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North Shore Outlook newspaper series "War in the Woods"

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War of the Woods - In the beginning

Todd 'Digger' Fiander is a legendary trail building pioneer.

By Justin Beddall (Rob Newell photo)
May 12 2005

According to North Shore mountain biking lore, Ross Kirkwood created one of the first mountain bike trails on Mount Fromme, called "Kirkford," back in 1981.
Back then, Kirkwood, now 46, was riding a $750 Stumpjumper, the first mass-produced mountain bike.
"I loved the new sport of mountain biking and didn't want to see us get kicked off the hiking trails," Kirkwood said in a telephone interview from his home in Garibaldi.
"The first goal was to build something where there was no hikers for our own amusement. Straight down the fall line on crap equipment."
Kirkwood, with the help of buddy Brian Ford, continued building trails on Fromme, and later formed the Secret Trail Society.
"The concept was created to keep the trails hidden and the location of the trailheads were passed on," explained Kirkwood, who noted riders were encouraged to walk their bikes into the trails to avoid detection and to maintain the mountain areas they rode on.
The pioneer's trail-building philosophy was "a modified two-directional Mad Mouse ride," that is, tight corners, switchbacks and steep drops. He describes his eco-friendly trails, always built on the ground, as "kinetically pleasurable," and "totally inclusive," meaning that they appealed to riders of all different skill sets.
Shortly after Kirkwood began designing trails, Todd "Digger" Fiander, who grew up just five doors down from Kirkwood, built his first trail called "Crosscut" in 1982 on Hollyburn Ridge.
"It was old-school," said Fiander, "no stunts, just up and down."
In 1984, Fiander's next creation, "Big Eye" included the first-ever mountain bike trail bridge in these parts - built two feet off the ground, it spanned eight feet and was about six inches wide. "It was the scariest thing," said Fiander, a concrete mason by trade. "I just started building bridges to get over sensitive areas."
It soon became his trademark. "I was always trying to put a different type of bridge on my trails each time, something different ... a concrete bridge, a ladder bridge, a teeter-totter bridge. It had to be different. Now it's roller-coasters."
Meanwhile, as Fiander continued building increasingly challenging trails, a young Handsworth grad named Dan Cowan started riding the North Shore hills in 1991.
One of his favourite trails was one of Digger's first creations, "The Big Eye."
Cowan liked the trail but figured it ended to soon - so he extended a line that came to include one of the first-ever North Shore "log rides." Cowan's debut trail later became known as "The Fleshy Wound." Shortly thereafter, Cowan and Digger crossed paths in the woods.
The pair, along with another trailblazer named "Mountain Bike Mike," started to ride the North Shore mountains together.
After watching Cowan ride for the first time, Digger's jaw-dropped.
"I thought that guy's dangerous. That's how he got his name. He was the extreme guy."
Cowan, later to become Dangerous Dan, continued to build trails compulsively. In 1993, he built "The Reaper" on Cypress Mountain. The epic trail, which greeted riders ominously with a cracked bike helmet dangling from a tree at the start of a steep log descent, set a precedent of gnarl on the Shore. He later built a prequel to the trail, "The Pre-Reap."
Around that time, other new North Shore trails like the "GMG" and "Hangman" began to define the radical North Shore trail-building ethos.
Fiander's introduction of teeter-totters on a trial called "Ladies Only" inspired Cowan, a physics teacher with a penchant for extreme stunts, who was soon connecting series of teeter-totters with rubber in a contraption that became known as the "Discombobulator."
In 1995, the Canadian biking magazine Pedal did a six-page spread on the pioneering North Shore trail builders Kirkwood, Digger, and Cowan.
Around that time, Digger began filming the riders, which led to his highly successful series of mountain bike videos called North Shore Extreme, now in its eighth episode.
Just as the quality and complexity of mountain bike technology was evolving, so to was the art of trail building.

Cam McRae, a longtime North Shore mountain bike rider and founder-slash-editor of e-magazine, said when Digger began using cedar poles and slats to create ladder bridges to span mud puddles it marked a "a seminal moment" in the evolution of Shore riding.
"In 1994, Dangerous Dan took that idea and put the ladder bridges in the air. He made the North Shore photogenic for that reason."
Cowan recalls a cartoon-like light bulb going off over his helmet when he saw the ladder bridges, and soon began working on a trail that would become known as "A Walk in the Clouds" - an Ewok-like series of sky-bridges and stunts.
He would later, as he battled cancer, take above-ground, daredevil stunts one step further with his now legendary "Flying Circus."
McRae said a subsequent article by West Vancouver writer Mitchell Scott in 1998 for Bike magazine, a bible for spokeheads, that featured local rider Andrew Shandro on the cover, enhanced the profile of the Shore even more. "The Internet and videos also helped," he added.
Technological advances in the equipment continued to push the limits of trail building.
"The suspension bikes came in to play in late 90s," Cowan noted. "By 2001, everyone was riding suspension bikes and disc brakes. It meant as a trail builder you could go bigger and faster. Disc brakes improved everybody's ability."
However, while the sport continued to gain international notoriety as a Mecca of free-riding through videos such as Kranked 2 and NSX 2 and 3, there was also some discord growing in the woods.
In 1999, the "Swollen Uvula," perhaps Dangerous Dan's most ambitious trails to date, was dismantled by riders following meetings with the District.
"It was just too gnarly," Cowan shrugged. "What people don't understand they don't know what to do with," he later said. Month's earlier, municipal authorities in West Vancouver destroyed "The Reaper."
Still, the Shore had traction as a destination for hardcore riders, and trail builders.
"From that point on there was a proliferation of building," said Cowan. "More and more people were mountain biking. There's been tons of building since then."
In the mid-1980s, when he was building "Granny's" on Fromme, Digger recalls not seeing another biker around for months. "Now there's 200 people riding up the road every hour on the weekend."
Many of the riders have come to sample a Fiander creation - of which there are 22 to choose from, covering approximately 50 km - or a Dangerous Dan trail, of which there remain four - three others have been taken down.
Today, a moratorium on trail building remains in effect as the District works towards completing the Alpine Study, which is scheduled to be finished this summer. The study will likely determine the fate of trails on the North Shore and future of the area as a mountain bike Mecca.
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War of the Woods - A voice in the wilderness


Digger Fiander, Lee Lau and Kenny Maude stand outside the birthplace of their association.

