Photo Story: The Free Radicals Revive Iconic Squamish Trail

Oct 23, 2023 at 9:12
by The Free Radicals  



In 2022, The Free Radicals and Specialized Soil Searching raised over $20,000 for the Squamish Off Road Cycling Association (SORCA) through several fundraisers and in-kind donations. An outcome of these efforts resulted in a SORCA Trail Champs sponsorship of an iconic trail in Squamish for the 2023 season. We chose to sponsor Squamish’s oldest shuttles trail, 19th Hole, as it was badly in need of a refresh after years of being neglected.

The goal of this trail-project was to use existing mountain bike trail infrastructure to bring a sanctioned modern “downhill” style trail in the Squamish trail network, Mark and I felt these goals addressed an obvious gap in the current trail system, one that’s being gradually filled by a growing number of user-built trails which have become ubiquitous in Squamish. We thought, if we could achieve our goal we would be providing a large segment of advanced trail users with what they want. In turn, we felt this could curb the growing number of user built trails in the Diamond Head area, especially in the section of Garibaldi Provincial Park that falls below the Garibaldi Park Road.


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A brief aside here- we’re not pretending that we don’t enjoy user built trails, but we also feel it’s important that trail builders and mountain bikers in heavily trafficked riding areas, such as Squamish’s Diamond Head zone, consider that their actions have the potential to negatively impact trail access and development. We recognize that the sport was largely founded on the sweat equity and vision of user built trails, but the landscape isn’t the same as it was in the late 1980s. Mountain biking has grown exponentially, especially in the last 3 years and especially in Squamish! Our behaviour as trail users must change with the times. It only takes a few bad actors to disrupt trail access. Kingdom Trails in Vermont as an example of what can happen when a few riders behave poorly.

The local trail association, SORCA and two land managers, BC Parks, and Rec Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC), were consulted before work began, and all parties supported the proposed rebuild. There was a slight misunderstanding regarding the original 19th Hole line, but thanks to the original builders of 19th and P-Nuts this issue was resolved before any work was done. It was agreed that if 19th Hole was brought up to safe and modern trail standards that both BC Parks and RSTBC would approve a Section 56 under the Forest and Range practices act, which would give 19th Hole some protection from resource extraction activities. SORCA especially, felt the protection and sanctioning would be a win for the community. Our focus would be on the original main line between Garibaldi Park Road and the Upper segment of the Stl'lhalem Sintl' climb.


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19th Hole is the section of Squamish’s original downhill mountain bike shuttle lap, built by Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt nearly 30 years ago. It was built to be steep and gnarly, something that forced riders to lower their seats before descending, Dave Kelly told me as we reminicessed over the phone. When the trail was built, it spat you out into a fresh cut-block and provided an incredible view of Howe Sound before feeding riders into One Man’s Garbage, Roadside Attraction, Another Man’s Gold, to a super sketchy log-ride over the river, to Powerhouse Plunge.

In the decades since 19th was raked in, Kelly, Cocquyt and their partner Tom Prochazka have founded Gravity Logic, one of the most influential mountain bike trail building companies in the world, their trails are the defining feature of bike parks on four continents. In the early years they took care of 19th, but as life got in the way, the trail has been tweaked and tuned by various riders, the main line and features remain relatively unchanged beyond erosion from water, tires and time. Over the last decade, the trail has fallen into disrepair, and motivated builders have directed their efforts towards establishing new lines off Garibaldi Park Road.


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During our initial walk through with SORCA’s Trail Lead, AJ Strawson, the trail was a mess. Decades of skidding tires combined with the erosive forces of Squamish’s wet winters meant in some places all the organic matter and mineral soil has been stripped down to the infamous pumice conglomerate. This pumice is a rocky mash that was formed during a past eruption of Garibaldi, rich in silt the surface is both rough and extremely slippery when wet. Not an ideal riding surface. In other areas, the trail was a deep rut, well over knee height in many areas.


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To say Mark and I felt overwhelmed by the scale of the work would have been an understatement, we were pretty nervous we had picked a trail that’s destroyed beyond repair. Thankfully the encouraging and massively talented Curtis Robinson and Dylan Dunkerton were with us to help calm the nerves. Their expertise was invaluable leading up to the volunteer weekend while we prepped and organized the work sites. After a full day spent hiking the trail, debating lines and corner alignment, hiking again and further debate we came up with a solid work plan. After 4 days of cleaning the corridor of deadfall and hazard trees, planning and prepping trail work zones, with materials and work descriptions we were ready to capitalize on the efforts of the volunteers come the weekend but not before we were able to sneak in a few laps in celebration of the week's work.


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The volunteer dig weekend blew our expectations out of the water! We had 107 people turn out over two days and everyone absolutely smashed the trail work leaving 19th hardly recognizable from only a few days prior. A massive thank you to everyone who showed up, worked hard, got dirty and helped revive a Squamish classic! Collectively we accomplished 540 hours of trail work.


