Alpine Gold - It's Worth the Wait

Aug 2, 2016 at 6:59
by Aaron Cooperman  
Riding BC’s alpine singletrack is the coveted jewel of all mountain riding – but its not great all of the time. In the area surrounding Revelstoke, there are trails at Frisby Ridge, Keystone, Mt. Cartier, Joss Mountain, Sol Mountain Lodge, and more.
For the past couple years, low snowpacks and early summer melts have allowed early access to alpine riding. Mountain bikers may have accepted this to be the norm – rather than the historical mid to late July alpine openings.

South Caribou Pass trail with Mount Fosthall behind.
Stunning views and flowing singletrack in the mountains. This is what we're all after.

After a dry summer, last September BC received a deluge of precipitation. No trail builder could have prepared for such an onslaught and the subsequent saturation of the alpine tundra. At Sol Mountain, some sections of our trails began to look more like ponds and streams than mountain bike trails. Standing water and thick mud littered the trails. Closer to Revelstoke, the Frisby ridge trail was in a similar state.

Trail damage on the Frisby Ridge trail.
Trail damage on the Frisby Ridge trail.

Trail damage on Frisby Ridge.
Trail damage on the Frisby Ridge trail due to riding in poor weather conditions.

Despite the unseasonal wet conditions bikers continued to ride popular alpine trails like Frisby Ridge. In addition, riders dodged the puddles instead of riding through them, widening the singletrack and creating a mess. Things at Sol were similar, but due to our remote nature, we see much less traffic which saved our trails from irreparable damage. Frisby wasn’t so lucky and is now closed for 2016 while they upgrade the trail.

From this recent experience there are some valuable lessons we can all learn. As trail builders, we’ve learned that trail building in the alpine require different techniques. Starting with the layout, it’s key to avoid persistent wet areas most prevalent in treelike zones used to access higher and drier alpine slopes. While low lying areas are the most obvious wet areas, it’s also important to avoid drainage slopes. Drainage slopes are rocky hillsides covered by a relatively thin layer of organic material/dirt draining higher up areas. During snowmelt and periods of intense precipitation, the water runs through the slope and any trail cut into these slopes becomes a mess in short order.

It s a labour intensive process building trails in the alpine but the effort is needed to build sustainable trails. Marc Reimer laying rocks on the South Caribou Pass trail.

Gustav Vollmer legendary trail builder from the Cariboo region and one of the main trail builders at Sol.

It s a labour intensive process building trails in the alpine but the effort is needed to build sustainable trails. Marc Reimer laying rocks on the South Caribou Pass trail.
Trail builders Gustav Vollmer (Cariboo region) and Marc Reimer (Crowsnest Pass) working on the South Caribou Pass trail. Long days of backbreaking work by these guys and others have made our evolving trail system.

In the inevitable crossing of wet spots, there is a variety of techniques we can use to mitigate damage. Spanning the wet area via bridges is one option. Wooden bridges have a relatively limited lifespan, especially in the alpine where they’re exposed to severe weather for much of the year. Though difficult and time consuming to build, rock bridges are durable, offer natural drainage and are fun to ride.

Rock bridge on South Caribou Pass trail.

Rock bridge on South Caribou Pass trail.

Rock bridge on Sol Lake trail.

Using rock to build a sustainable trail over a wet spot on the South Caribou Pass trail.
Rock bridges are a great way to build sustainable trails in the alpine.

In wetter subalpine areas where it may be impracticable to build the trail solely from rock, we work to drain the surrounding area through ditches and culverts. Building a solid, reliable tread is one of the biggest challenges and labour intensive. To begin, we remove the wet organic soil, ditch the sides allowing the water to flow away from the trail. Next we add rock to the base and finally, source out good granular dirt to build the tread. It’s a lot of work but the result is a sustainable trail surface that will last for years in all weather.

Building sustainable all weather trail in the alpine.

Proper drainage is key to sustainable alpine trails. Excavating poor soil and building a solid base of rock to encourage drainage is key.
Examples of creating sustainable trail in the subalpine forest. The built up tread drains water effectively while providing a quality riding surface.