By Jennifer Maloney (Rob Newell photo)
May 12 2005

What started out as a conversation at the pub between three guys with one common interest has grown into an 1,100 member society that acts as the mouth and ears of the North Shore's mountain biking community.
On a winter's night in 1997, Todd "Digger" Fiander, Mitch Diem and Lee Lau sat down at the Black Bear Pub in Lynn Valley after a day of wheeling down the unmarked trails in the backcountry of Mt. Fromme. Digger was bothered by a rumour mulling around that Grouse Mountain was considering commercializing the trails on Fromme in order to make money off the expanding sport.
"He was concerned about that because he had built a lot of trails and even at that time we didn't like the idea of charging for trails," Lau recalled over lunch, nearly eight years later. "Grouse generally paves its trails with gravel so they appeal to a broader audience. We didn't want that, either. We wanted to keep it challenging."
Most people who participate in outdoor sports crave improvement. They become what Lau and others refer to as "endorphin junkies," always wanting to work harder to obtain that physical feeling of euphoria. The terrain on Mt. Fromme is conducive to steep trails and has been extensively logged, so the undergrowth is sparse, making it an ideal location for this type of riding.
The rumour that threatened access to the most technical trails in the area turned out to be false, but the idea of forming an organized voice for North Shore mountain bikers had been brewing in the back of their minds for some time. The perceived threat became the catalyst for the North Shore Mountain Biking Association.
The first step in creating the association was to solicit support from the North Shore's most prominent cyclists. Lau, who has a background in law, incorporated the organization as a not-for-profit within the year. With 300 assembled members, the group organized their first trail maintenance day in 1998.
"Our main role has been and will be to do trail maintenance," Lau explained. "We feel we have a moral responsibility that obligates us to repair them."
Also, "we thought it would be a good gesture to show we weren't just slashing and burning."
In the beginning the group had very little structure and only a small inclination of who owned the lands they were riding on. Most of their time was spent trying to track down the various landowners to obtain permission to hold trail maintenance days.
"We were so disorganized it was impossible to get our message out," recalled Lau. "We didn't know who to speak with in local government. It took us a while to figure out who we should talk to and what the issues were. We just didn't know."
Over the next two years the NSMBA started actively participating in community meetings, including with the North Vancouver Recreation and Activity Committee. On that committee, hikers, environmentalists, horseback riders and sea kayakers would come together and talk about their common interests and misunderstandings. It was through these meetings that NSMBA members became aware their sport was carrying a stereotype that led the public to perceive them as young, adrenaline junkies with no regard for the environment.
"I think (North Van) District now knows we're mainly a lot of middle-aged moms and dads who are just looking for a way to get outside and explore," Lau said. "It took a whole lot for politicians to realize we liked being out there because we're environmentally concerned and like the outdoors."
It wasn't a conscious decision, but the epiphany fueled the group to initiate a change in the public's perception of riders. Members started realizing there were some bad apples in the mountain biking community who were feeding the stereotype.
"One of our goals became to educate riders," Lau said. "As more people get involved in the sport there are more people who don't necessarily know what the right thing to do is for the sport."
The association responded by organizing more trail maintenance days. They went from five in 1998 to eight in 1999. The events became a practical way to teach trail etiquette and open up dialogue between riders and the public.
But as the North Shore's trails became a global destination for riding, local residents started to complain their streets were clogged with parked cars. Local politicians such as North Vancouver Coun. Ernie Crist spoke out about the environmental damage the sport was imposing on sensitive habitat areas. These concerns have brought the recreational activity into the political ring of controversial issues and have garnered a plethora of media attention.
Although Lau disagrees with many of the comments Crist and others have made about this issue, he said he is glad the councillor has brought the topic to the public.
"We like that Ernie and many other people caused mountain biking to appear as a controversy because it's encouraging landowners to look at it," he said. "It's prodding local government to be more serious and to know about the issue. It's forcing them to get a little more knowledge base. We couldn't continue going on as if we were a bunch of free spirits doing whatever we wanted. The sport has now become quite a bit larger."
Aside from environmental concerns, the lack of designated parking for cyclists visiting the trails is at the centre of the debate. Three years ago the District created resident parking only zones north of Coleman Road as an intern measure, but parking has since migrated down Mountain Highway. The District hired a traffic consultant, which determined the north end of Mountain Highway and Braemar Road as potential locations for formal parking lots, but there has been debate over whether or not the municipality can afford them.
"The objection is on the basis of why should we be treated as a special interest group and get facilities built for us," Lau said. "Our retort is it's no different than a baseball diamond that the District already builds."
Lau insists the NSMBA wants to work with the District and respond to concerns about the environment. If the District has a problem with a renegade biker, it is often the NSMBA who is contacted to investigate and educate the rider on proper trail etiquette. However, Lau said the association is still looking to the municipality for guidelines on what is acceptable from riders.
"This is a critical time in the fact that local government is beginning to realize they have to regulate this sport in some way," he said. "We encourage that regulation, but at the same time we want to understand what they want and want them to understand what our needs may be."
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War of the Woods - Not so happy trails


Dangerous Dan stands by his now-demolished Watchumacalit trail.