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Every trail day there is always someone who stands out amongst the group. Andy Collins showed up before all of us each morning and worked until we had to physically remove him. His tenacious work ethic and constant positivity was noticeable all weekend. It's only fitting he was the lucky winner of our Soil Searching Stumpjumper giveaway.


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We want to extend a huge thanks to Vince, Ian and AJ from SORCA for making this project possible.


Author Info:
FreeRadicals avatar

Member since Mar 3, 2016
24 articles

19 Comments
  • 27 6
 It fills my heart with joy to see people dig. No dig no ride because the sport does not exist without digging. If you want a free ticket to ride then go skiing and wait for the snow to fall but if you ride bikes you better dig. Looks like solid work too on a trail I love. Donate, dig, delight in bikes. Much love Squamish crew!
  • 26 10
 I've gotta disagree. There's no real need to be so exclusionary in mountain biking. Times are tough, people have to work hard to scrape a living, especially here in the lower mainland. Some people choose to spend their time digging trail which is awesome, some people choose to donate their money to the trail associations, and that's awesome too. Time is money. Maybe some people haven't been in the sport long and haven't discovered that yet, and that's fine too. What isn't fine is creating unnecessary barriers to entry just because you feel like people should meet some arbitrary criteria for you to grant them access to the trails.
  • 8 5
 @notthatfast: I don't know how many times I've heard people in Squamish say "I don't ride very much, only about 3 times a week'. It's not asking too much to 'only' ride twice a week once a month, and on the other ride day pick up a shovel instead Wink I can't think of too many sports that you can get to do for free, off the backs of volunteers who work for free.
  • 7 7
 @wake-n-rake:
How about pretty much any other outdoor recreational sport? Hiking, surfing, dirt biking etc.
Almost none of the trail builders I know actually have that mindset (sure it's different if you're poaching loam trails in the wet and skidding out every corner)... Most of them are happy for people to just go ride, enjoy the trails, give back in whatever way they can. And yes, I help take care of a trail here on the North Shore. I don't care if people don't dig. Those that don't dig often don't have any idea what kind of work goes into the trails, usually because they're new to the sport. I find that most people are more than happy to help out if you actually show them how.

Good work managing to turn positive news negative though guys. Outstanding.
  • 9 0
 @notthatfast: LOL surfing. Those waves need loads of maintenance Wink
What mind set? I'm just saying that as a community we could do better. 19th wouldn't have been so f*cked in the first place if people stepped up and fixed it. Yes I'm happy for people to ride my trails and I've never once asked for help. I'm just talking generally.
  • 7 5
 @wake-n-rake: Somebody maintains the parking lots. Bathrooms etc. You're right they're low maintenance, and yet some surfers still feel entitled to claim the spots as their own.
My point is, let's not create barriers to entry. Yes we can do better, but proclaiming 'no dig, no ride' isn't the way to do it.
  • 10 0
 @notthatfast: he did say people could donate too.

At the end of the day trail networks exist primarily due to volunteer labour. The mtb industry exists primarily due to volunteer labour. IMHO if you ride you have a responsibility to give back to the trails in some way. Maybe monsieurgage could have been more welcoming with their message, but they aren't wrong.
  • 8 0
 I like that the picture of the sick table isn't on 19th hole, but a loamer instead....
  • 4 0
 The term appears to be 'user built trail' for such things.
  • 3 0
 I remember pedaling our old DH/Freeride 40 lb bikes up to this trail in about 1999. My buddy would joke at the first switchback "just one more to go!"
I also remember getting to the top and (I think) Kabush or some pro rider peddling past us, out of the saddle, barely breathing hard on his way somewhere higher.
Great trail - felt revolutionary at the time. I'll be stoked to take another look when I'm in Squam next, but pretty sure I won't be making the jumps anymore.
  • 2 0
 In case any of the volunteer or staff are reading - a HUGE THANKS for your time and effort. These trails are massive efforts and we appreciate the skill and dedication involved.

After reading more of the comments - if we can't get out to dig, is the best organization to support trail building (in this example) SORCA.

@brianpark
  • 4 0
 Wow classic indeed. I remember racing this as part of the "GK Ripper" race what seems like a lifetime ago
  • 2 0
 Just rode 19th today. The recent torrential downpours seem to have stripped away a lot of the great work that was done and now the trail is just as rutted and gnarly as ever. Still tons of fun though.
  • 3 0
 Awesome! Great work and thanks for covering some trail building on Pinkbike!

@leelau
  • 1 0
 Yup -well done @FreeRadicals and good to see PB covering trail work and trail-building. This kind of article is a lot of work and it shows in the care the Free Radicals team put into it
  • 3 0
 Props to everyone who got involved to make this happen.
  • 5 0
 Took a colossal volunteer effort to pull this amount of work off in a weekend. Special shoutout to everyone who turned up!
  • 2 2
 Oh shit I had no idea this got rebuilt, I should go check it out. Awesome work guys!
  • 1 2
 Same! Instant ride scheming with my crew, re: next weekend.







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