Instead it has the pornVIDesq soundtrack going... Still, great riding and an awesome trail. Cheers to all the trailbuilders out there
  • 1 0
 I met digger before and he is a legend up fromme driving around in his sick little Mazda truck I don't know what trails he works on but he has built and or rebuilt over half of the trails on fromme and I ride them all the time so thanks digger for building awesome trails
  • 1 0
 Digger is a trail building God, I wonder just how many people have been inspired by his work. I know that if I had a chance to take a holiday and spend it working with Digger I would jump on it.
  • 1 0
 It seems of all the videos, pictures and riders that biking has, we never get to hear about the Digging and without digging, we don't have trails. Thank you for your hard work!
  • 1 0
 I fell off that darn teeter-totter into the mud about 6 years ago. Last year I got to meet Digger and he is a great guy. I have all 9 Digger vids and will be ordering the 10th one asap. Thanks Digger.
  • 1 0
 brit i understand, but i think that's a different concept. And it's very nice in what he wants to...... a technical made trail for have fun. pz
  • 1 0
 Big thanks to Digger. I rode Ladies at least twenty times this year and couldn't stop smiling each and every time.
  • 1 0
 Digger deserves so much respect for what he does. The magical trail fairy's has a king, and his name is digger. he deserve so much thanks for what he does, he is always up there.
  • 2 1
 What exactly is "Diggers Gold" Made of?
  • 3 1
 It's mineral soil. Its light yellow in colour; that's the reason for the name
  • 3 2
 ok i see...... does it drain good?
  • 1 0
 ya it is basicly a mix of sand,clay and the dirt just under the top soil, it drains good, it packs well, it just holds everything together much better than just leaving it bare
  • 1 0
 Yeah Digger. Got my copy of NSX 10. Thanks!
  • 1 0
 really sweet trails and nice story Smile
  • 1 0
 Someone should make a movie about Digger ... title "I am Legend"
  • 1 0
 These are the true heroes of the sport. Nice to see recognition for them.
  • 1 0
 Awesome techy trails. All Along the Watchtower inspired song???
  • 1 0
 That guy was in "drop in"
  • 1 0
 More excellent Digger-related interview footage:
  • 1 0
 really awesome trail, looks like really amazingly well built stuff!
  • 1 1
 that tis cool i love that track looks soo fun
  • 1 0
 I love those trails.
  • 11 0
 "As fall approaches..." its frickin well been and gone here
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