By Justin Beddall (Rob Newell photo)
May 12 2005

Earlier this year, the District of North Vancouver razed the landmark one-kilometre trail known as "Watchumacalit," an ambitious series of chicken-wire covered sky-bridges that snaked down the side of Mt. Fromme.
The "deconstruction" of a trail that was made famous in mountain biking videos such as Kranked and NSX came at a time when North Van District was in the process of completing a study aimed at determining the future use of the alpine area - land stretching from Capilano River to Deep Cove, and including 41 kilometres of trails used for mountain biking and hiking.
Although Vancouver's North Shore has become to mountain biking what Hawaii's North Shore is to surfing, the District has yet to officially sanction the trails on its land.
"The District of North Vancouver has no authorized mountain bike trails on its lands. Any so-called mountain bike trails, courses, etc., which are located on District of North Vancouver lands are there illegally, and as such, the District, accepts no liability or responsibility for those illegally-created 'mountain bike' trails," states a posting on the District website.
District parks planning section manager Susan Rogers said one of the reasons "Watchumacalit" was dismantled was due to liability concerns associated with the trail, which had sky-bridges that were 10 feet off the ground in several sections.
Richard Boase, the District's environmental protection officer, said other reasons also factored into the decision. For instance, the trail was completed after a council-endorsed moratorium on trail building earlier in the year. He also questioned if small cedars had been cut down to build the trail. (An accusation the trail's builder, Dangerous Dan Cowan, vehemently denies.)
District officials aren't the only ones concerned about the future of mountain biking on their lands.
Residents have complained about bikers parking on their streets and creating noise and litter, this despite the fact that the District has instituted resident's only parking signage in the area.
In addition, other trail users - mostly hikers and naturalists - are upset by the proliferation of mountain bike trails and the cavalcade of body armour-clad bikers who now inhabit the woods.
Monica Craver, a resident who lives near the top of Mountain Highway, believes the conflict between residents and bikers has reached a boiling point.
"It's a very polarized issue. There's really no buffer zone between residents and bikers," she said.
Craver says mountain biking has grown so quickly in recent years that the sport - like skiing and more recently snowboarding - needs a designated area.
Craver said she believes that mountain biking should be contained to ski resorts, like the new project scheduled for Cypress Mountain and the existing one in Whistler.
"It's where it works. They have a detrimental effect on wildlife. The solution is simple: it's getting too big, and like skiing or snowboarding, it needs specialized amenities," she said.
Veteran District councilor Ernie Crist has empathy for the homeowners. Crist say he has nothing against mountain biking, but does have a problem with "mountain biking on sensitive, rain-soaked, steep forested hills of Mt. Fromme."
"That's what I'm against. Other than that, be my guest. The mountain bikers park adjacent to residents. We have received complaints about parking, etc., but the real issue is that in order to accommodate the mountain bikers you need to provide facilities. They need a large area. Do we have the resources to build a million-dollar parking lot? Do we want to spend the money on shower and change facilities and maybe on first aid? Who is going enforce it? Who is going to police it? I believe that type of biking may be accommodated by the GVRD - they have more land, they have more money."
Crist, vilified in the mountain bike community for his stance on mountain biking on Fromme, doesn't believe a resolution will be easily found.
"It will bring endless conflict. It's like pushing a square peg into a round hole. It will not work in the long run. It's a steep forested mountain. You are upsetting the ecology."
Dangerous Dan Cowan bristles when discussing the the councillor's comments. He feels the solution lies in tolerance, and education.
"The residents have to realize their houses are bordering an epic piece of land that's perfect for mountain biking. The mountain bikers have to realize that they're part of the growth of the sport and they're now in the faces of the residents. I can understand their concerns because there's always a few bad apples; it's just the way of life. It's the vocal minority that's really opposed to mountain biking."
Cowan says the destruction of "Watchumacalit" may be a harbinger of things to come for trails on the Shore.
"I don't want to sound pessimistic but the North Shore was known for challenging trails - that's how it got its name. If they start destroying the most challenging trails it will lose its world-wide reputation. It will always be a great place to ride but there are other places that are embracing mountain biking more - they're not going and ripping down trials."
Cowan notes that Squamish, Maple Ridge, Nelson, Chilliwack and Abbotsford are become popular places to ride.
"People don't need to come to the Shore. [The destruction of "Watchumacalit"] is setting the tone for what's to come. The trail was pretty gnarly but at what point do they draw the line. Who's going to make that decision?"
Richard Juryn is the event producer for the North Shore Mountain Bike Events Society, a not-for-profit organization established to guide dialogue and solutions for responsible and sustainable mountain biking on the North Shore, and the host of the 2005 North Shore Credit Union World Mountain Bike Festival & Conference, taking place later this month in North Vancouver.
He figures there's a solution that will satisfy all stakeholders.
"I think the District of North Vancouver has done the right thing with the Alpine Study. You have to get everybody together. There have to be decisions made that involve everybody and that are OK with everybody. I think that's number one."
Juryn believes that capital infrastructure costs, for instance the creation of a parking lot at the top of Mountain Highway, would best be solved through public-private-partnerships.
"There are some things, like the parking lot, and things like that that are going to be required to get beyond the flashpoint at the top of Mountain Highway. That's still on the North Shore the biggest single problem."
The next step?
"Getting stakeholders in the same room to do some long-range planning, to answer questions like, 'Where do we want to go with this?' and 'What do we want it to look like?' Trail maintenance, getting trails marked, user code of conduct, a map of officials trails, that sort of thing," Juryn said.
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War of the Woods - Alpine Study


A patchwork quilt represents the numerous landowners in the Seymour area of the North Shore.

