Thanks to Seb Kemp for sharing his work with us!
Digger remembers walking into the woods with his video camera one day. He was planning on filming on one of Dan’s trails, ‘Reaper’. “We walked in to the woods and thought we had gone into the trail the wrong way, but then we see the log, all cut up into pieces, and we are talking about a big log. So we go down further and the whole trail is massacred. We run into Sterling Lorence who had gone down a few other trails that morning and he told us they were all massacred. Everything.”
The West Vancouver council had had enough. They attacked the problem with barbed teeth and remorseless aggression. Complaints from residents of neighbouring areas and the fear of a liability lawsuit hung over their heads, but really set it off was because a young kid had ruptured his spleen falling off a stunt.
The North Shore extremist’s mantra of “Build it high, build it skinny, build it sick” had caught up with them. Dan was seen as the ring leader, “The trail the kid fell off was not mine. Lots of other people were building these really stupid stunts so the West Vancouver district got involved and chainsawed the whole thing down.”
Around the same time the North Vancouver district ordered Dan to dismantle a trail on Fromme called “Swollen Uvula”. They said they were going to sue anyone involved with the trails if anyone got hurt on them.
It must be said that the ownership and management of the North Shore territory is not so straightforward. Cypress is under the jurisdiction (for the most part) of The City of West Vancouver, which also happens to be Canada’s richest municipality. Both Seymour and Grouse (Fromme) are under the jurisdiction of The City and District of North Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Regional District. There are also other stakeholders like the British Properties (Guinness family), Grouse and Seymour recreational areas, as well as BC Parks.
Mountain biking is blind to these boundaries and the “Dog Town-esque creativity, honest fun, and danger, had no precedence. We weren’t influenced by anything but nature and possibilities we imagined”, says Sterling Lorence.
Of course, that kind of talk is what makes lawyers either jump for joy or jump out the window. At one point there was even talk of outlawing mountain biking. However, anytime you have conflict it brings people together and provides a foundation for people to stand shoulder to shoulder. “It was a dark time but it was unifying. It was bad for Dan, but it brought us together.” remarks Johnny Smoke.
The unification occurred when bikers descended on City Hall in the hundreds to object to mountain biking being banned. Bikers, for years just handfuls of splinter cells of the same faction and operating completely in isolation, saw that their own passion was shared by many others.
At this time the NSMBA (North Shore Mountain Bike Association – which is a distinct organization from NSMB.com which is an online publication only) was also formed. There had previously been a lack of a grassroots organization capable of formulating a united response to land access threats. In response to this reality and the rumours in the winter of 1997 that Grouse Mountain Ski Resort were going to charge user fees for the trails, an impromptu and informal meeting at the Black Bear pub between Ken Maude, Lee Lau and Digger resulted in the decision to form a mountain bike advocacy group for the North Shore. After much discussion, a name was chosen, an executive was elected and a decision was made to incorporate as a not-for-profit society.
The NSMBA set about rectifying the negative public image of bikers. Then relationships with landowners were established and trail maintenance days were initiated to show the public that bikers were responsible stewards. Within their own circles bikers began to self-police. Word was spreading that things had to settle down for a while; building new trails or frivolous stunts would not be tolerated. Of course, this meant Dan and the niche he had made for himself was neutered. Other riders, like Wade, with more transferrable skill sets, were able to weather the storm and branch out. In fact, Wade Simmons won the very first Red Bull Rampage event in 2001. He had become famous for navigating the slick, wet, narrows of the North Shore but on the dry exposed mesas of Utah he spread his wings by out-maneuvering and dropping any and all comers.
Dan left the Shore in 2004 and moved to a tiny island in the Howe Sound where he continues to build the wildest, most ridiculous “trails” imaginable. “I speak to people from all over the world who build trails that imitate what I did back then. I went to India last year to do a demo for a guy who has built this amazing bike park full of skinnies.”
Digger kept building stunts for his NSX movies (there were ten in total), secreting away stashes of stunts that only he could find. That is until 2005 when Digger was given a Cease and Desist order by District of North Vancouver Council and told not to set foot on Fromme again. It wasn’t until the winter of 2010 that he returned and quietly began bringing Ladies Only back to life. It is firmly agreed that this trail is the epitome and pinnacle of trail building.
The rest of the world moved on in many regards. Freeriding had taken hold but it grew well beyond the awkward tight trails, skinnies and maneuvers of the Shore standard. BMX filtered in, jumps, gaps and tricks took over.
“The Massacre stalled mountain biking in Vancouver. There was a pause. The world was watching and wanted to come but we couldn’t invite them. Instead we pushed them away. Now when people come to BC they go to to Whistler or Squamish, North Van is deadened”, Sterling laments.
In 1999 Whistler Bike Park opened for business. Located 125km north of Vancouver, boasting a wide range of terrain that was easily accessed (chairlift!) this was the logical next step for freeride and recreational mountain biking. People wanted to get their rocks off and Whistler was the easy lady willing to hand it out, for a price.
Over the last decade the Shore settled down. The NSMBA and its hard working, dedicated volunteers have been laying the foundations for the next thirty years on the Shore. Trails are recognized and mountain biking is here to stay. Their work to get mountain biking accepted has paid off, not only on the offices of land managers and council boardrooms, but in the eyes of the public. These days there are more people mountain biking on the Shore than ever before. The demographics are far more spread than in the past too. It isn’t just twenty-something kick-backs with a Cali drawl or armour clad warriors going into battle with the wildest of torture machines. Now there are kids, parents, women and retirees as well.
The trails have evolved too. The oldest lines have worn down to channels in the forest’s organic mattress. Some are so worn that they bear no resemblance to the originals, other have been patched so many times that the character of the trail is forever changed. Some trails have been forgotten and reclaimed by the forest. The wooden features have mutated. They have fallen down, been taken down, or just reclaimed by nature. Trees fall, logs rot, the forest is animated with the cycle of life and death. The area these trails are on has been through far more than any amount of mischief that these mad men on their flying machines could do.
The movement has returned to crafting more natural lines. Also, there is a strong and silent renegade movement. These trails are “loamers”, and just like the very first trails they are barely etched in lines over the top of the duffy loam; no stunts, nothing built, secret entrances.
Jerry Willows, a rider who moved to the Shore at the height of the madness and who was responsible for building trails that progressed beyond the downhill trials of the Shore, thinks everything is in order and the cycle is complete. “Start renegade and you still have to have renegade people out there building stuff. There is a lot of land and a lot of people don’t want to be part of an organization where they are told what to build, where to build and that sort of stuff.”
The cycle of birth, death and re-birth feds everything in nature, in life, in the universe. The North Shore is just a tiny microcosm of that and where the specific ingredients came together to let something unique and special happen
I would like to thank all the people who gave me the time to interview them and who answered my many questions. I would like to thank the bulletin board members of NSMB.com who also assisted in organizing the smoky history into some sort of order. There are many more stories and themes related to the history of the Shore but which could not be included due to space and thematic necessity. Next time.
Sadly, until Seb or someone else writes the next chapter, that’s all we’ve got. After this the history gets a little messy and less linear. What do you think would be the next topic on the list?