In Good Company

A crew of the Cove Bike OGs, from left to right: Bill and Renny Husada, Doug "Ranchdog" Feniak, Cymbol and Seth Wells, Peter Wilson, Naz Evangilista, Cory Lecleric, BronxyBoy, Johnny "Smoke" Mathews, Mike "The Kite" Sampson, Gabe "Chinner" Fox, Geoff "Gullyboy" Gulevich, Brian Kelly, Mark Vanek, Ashley "Nummers" Walker, Doug "Dewey" Lefavor, Clayton "Dinkeyes" Chitty, Dik Cox, Stuart Hilder, Thomas "The Kid" Vanderham and Chaz Romalis. Photo: Sterling Lorence.

In Good Company Harvesting Thrills on the Sea to Sky Corridor

To understand mountain biking in the Sea to Sky Corridor, you have to understand two things about the trails here: First, the nature of the terrain makes progress and momentum hard fought and hard earned.

Second, almost every trail was built on the flesh and bones of men, by the egos of boys with their toys.

The four communities that make up the Corridor—North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton—are a chain of pearls strung along the rolling blacktop of Highway 99. This cluster of settlements is home to hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails, as well as a truly inspiring network of riders, builders and advocates to match.

In the Coastal Range, the valleys are steep, deep and unrelenting. The combination of immense geological forces and erosion have left almost no flat surfaces, and every foot of elevation gain is hard-fought and easily lost. Trails are strung precariously across mountainsides, following the path of least resistance, which often means straight up or straight down. The huge trees can simultaneously cause both claustrophobia and vertigo. It’s far from the easiest location to build.

And yet this is the epicenter of not just Canadian mountain biking, but also modern mountain biking as the world knows it, earned through the obstacles-be-damned attitude of multiple generations of builders. Unlike many other renowned mountain biking destinations, there are few horse trails, old trade routes, or even motocross networks. Almost every trail was built during the past 30 years, by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers.

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Fully committed, Eric VanDrimmelen rides one of Cypress Mountain's many daunting features during some stereotypical North Shore Fog in 2003. Eric has been a lifelong friend of Sterling's, and was one of the first riders Sterling worked with while shooting film during the beginning of his photography career. Photo: Sterling Lorence.

As a result, the trails don’t take you from A to B. Their objectives are making the most of every feature, or snaking around the sections of unrideable terrain (although in the Sea to Sky, “unrideable” is a very relative term). In general, they don’t give cheap thrills. Instead, they ask for sacrifice, whether in blood and bone, tenderized muscle or battery-acid-filled lungs. They can beat the dignity out of first-time visitors, and even the most experienced can be humbled quickly. But riders almost always come back, stronger and sharper and ready to relish the fight.

On the North Shore of Vancouver, employees of the Deep Cove bike shop were the first to pioneer rides along the existing roads. But the ones who would define the North Shore’s style were folks like Todd “Digger” Fiander, Ross Kirkford, Jim Leppard, “Mountain Bike” Mike, “Goat Legs” Gabe and “Dangerous” Dan Cowan, among many nameless others. Their trails, hidden in the shadowy forests, would make the area infamous—and then famous—on the larger mountain biking scene. “Build it sick, build it high, build it skinny” was the mantra during those early, secretive days, but it was also about steep and deep lines between the area’s towering cedars. And it still is.

Now the focus on the Shore is stewardship and conservation, and at the forefront is the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA), led by Trails Manager Mark Woods. Working with local government and authorities, NSMBA has harnessed the ponderous energy of the mountain bike community in Vancouver, preserving the past and building wisely for the future—guaranteeing “the Shore” won’t go the way of the countless rotting skinnies and ladders twined through its trees.