By Jennifer Maloney
May 12 2005

On the bottom floor of North Vancouver District Hall, Susan Rogers pulls out a foam board that bears an aerial view of the area from the Capilano Watershed to Indian Arm.
The map is overshadowed by transparent colours, which squarely mark ownership of the rugged mountains that have become the birthplace to a backyard sport that is blind to boundaries.
"Essentially, right now it's not a managed area, but it's being used for recreational use," explains Rogers, District of North Vancouver's section manager for parks and planning. "Part of the problem is finding money. It's a large area."
Mountain biking has been popular on the North Shore since the early '90s, when riders started creating trails in the area that has become known, simply, as the Alpine.
By the end of the decade the District started hearing rumblings from residents in neighbouring areas who suddenly had a huge increase of parked cars on their streets.
"In 2000 we really woke up to what was going on and said, 'what are we going to do about this?'" Rogers said. "Originally we didn't have any idea of where the trails were. They were deliberately keeping it secret."
A year later, District staff started a mountain bike strategic study to survey who was using the trails in the backcountry. They found hikers, dog walkers, trail runners and naturalists were occupying many of the trails, but on Mt. Fromme the prime users were mountain bikers.
In 2003, the Alpine Recreational Plan was authorized as an attempt to create a policy that would balance recreational riding with environmental stewardship in the Alpine, which has become internationally recognized by bikers for having "sick" trails. As part of the study, an environmental assessment was conducted to identify sensitive habitat areas, which would severely suffer from the erosion and sediment the sport creates.
As a result, a preservation zone now buffers Mosquito Creek, limiting its recreation use to maintain its pristine quality.
"We're looking at a framework of what should be permitted and what should not be permitted," Rogers explained. "These areas have never been managed, per say."
On Jan. 31 of this year, District council passed a motion for its staff to hold a workshop to communicate their findings publicly, however the date has been postponed as senior managers continue to meet with the private owners of Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour to answer all of council's inquiries. The workshop won't act as a public hearing, but concerned residents will be invited to listen and observe.
"No voting will go on," Rogers said. "It's an opportunity to explore [our findings] in a more informal setting. This isn't the final study. We're not even at that stage yet."
In addition to its ground trails, the North Shore is globally known for building riding structures, which take riders up a ramp and along a piece of four-by-four wood. The dangerous nature of these structures poses a liability risk to landowners.
"They're not signed to identify the level of risk," Rogers said. "What an experienced rider can handle, a beginner can't. Because it's our property, the District has to assume responsibility if we are sued."
To date, no major accidents have been reported in the Alpine area owned by the District, but Rogers said that doesn't mean they haven't taken place.
"We know there are accidents," she said. "But people don't necessarily report them.
While the land ownership is neatly outlined on the District's colourful chart, mountain bikers aren't necessarily following the District's road map. A few years ago North Shore landowners recognized they were all dealing with the issue of mountain biking, but were responding to it in different ways.
The District has since began working with fellow stakeholders such as the GVRD, BC Parks, Grouse, and Seymour, in hopes of creating a collective riding policy for the entire North Shore.
Whistler, another mountain bike mecca, already has its own mountain biking standards, but the terrain on the North Shore is different from the ski community's and therefore requires unique regulations.
"The mountain biking community doesn't see where BC Parks ends and the District begins," said Larry Fyroishko, BC Parks area supervisor for Vancouver. "It's all one place in the wilderness."
Since the sport became a phenomena, BC Parks has designated a number of its trails in the Alpine area for mountain biking, but its not allowing new structures to be built for the time being.
"Through our master plan there may be a protocol put in place for additional trails, but we're not at that point yet," Fyroishko noted.
The Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve is currently working with the North Shore Mountain Biking Association - a non-profit organization that serves as a voice for mountain bikers on the North Shore - on developing mountain biking standards that would grade the trails for difficulty. The standards, expected to be completed by the end of this year, could potentially be adopted by other North Shore landowners.
"They would include looking at rating the mountain bike trails for difficulty, kind of like skiing, except most of them are probably going to be black diamond," said Laurie Fretz, supervisor of the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve.
Fretz explained the Seymour Conservation has fostered its relationship with the mountain biking community over the years and has learned to embrace the sport.
"It used to be you'd go into patrol and come back and find a new trail or structure," Fretz said. "It's happening less and less because the mountain biking community is aware we want to work with them."
Fretz said mountain bikers as a whole have become more organized in the last few years, adding a lot of educated savvy riders are active in negotiations about the future management of the Alpine area.
"Essentially, we said it would be a very productive thing if all landowners sat down to participate in joint projects and studies. Our hope and our intent is to look at mountain biking as a whole on the North Shore," she said. "Hopefully, our standards will work in other jurisdictions as well so we can manage it in a consistent way."
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Craig, thanks for posting.

I started into a couple of 'em. I'll finish them tomorrow morning, but that's good stuff

Thanks for also posting the Monday council meeting. I can't be there for the meeting (being in Seattle makes that tough), but I can let the council know that I've been up there the past two weekends spending money in Lynn Valley and plan to do the same next weekend specifically because of the trails that they (Councilor Crist in particular) want to close down.

