By Ryan Stuart
One look out the window tells me Plan A is a nonstarter. Blue-bellied clouds veil the Coast Range peaks above Squamish. The rainforest vibrates with a drumbeat of fat drops; the granite slabs greased with moisture. Our weekend rock climbing trip is a washout. Luckily, Plan A+ is still a go. Our mountain bikes are on the rack.
When I first came to the west coast of Canada, 20 years ago, Squamish—60 minutes north of Vancouver on the road to Whistler—was a rock climbing destination. Only the locals knew it had great riding, too. Today, it’s the mountain biking that people talk about. A maze of 218 trails and 150 miles of singletrack borders three sides of the town. And with an annual $40,000 trail building and maintenance budget—don’t you love Canadian socialism now?—a dedicated trail crew adds more singletrack every year.
Much of this new energy behind riding can be traced to the completion of the Half Nelson Trail in 2010. (More on that track in a minute.) “It put Squamish on the map as a biking destination,” says Jeff Cooke, the president of the local bike club, SORCA. “People came to ride it and then realized there are 180 kilometers of other really good trails.”
The growing network encouraged people and bike businesses to move to town, including the bike site Pinkbike, the fork rebuilders at Fluid Function (they service most RockShox in North America), and the forward thinking apparel makers at 7Mesh. “Mountain biking is an integral part of the community,” says Cooke. “There are three high-end bike shops in a town of 20,000. That says something.”
After fueling up at Bean Around the World—it’s the best coffee shop in town, and it’s right next to Republic Bicycles—we pedal up the Garibaldi Park Road. The pavement turns to gravel and we veer off onto Stl’lhalem Sintl’ and Legacy, both well graded singletrack climbs with regular breath-catching flats. At the summit, we stop at Squamish’s signature ride, Half Nelson—the first legally built mountain bike trail in Squamish. More socialism: Various levels of government supplied more than $50,000 to carve the yard-wide, 1.24-mile joyride down the mountain. Modeled after Whistler’s A-Line flow trail but friendlier, it’s rideable by anyone that can climb the 700 feet to its start.
More of a natural trail rider, I drop into Half Nelson while my friends are still dropping seat posts. Approaching the first banked corner, I brake too hard with whole handfuls of disc and emerge feeling sluggish. Ditto when I suck up the first dirt jump instead of popping. But I gain confidence, and by mid-descent I’m floating baby airs off the tabletops and leaning into the berms. Overnight rain has left the trails tacky, and 20 built bridges later, I roll out at the bottom with four guys hot on my rear tire. We’re all hooting and grinning.
The entire route covers a figure eight loop over Another Man’s Gold, the wet root-laden Powerhouse Plunge, Hoods in the Woods, and Poop Alley before a short spin up a road to the car. Start to finish, the route takes 2.5 hours and includes a little of everything: singletrack climb, flow, descent, old-school downhill, XC, technical trail, berms, and jumps. Squamish in a nutshell. It’s time for beers, which we promptly raise at the Howe Sound Brew Pub.
The weather is calling for more rain. We start planning tomorrow’s ride.
If you go:
Download a trail map app from trailmapps.com or pick one up from Republic Bicycles. riderepublic.com
The Locavore Food Truck sources most of its ingredients for burgers, sandwiches, and salads from farms within a two hour’s drive of its parking lot patio. locavorefoodtruck.ca
In addition to the house-brewed beers always on tap at the Howe Sound Brewery, there’s also a restaurant, pub, and hotel. howesound.com
The trails begin and end right at Alice Lake Provincial Park’s campground, home to the best swimming in the area, too. Make a reservation; it fills up, especially on weekends. bcparks.ca
DRIVE BY SINGLETRACK — PRESENTED BY MTB PROJECT
Drive: Vancouver to Squamish
Ride: Mount Fromme: 7th Secret to Expresso. Don’t let the length fool you—this 6.6-mile loop offers a loaded smorgasboard of steep drops, rock features, and rowdy banked corners. The sketchy final stretch may force you to shoulder your bike.
From our High Summer 2016 issue.