While improving the trail building standard is one step towards preserving our alpine riding, as riders we need to remember that it’s a privilege and not a right to ride in these beautiful areas. As spring is emerging earlier each, we will still need to wait until later in the summer to go on alpine rides. During periods of wet weather it is key to choose appropriate routes and give adequate time for trails to dry out. When riding one needs to be diligent about staying on the existing trail and if an area is really wet, it is best to w your bike through it instead of just mashing through to better your strava time.

Trail damage
In wet spots, consider walking instead of creating tire ruts.

With busy schedules limiting time for recreation this isn’t the easiest decision to make, but as a riding community we need to encourage our peers to respect the trails. The popular Trailforks app is a great way to stay updated on current trail conditions. The wet weather rating is specifically designed to let riders know whether or not the trail is usable in wet weather conditions. If a trail is overly wet, please reconsider your ride. Be patient, wait for a dry day – riding alpine singletrack is worth the wait!

Alpine singletrack out the front door.

Rock bridge on South Caribou Pass trail.

Outsloped trail cut into a hillside allows proper drainage.
Trails at Sol Mountain Lodge open August 1st. Come enjoy the ride!

Alpine singletrack at Sol Mountain Lodge open August 1, 2016. New for 2016 is 2 km of fresh trail on the South Caribou Pass trail, which will be finished in 2017. Some trails are closed during periods of heavy rainfall, but we do have a lower loop in the forest which is all weather rideable. Day use is welcome - all trail donations include a complimentary cold beer at Sol Lake! We also offer a volunteer trail program for those with experience and we provide a night’s stay at the lodge in return for four hours of trail building.

For more information, please visit www.solmountain.com.

Ride on!

Rock bridge on the South Caribou Pass trail.
Alex Klassen on the new South Caribou Pass trail with Mount Fosthall in the background.


19 Comments

  • 3 0
 Many thanks to the builders, rode Sol today and I can't think of enough adjectives to describe the amazing spectacular trails and views. Thanks to you guys I can scratch another one off my bucket list. Counting the days until I can ride it again. Peace
  • 1 0
 Wow Mike - thanks! Great to see the trails getting used. Ride On! Aaron
  • 1 0
 Incredible amount of rock work and drainage trenches and sculpting on those trails. Up yesterday with Mikeyv10 and it took us a while to get up to south caribou pass. At every corner we had to take out the camera for either the trail work pic or the surrounding view. Killing me being at work today. I just want to see what's on my camera. Amazing work lads. Mt biker paradise right there and huge potential
  • 2 0
 Glad you liked it! Ride On.
  • 1 0
 After just visiting Revelstoke for two days, all I can say is hats off to all of the builders! Seriously some of the best riding I've ever experience; and the trail builders were out working in all 3 riding zones I visited (MacPherson, Boulder and Sol). To my surprise Martha Creek DH was 200% worth that long climb up the logging road. Thank you so much for your hard work!
  • 1 0
 Great to hear. Ride on Revy! Cheers
  • 3 0
 Useful tips for those who're privileged to build alpine trails
  • 1 0
 Thats right - its a privilege - and so much fun! Cheers Lee, Aaron
  • 1 0
 Awesome work and can't wait to get up there. We planned for Aug but the dates we want are all guided/catered. But, like you say, its worth the wait, so maybe next summer!
  • 1 0
 Scratch that. Was looking at the wrong month. Hope to see you in September!
  • 1 1
 @CircusMaximus: See you in September. First Nations summer is prime time for alpine single track!
  • 1 0
 wow, those don't look like the 'gus' trails here in Williams lake. they must have him on a short leash. who doesn't love alpine riding.....
  • 1 0
 We tried to keep Gustav on a short leash here too - but he's a lot like his dog Kazu - just had to let him go wild in the mountains. Come and try to ride 'Gustav Pass' !
  • 1 0
 Great article, Aaron and beautiful trailwork! I would love to come up in the fall and do a couple of days work and riding.
  • 1 0
 Thanks telebiker - come up when you can! Cheers, Aaron
  • 1 0
 Looks great Aaron and some valuable advice. I have to get up there and see what you and your crew have created!
  • 2 0
 Thanks! Look forward to your visit Chris - Coates is here now. Its a fun place to ride bikes.
  • 1 0
 Hope to see what Gus has been working on out there this season, he is a master!!
  • 1 0
 Gustav is in his element up here - that boy sure can move big rocks! (he is the Paul Bunyon of trail building!).

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