War of the Woods - Mountain Bike Mecca

By Justin Beddall
May 19 2005

Does a tourist mountain bike economy exist on the North Shore?
Or, are mountain bikers just spinning their economic wheels here - crashing on friend's sofas and scarfing down Kraft Dinner?
Richard Juryn, events producer for the North Shore Credit Union World Mountain Bike Festival and Conference, hopes to debunk the myth that the mountain biking demographic doesn't bring money into the local economy.
That's why he's scheduled speaker Dafydd Davis at the upcoming conference on June 1 to discuss an overseas mountain bike tourism success story. Davis has played a pioneering role in the creation of "purpose-built" mountain bike trails in Wales and other parts of England.
"The biggest question there is, and Ernie [Crist] brings it up all the time, is there is no such thing as a mountain biking tourist economy: it doesn't happen," says Juryn. "We've got a guy coming who's got the hard facts that mountain bikers do travel, they are destination tourists, they do spend significant money.
"Mountain biking already is a $30 million dollar a year business on the North Shore."
Juryn sees many parallels between the situation Davis faced in the U.K. a decade ago and the current plight of mountain biking on the Shore today.
"Do we really want lots of recreational access? Can our forests and the environment sustain a tourist mountain-bike economy? Will it destroy the hillside? Do mountain bikers really spend money?"
Davis should help to debunk those myths. By creating sustainable mountain bike trails in an area in Wales called Coed y Brenin, he proved to local government and the Wales Tourist Board that mountain bike trails were good for locals - and, perhaps just as importantly, the local economy.
The area went from getting 10,000 riders a year to 150,000-plus a year and now brings several million pounds per year into the local economy.
Davis, who has created more than 200 kilometres of sustainable trails, was honoured by the Queen with a Civil Order of the British Empire (MBE).
"I'm really excited that he's coming," Juryn said. "They've done it. It's working for the local people; it's working for the tourists. It's bringing money in to the economy, it is sustainable. That's cool because we are in the state here where nobody's really collected stats."
While there's no denying the fact that tourists - both locally and globally - are riding the trails of the North Shore, at this point it's all anecdotal.
"Nobody's ever done the proper sort of tourist studies, the entrance and exit studies, and interviewed people to ask 'How many people are coming, how long have you stayed, how much money do you figure you'll spend when you're here.'
"Nobody's done the tangible things to get proper stats," Juryn explained.
To illustrate his point, Juryn reads a quote by B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO John Winter a few years back: "As well, one of the North Shore's thriving businesses and recreation is in danger of being shut down by this council - I refer to mountain biking. The positive impact of which communities all over the province can only dream about. What are they doing over there in North Vancouver?"
That's not to say, of course, that some haven't already realized the North Shore's potential as a world-class mountain-bike destination.
Donna Green, a mountain bike rider with a masters degree in tourism marketing, started Ride the Shore Inc. in 2003, a company that specializes in providing customized trips for experienced riders into the Shore's famous network of trails.
Her company takes care of everything for travelling bike tourists: trail maps and guides, bike rentals and booking local accommodation.
"I believe [the North Shore] has huge potential," she said. "There's basically no marketing going on for the North Shore."
Other than her website, Green's main form of advertising is a classified ad in the back of Bike magazine.
"I get a fair number of calls," she said, noting that most of the riders come from the U.S. and England.
Green, who also works for Tourism B.C., said the myth that bikers don't spend money when they travel is a misnomer.
"It's totally wrong," she said.
For instance, Green said a group of four riders from the U.K. who came to B.C. for two weeks last year to ride the Shore, Squamish and Whistler dropped at least $10,000 while on vacation. She said her clients length of stay varies from someone in town for a conference who wants to get a day of mountain biking in to groups who plan to ride for several weeks. While some bring their bikes, others rent while they're here.
"There's a huge potential for bike rentals here."
Juryn said there's no question riders from around the world are flocking to the Shore.
"We've got a situation that most communities would die for. We've got a place that's known around the world: We've got a world class destination. It's not being marketed at all. The marketing is word of mouth, videos, trade publications, pictures, websites - there's no real trail maps, there's no real trail signage, there's no real rentals, there's no service industry around it."
Still Juryn is quick to admit there are mountain bike-related issues that need to be addressed before the sport on the North Shore can be properly mapped out.
"One of the things we're saying is let's get the whole group of North Shore stakeholders together and lets talk about this stuff. And let's figure out what we want it to look like.
"The reason the top of Mountain Highway has all those resident problems is because 10 years ago, as it started to grow, nobody pulled everybody aside and said, 'OK we've got something growing here; what are we going to do about it.'
"Let's get together and make a plan and figure out as it grows how we're going to deal with parking lots or whatever.' There are situations that need to be handled."
Another important topic at the conference will be the answer to a fundamental question: Are trails good for the communities?
"If trails are constructed properly they're good for health, something that everybody in North America is concerned about. Trails get people out and active.
"Trails are good emotionally and spiritually: anybody who goes in and hikes, or bikes, or horseback rides or trail runs will obviously do it because they feel better when they come out. Trails are actually good for the environment. Because if you have a good, well-constructed trail then people stay on the trail.
"Mountain bikers don't want to go riding through swamps, we want single-track, we want the smallest footprint possible to get a single bike through."
Currently, Juryn said North American and international riders are packing their bikes and heading to the North Shore and Whistler, but Whistler is taking in most of the tourist dollars. "What's happening now is, by and large, people are coming to ride the North Shore for a day or two and going to Whistler for the rest of their vacation and riding the park and guess where they spend most of their money?"
Trail-building pioneer Todd "Digger" Fiander figures mountain biking will one day be bigger than skiing, bringing in the same sort of adventure tourists who spend their bucks on heli-skiing or other big adventures. "People are going to save up their money and go to Vancouver."


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War of the Woods -The bike shop business boom

John Henry bike shop owner Willie Cromack had no idea the impact mountain biking would have on his North Van business when he opened 13 years ago.

