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