The Half Nelson Mountain Bike Trail in Squamish, BC is the jewell of a trail system that adrenaline seeking mountain bikers here in Nor-Cal can only dream of. Often likened to a downhill pump track, the riding experience is similar to the intermediate level jump/ flow trail Crank it Up in Whistler. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of trails like it outside of freeride specific bike parks here in the states. Once you cross California state lines heading south on the I-5, good luck finding a legal trail experience like this outside of Northstar.
The beauty of this trail is that it’s an officially sanctioned trail- even more unique is the fact that it was government funded. The majority of the construction was done with a mini-excavator. Designed as a beginner/ intermediate alternative to the technical black and double black diamond trails it is surround by, the trail is a fast rip down a roller coaster of dirt.
Like Crank it Up, the way down is filled with rollers and huge berms for all of its 2.5Km length. (that’s 1.5 miles to us Yanks) To reach the trail head, you have a double track logging road climb that will take you around half an hour to complete. On our downhill bikes it was bit of a push, but with an all mountain bike, the climb is pretty mellow. The beauty of this trail though, is that its surrounded by some of BC’s finest and techiest DH/FR trails. Since we were returning from several days of goodness in the Whistler bike park, we were rolling through with our big bikes.
Although the pedal up encourages a pedal friendly all mountain set up, on the descent, the big bikes were just as fun, and with great site lines, we were sending it on every bootable section of trail on our first run down.
I’m still kicking myself for not even bringing a POV cam out with us that day. A return trip is a major priority for my trip plans for 2011.
Imagine what it would be like here in the Bay Area if just one double wide section of multi-use trail was modified to incorporate rollers and table top sections. Just one section of trail in each trail system, dedicated to the mountain bike specific user experience. It would be nothing short of amazing.
Are trails like this the future of mountain biking? I hope so. In areas like the Bay Area with dense populations, it may be a long time before it happens barring a major paradigm shift in the way open space is managed, but the model is there. The rollable features mean riders off all skill levels can ride this trail safely, and the sustainable trail design and construction mean it will hold up to the thousands of runs riders will put in on it with a minimal amount of maintenance. The rollable but boostable table tops mean advanced riders can ride it all day and have a good time. Trails like this are already happening in the states- in Portland, Oregon, one hour’s drive from town, the new Sandy Ridge Trail System features similar construction, features and flow, and includes some of the best logging road to trail conversions I’ve ever seen.
Grin and Holler
The best part about the riding in Squamish, is that this was just one trail, surrounded by many. It seemed that each one was better than the last. For our second run, our tour guide Dave took us down a double black diamond rated trail called Grin and Holler.
Grin and Holler is best on a big bike, and on my DH bike I was having a blast. It was everything you’d expect from a BC technical freeride trail: steep and rooty with skinnies and steep ladders, a few drops, gaps, and some even bigger gaps. In short, also my kind of trail. This was my first time really experiencing North Shore style BC riding outside of a bike park, and I was lovin’ it.
Unlike tech skinny lines recreated in the US, you flow into the skinny lines here. I’m not a big fan of skinnies, but as a rule, I don’t walk my bike either. (ahem, ego) Here, the skinny tech lines are actually a fun part of riding this trail and serve to solve a problem the builders encountered in the trail construction. Nothing feels better than rolling a techy trail smooth the first time through, and I was stoked to clean everything with just a few dabs. (although I had to stop and check the bigger doubles at the end, before sending it)
The trail ends with a section of good sized booters reminiscent of the FMX line in Hood River, Oregon.
I f*cking love Canada. If the winters weren’t so wet and cold, I would totally move to Vancouver. If only the mountain biking here was half as good.