By Jennifer Maloney (Rob Newell photo)
May 19 2005

Long before snowboarding was accepted into the mainstream, ambitious borders were surfing the snow on makeshift boards in B.C.'s rugged back-country.
The renegade sport has since shredded into the Olympic Games, garnering as much media hype and arguably as many retail sales as traditional skiing. A North Shore bike shop owner sees a parallel emerging with mountain biking.
"For us the growth is happening within the major population," explains Willie Cromack in his swag-strewn office at the John Henry bike shop in North Vancouver. "It's a little bit like snowboarding was in the days when you weren't allowed to snowboard on the mountain. The first people that broke the ground aren't the pulse anymore and that's good because it means it's established then."
John Henry opened its doors on the North Shore 13 years ago, when mountain biking was still an underground sport. At the time, Cromack said his family had no idea the activity would become the epicenter of their business.
"It was just starting. We actually had no idea the impact it would have," he admits. "At the end of the day it's sustained this business up until today. It's the reason we've been able to stay a solid business."
Roughly 90 per cent of the 15,000 square foot store's sales are related to mountain biking, attracting customers from across the globe. Even the shop's staff have immigrated across Canada and overseas to be a part of what Cromack refers to as an emerging culture.
"So many people want to be working around the industry," he explains. "We don't always have to sell to the community at large. You have to take care of them, but sometimes in the middle of summer it feels like a bit of a resort. The concept is like Whistler. Whistler's market is outside the country. The same thing applies here. You get a large number of people walking in the door and you may never see them again.
"The fundamental thing is this is where the vibe of mountain biking is coming from. It's like the North Shore of Hawaii but to mountain biking."
Since John Henry opened, sales have increased by 20 per cent every year. The store has nearly doubled its original 8,000 square footage and is only now starting to see a bit of a plateau, mostly due to the high volume of locals who are already equipped with quality bikes, Cromack says.
Even with a slight dip in the number of extreme riders, the future of mountain biking looks strong. This is apparent in the store's supply for young generations, who can no longer buy a BMX or road bike.
"All you can get now is a kid's bike that's a mountain bike," he says. "They're durable, they have BMX style and they can ride them anywhere. They don't break as easily and they have gears to keep up with mom and dad."
The store sells about 1,000 kids' bikes a year. The average price of a mountain bike is $1,000, but religious riders will spend 10 times that amount for a sweet ride.
While the store has thrived off the sport's success, Cromack is quick to point out the economic benefits have spread to local sectors. The pubs for one, are popular stops for thirsty riders, and with the hockey season at a halt, Cromack notes businesses are happy to accommodate the year-round activity.
"It really has a deeper impact on businesses around us as well," he says. "We buy signs from the sign shops and cars from local dealers. The stronger we are as a culture, the more it helps the businesses around us keep strong.
"People want to ride here because of where they are," he continued. "The overall culture is on the North Shore. Bikes are just so prevalent. It's almost unfathomable to know how much money is being spent."
Dan Sedlacek, 33, was well aware of the impact mountain bikers were having on the North Shore when he opened On Top Bike Shop in March of '96 because he was one of them. It was the beginning of free riding, when pioneers of the sport were building a lot of the trails in the Alpine area. Although some shops were already retailing mountain bike gear, Sedlacek and his brother John saw a niche.
"Our focus was free ride right from the start," Sedlacek says sipping a coffee outside his Lonsdale-based store. "I met a good crew that was actively involved in [mountain biking]. I could see they needed a shop that catered toward their style of riding that built bikes with the performance needed, really, for this style of riding."
As they started testing more difficult terrain, it became apparent to Sedlacek and his fellow riders that suspension was needed on their bikes as well as a place to repair and maintain them. The Sedlaceks' shop started a service department, which maintains 40 per cent of its business today.
"Because of the demand in riding and the hours people actually spend on their bike, maintenance and service repairs is a large part of our business," Sedlacek says. "We've developed super solid brands of bikes. There's been huge development in the last seven or eight years in suspension, suspension frames and brakes. It's incredible the gains in technology in these areas and we've really catered to that market so, it's huge growth in that respect."
The small business has tripled in size in the last nine years with the other 60 per cent of sales coming from its retail component, which includes everything from machine components to streetwear and armour. The store's latest expansion is a 1,000 square foot area devoted to armour and technical gear.
"Armour is a big thing - helmets, safety, gloves - it's more than just buying a bike, you have to gear up as well," Sedlacek explains. "If you're a beginning rider, a young kid on a trail bike with helmet, gloves and armour can spend about $900 to a thousand. For some of our avid cyclists, where a big part of their life is cycling, I've seen investments of $7,000 for a bike in itself."
While helmets can be bought for as little as $30, Sedlacek said it's not uncommon for avid riders to spend $599 on a carbon fibre Troy-Lee Helmet to protect their heads. Roughly half of the six lines of armour On Top carries, are designed or developed locally, however most manufacturing is done in China or Taiwan. The store's machine components such as chain rings, guides and stems, are made by eNVy, another local company that markets North Vancouver through its name. While Sedlacek agrees there is some novelty in buying North Shore products simply because the area is seen as a mecca for mountain bikers, he said the products are valued for another reason.
"Being such a challenging area and with the weather it's almost like a time machine out here for developing product. If it's done out in North Vancouver you know it's a high calibre product because that's what the North Shore demands."
While Sedlacek doesn't expect business to expand as rapidly in the next few years as it has in the past, he predicts the sport will continue to thrive in the community.
"There's just so many positives to the sport and recreation of mountain biking, that it attracts many people and the spin offs are gained by everybody in the local community: restaurants, gas stations, corner stores, pubs, hotels," he says. "Financially that's a great reward, but the biggest reward is the activity itself and the healthy lifestyle, getting in the forest that we're so fortunate to have.
"It's pretty rewarding seeing 12-year-olds with incredibly advanced bike handling skills just because they naturally grow up in this area. That's why we have so many top athletes out here."

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War of the Woods - Business goes into high gear

A trip to a bike shop in search of bar pads over a decade ago led Jay Hoots (above) to create a thriving mountain bike gear and accessory business.

