Twenty years ago, the mountain bike scene in Squamish was markedly different than it is now. The community was small, albeit growing quickly, when Rob Cocquyt and friends dragged their rakes down the steep forested hillside below the iconic and volcanic Diamond Head Mountain. These simple scratches in the soil formed 19th Hole, an aggressive downhill trail that would usher in a new style of riding in Squamish, one that highlighted steep, rowdy descents plunging through the Coastal forests.
Fast-forward twenty years, almost to the day. Rob, now co-owner of world-renowned trail building company Gravity Logic, is behind the controls of a mini-excavator, blazing a sinuous climbing trail up the steep flanks of Diamond Head. His machine inches through the forest, tearing up the thin layer of loam that hides the unforgiving volcanic rock below. The climbing trail Rob is building is one part of the Diamond Head Trail project, the most significant undertaking ever by the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association (SORCA). As the machine grinds right over the rocky, rubble-strewn 19th Hole, the trail Rob scratched in two decades previously, another chapter of the Squamish mountain biking story is opening.
It takes a village to build a trail (I think that’s the saying). The Diamond Head project is ambitious: a six kilometer extension to the existing Stl’lhalem Sintl’ (Legacy Climb) trail, and three more kilometres of rip-roaring descent back down the mountain. Gravity Logic is responsible for the climb, and the descent is in the capable hands of Joyride Bike Parks. These two world-class trail building businesses don’t come cheap. Even with both donating a serious amount of labour and machine time, this project is a serious financial commitment. That’s where the community comes in. SORCA created a crowdfunding campaign to help raise the capital, and in an unprecedented two months they blew their expectations out of the water, eclipsing their goal of $125,000
in donations. “We were amazed by how well the funding campaign was received by the community. It’s always hard to ask for money. We’ve had locals donating from $10 to $1000, and companies donating gear for prizes, plus cash,” enthuses Roland Benesocky, SORCA Project Manager.
The finished trail will connect to existing trails to create a 20-kilometre loop that winds through stands of old growth trees, past waterfalls and provides epic views of Squamish and Howe Sound. This trail building effort has not been without its challenges, however. Paddy Kaye, owner and lead builder for Joyride, says the descent has required all his 20-plus years of experience. The aforementioned volcanic rock has made for delicate route selection. This, combined with the unforgiving steep grade of the hillside, has Paddy pulling out all the tricks of his trade.
With part of the new climbing trail open to the public already, both Joyride and Gravity Logic remain committed to the herculean task ahead, carving out the rest of the climb and descent. Good trails take time, and SORCA expects the grand opening to be in early 2017. “Trail expansions like this are a step in the right direction towards attracting more people to our community. Not just to ride and visit, but for families putting down roots, and new businesses being attracted here by the amazing lifestyle opportunities,” says Jeff Cooke, president of SORCA.
Paddy echoes Jeff’s comments, adding that while the trail will be completed next year, his excitement in the project lays in the future growth of the trail network. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” he states. The peak of Diamond Head looms above the excavators busy building trail; its ridges and valleys beckoning riders with expanses of alpine terrain and new vistas.
With the energy of the Squamish cycling community, and partners like SORCA, Joyride Bike Parks, and Gravity Logic, the sky’s the limit to where the next trail is blazed.