By Jennifer Maloney (Rob Newell photo)
May 19 2005

Donning dreads, knee-length shorts and an energy that makes one think he'd embrace any one's neighbour, Jay Hoots does not come across as a stereotypical entrepreneur. While anything but typical, Hoots' possesses the entrepreneurial spirit that has pushed him to build a local empire out of his passion for mountain biking.
"We believe it's not a matter of creating armour for if you get hurt," Hoots says from a sunken chair at a Lonsdale coffee shop. "It's creating armour for when you get hurt."
Hoots comes from a BMX background and was used to wearing protective gear while racing off dirt ramps and popping tricks. The concept of mountain bike armour, however, didn't exist 13 years ago when he and his peers were pioneering a subculture that the North Shore is today internationally recognized for.
It was the purchase of an expensive mountain bike that led Hoots into a Vancouver bike shop in search of a protective bar pad, but what he found was a simple design of foam and material that carried a price tag of $25.
Unsatisfied with his shopping venture, he went home to create the first Hoots' bar pads, in which he put foam both in and outside of the products, hand drawing unique labels on each one. He took them back to the shop, which agreed to sell them.
"It was a tester to see if I was interested in doing it," Hoots explains. "It was also a demonstration of what I thought I should get for $25."
Vancouver-based companies like Roach and CoreRat were starting to get into mountain biking armour, but the friends Hoots was riding with were going beyond the protocol of what the stores could offer. That soon became the epiphany of Hoots armour.
His workshop started with the purchase of a 1934 sewing machine, equipped with a large hand wheel, which he bought at a garage sale for $60. He fixed the machine's motor using leather shoelaces and began using the handwheel to punch through quarter inch foam, which he opted to use in place of the bulky half inch foam found in most pads at the time. He started out making shin and kneepads using North Shore Plastics, which used heated guns and a vacuum to create the plastic. Local students shaped the substance on to molds. At home, Hoots sewed and riveted the pads onto the plastic molds finishing about 150 in the first year. The gear was sold at local shops like John Henry, Dizzy Cycles and On Top Bike Shop.
"I took the best parts of other sports pads and kept 99 per cent of the protection, but lightened it to make it breathable," he explains. "If you're getting into trouble you're taught to jump off the bike. In skateboarding the first thing you do is go to your knees. There's no reason that philosophy can't work in the forest - in fact it works better."
The next phase he embarked on was a clothing line, which he'd created from home after returning from his day job. Hoots spent nights at the library reading books on screen printing, from which he learned how to build his own clothing press.
He started out hand printing the T-shirts and hoodies himself, but soon hired four seamstresses - half of whom were retired - to keep up with the demand.
It was also at that time that the May 1998 edition of Bike, an influential American publication, came out lauding the North Shore for having the "sickest" riding trails on the continent.
"All of the sudden, I was inundated with international orders," Hoots recalls. "America, Australia and Germany were buying like crazy. It was absolutely insane. I was getting cash orders, and everytime I sent out an order somewhere, I had a new product. That was a huge benchmark."
Hoots moved to six seamstresses from four, but they were just meeting orders and the demand was getting stronger.
"I could only screen print so much and then it started to get very intense," Hoots remembers with frustration. "I was ready to sell my soul."
While the whirlwind of a surging business proved tough at times, Hoots found a mentor in his brother-in-law's friend who had started a windsurfing distribution company called Trident Performance Sports. In 2001, Hoots decided to partner with the company, which took over the business from a distance providing research and development as well as structure and financial background. Hoots remains in creative control of Hoots Gear and still custom makes special orders like the high school uniforms for Rockridge school's mountain biking team. All of the six local seamstresses except one have since slowed down or stopped working for the company, which now does most of its manufacturing out of China. Last year, Hoots Gear did just over 200,000 units in sales, a third of these were international orders from as far as Australia, Italy and the Czech Republic.
"We're not a big shop that does tons and tons of business," says Hoots. "We do under a million dollar sales a year, but we understand to be a pro rider you need to be protected. People with responsibilities can't afford to get hurt."
With a whole new contingency of young riders emerging on the North Shore and beyond however, the local entrepreneur is planning on taking the concept of mountain biking armour to a whole new level, which he expects will triple sales in the next two years.
"We're about to converge on the next level of technical advancement going from a small company that's been borrowing technology to actually creating our own," Hoots confesses, but is tight-lipped when pressed for details on the new line. "I'll leave you guessing."
The first phase of Hoots' new gear is expected to be in stores in 2006 with the second phase planned for 2007. For more information on Hoots visit

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War of the Woods - Extreme box office

In addition to building epic trails, 'Digger' has found his calling as a video producer. Here, he holds up his latest, NSX 8: Cease and Desist.

By Justin Beddall (Rob Newell photo)
May 19 2005

Todd "Digger" Fiander's started filmmaking with a handicam Duct-taped to his mountain bike helmet.
For fun, he started filming his buddies as they rode the North Shore trails, documenting the thrilling stunt-riding - and rim-busting spills -that had come to define the new style of riding in these parts.
He added a soundtrack and took it down to a local bike shop to watch it with some fellow riders. "Someone came in and said 'Wow, where can I buy that.'"
Fiander decided to create a video called North Shore Extreme, which is now one of the most widely watched mountain bike video series in the world.
So far reaching, in fact, that when Digger dropped by a friend's house who had a Japanese home-stay student, he was instantly recognized. "It sold around the world," he said.
These days, Fiander's Know Fear production company recently released North Shore Extreme 8: Cease and Desist, described like this: "Digger's legacy has returned with his 8th installment of the North Shore Extreme series. Continuing on his quest for sicker and bigger trails, he has been slapped with a Cease and Desist order from the North Shore District of Environmental Protection and Preservation Bylaw. With a shovel and stealth-like techniques, Digger has once again risen to the calling and continued building his world famous trails. The next installment continues to mesmerize and capture the attention of all bikers everywhere."
He is currently filming a ninth installment. "It's pretty tough to get nice shots," Digger explained.
Dangerous Dan, who has appeared in all of the videos and even provided some music for the soundtracks, said the videos represent a seminal moment in the history of mountain biking on the North Shore.
"I would say NSX has had a profound effect, it has changed mountain biking forever - it displayed and introduced a new type of riding to the world."
Cam McRae, a longtime North Shore mountain bike rider and founder-slash-editor of e-magazine, agrees.
"Digger's videos showed Joe rider what's possible on the Shore. Before I saw any of his films we just rolled down steep stuff. Afterwards we began trying to 'wheelie drop' off.
"Then the top riders in the video started riding off and launching without pedaling so we began to try that. By exposing the cutting edge Digger has brought everyone's riding level up and inspired other trail builders to stay ahead of the curve as well."
John Sedacek, co-owner of On The Top bike shop, says Digger's videos fly off the shelves. "[The videos are] very popular. It's definitely made sport bigger. More people want to ride."
While Digger's NSX and other mountain bike video series like Kranked continue to use the North Shore as the backdrop for their videos, there's also interest to turn the North Shore into an actual video game.
Rumours have persisted for the past three years that Burnaby-based EA Sports is interested in developing a game based on North Shore freeriding legends, which would likely translate into huge gaming sales.
Digger, meanwhile, isn't sure exactly how many of his videos have sold world-wide. "It's in the thousands," he said.
For Digger, filming and building trails is a labour of love - not a money-making venture - taking up approximately 80 per cent of his time.
"I'm seven days a week. I've spent more time building trails than I did working any job. It's just too much fun," Digger smiled.

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War of the Woods - Liability at heart of the issue

Rob Newell

Personal injury lawyer David Hay specializes in cyclist injuries.
By Justin Beddall
Jun 02 2005

Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport.
But does that make the District of North Vancouver liable if a mountain biker is seriously injured while riding dangerous stunts on their land?
David Hay, a personal injury lawyer who specializes in cyclist injuries, says changes to the Occupiers Liability Amendment Act in 1998 have limited the duty of care owed by landowners to the uninvited public - in this case, mountain bikers using trails built in the District.
Hay, who wrote a paper for last year's North Shore World Mountain Bike Conference entitled Occupiers Cyclists and One-Eyed Jacks: The Wild Game of Occupiers Liability, believes the District's concerns over legal liability (see: Dismantling of the Watchumacalit) may be overblown, but adds this caveat.
"Clearly the North Shore is a mecca for cyclists and it's probably one of the better places in the world to pursue that activity, and it's gaining a national and international reputation for some of the best cycling terrain around," he said. "There's a lot of rogue builders up there, there's a lot of people taking it upon themselves to create the most monstrous hazard they can build and whenever that occurs within the legal jurisdiction of the District they're going to get concerned.
"From an injury perspective, from a danger perspective, from anything but a legal perspective, they ought to be concerned."
Hay, a veteran lawyer, noted that an orthopedic surgeon who sat on last year's mountain bike conference panel said there's been a spike in the number of serious injuries related to mountain biking. And that's something that should trouble District officials - and not just from a legal point of view.
"[The doctor] is seeing a real increase in the number of serious bodily injuries coming from the North Shore mountains," explained Hay, who noted that cases are underreported "because typically there's no tort fees, or other words, no one to be sued. It never becomes a matter of public record, it seldom makes it to the press."
Hay noted that the creation of the Trans Canada Trail helped to create new legislation in 1998 that ultimately deflects liability away from municipalities and other owners of rural properties and trails.
"At least at this time, there seems to be sufficient legislative protection against liability and that really was the purpose of the amendments to the Occupiers Liability Amendment Act," he explained.
"That was a big part of the push and lobby. You know in order for there to be a Trans Canada Trail a lot of private and public land owners had to sign on to this ... they had to basically allow people to cross their land and, of course, their concern was liability. So the legislature addressed that and said if people are pursuing a recreational activity on rural lands that are properly marked as such then they're basically treated as trespassers, not in the sense that they're run off the land with a shotgun but in the sense that if something happens to them they have the same remedy against the landowner as a trespasser does, which really has none."
Under the new amendment, cyclists who injure themselves while riding on North Shore trails will likely be treated as trespassers, meaning that any person entering a vacant or undeveloped rural premise or recreational trail for recreational purposes is deemed to have willingly accepted the risks. In this case, the District duty is limited to not "create danger with intent to do harm to the person or damage to the person's property; or act with reckless disregard to the safety of the person or the integrity of the person's property."
Still, that doesn't mean the District is immune from prosecution, Hay said.
"You can never completely have a sound night's sleep as someone who is a District or public authority. The simple reason is if you get sued in our free and democratic society you may have a successful defence on the merits and you may get the case dismissed but it still costs you money," he explained. "It doesn't stop lawsuits from being brought. From just the perspective of getting sued unsuccessfully, the District might be concerned that it's still going to have to defend a lot of these cases, which it could do, and likely have dismissed but it's still a cost. I don't think in my view that would be a huge concern. If someone came into my office and said they were on the North Shore trails and they had gone off a rogue jump and landed improperly and a serious injury resulted I would tell them that the legal battle is probably steeper than any trail they've ever been on in terms of the prospects of success," he said.
A recent case in Parksville, B.C, caused by a serious biking accident in 1999 was the first lawsuit that tested the 1998 amendments to liability.
The defendants, the municipality of Parksville, ultimately wanted the claim dismissed because their land fit the definition of rural. The judge agreed, and went on to comment that land on the outskirts of urban areas, like the North Shore mountains, fall under the term "rural premises" under the Occupiers Liability Act.
"That case does apply because the judge hearing the case did say the North Shore lands would be caught. It's the only case in B.C. that has considered the application of the amendments to the act to the North Shore mountains, so it's an important case from that perspective. The judge actually said that in his view the North Shore mountains would come within the excluded definition under the act. But that's not binding [because] when he said that it was not integral to his decision."
But, on the other hand, Hay said the judge's comments could easily influence future decisions.
"It all comes down to the occupier's liability amendment act," explained Jeff Schaafsma, risk manager for the Corporation of Delta and soon-to-be president of the B.C. Chapter of the Risk and Insurance Managers Society.
"The Occupier's Liability Act has a reduced duty of care for recreational areas; if you have a nature area, the Occupier's Liability Act says you're not liable for anything unless you put something in there that creates a hazard. My own personal opinion is that there will be mountain biking whether or not...there's too much wilderness to stop it. So you can try and manage or it or wait for something to happen."
If there is a mountain bike trail on municipal land with unsanctioned trails, the municipality is not necessarily exempt.
"That's not necessarily true. If they know it is there and they do nothing about it then they may have some liability; I mean that's why a lot of municipalities and a lot of governments have started working with biking associations to bring in trail management programs.
"I think that's sort of the wave of the future, to manage the recreation rather than allow it to go unchecked," he said.
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Gman said:
cliff notes?
Err...your not the Gman I know are bad.
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