Whistler Ruts
Interviews with EWS, UCI, Trans B.C. and more

Trail Amends: Changing Local Trails for Races

Words AJ Barlas
Date Oct 29, 2018

Where would we be without trails? Riding dirt roads may have been fun in mountain biking's early days, but after years riding singletrack there is no going back. Building or maintaining trails creates a special connection, but you don’t have to wield a shovel to have strong feelings about a section of singletrack. 

When a race is proposed locals may have concerns. How much wear will racers cause? Who’s going to organize and flag the course? Will course marking prevent braids? Who will fix damaged trail sections? 

The biggest questions are, how do organizers select trails and do they alter trails to fit them into their event? In the past, some organizers worked on trails before an event, possibly without consultation. When changes are made without input from locals, friction is inevitable, particularly when the event organizer does nothing to support the trail system.

Blackcomb Forrest

Riding singletrack through an evergreen forest beats sliding down fire roads any day. 

What is appropriate and how do event organizers decide whether a trail is suitable and, when it isn't, do they make changes to fit it in? I reached out to Chris Ball of the EWS, Megan Rose of the Trans B.C. and Trans N.Z., Melissa Sheridan of the Hot On Your Heels women’s enduro event, Brandon Ontiveros of Big Mountain Enduro, Andreas Hestler of the B.C. Bike Race, and finally, David Vasquez of the UCI World Cup Downhill series. 

Chris Ball enjoying the fun part of his job

Chris Ball riding in Finale Ligure before racing began. Photo: Enduro World Series

Chris Ball – EWS Managing Director

Formally the UCI World Cup Downhill Technical Delegate, Chris saw an opportunity to grow the sport of mountain biking with the enduro format. After the UCI rejected his idea, Ball took it under his own steam and along with Darrin Kinnaird, Fred Glo and Enrico Guala, founded the  Enduro World Series six years ago.

Today the EWS is the top level of what is arguably the most popular style of riding and racing globally. The series truly spans the globe, taking competitors to the widest variety of terrain imaginable in a single year. Then there are the series that have begun to feed it, with the Qualifier Series and Continental Series. 

While in Whistler, Chris was gracious enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to discuss how the EWS chooses trails and mitigates damage incurred by hundreds of riders. Following our interview, he was whisked off to Blackcomb for a day of trail work.

Chris Ball GoPro of Ric McLaughan

Chris is often the guy who brings us the course previews at the EWS stops, along with Ric Mclaughlin. Here he follows Ric in Manizales. Photo: Enduro World Series

What do you look for when deciding on trails for an EWS event?

Ahhh, that's a good question. Especially this year because as the sport and components are becoming more professional, we're searching to find the perfect balance between riding and racing. Because I think historically we've always said we race trails, and that's what enduro is meant to be—representation of what you do. But we're kind of learning more and more, especially with potential weather; bad weather, whether that's super dry or super wet. The impact on the trail can be pretty massive, and the impact on the race in terms of people feeling that they're racing rather than just trying to get down and stuff. So sort of trying to find the diversity in the course, so it's not, all the same, all the time. And we're definitely trying to find trails that can withstand the impact and actually provide a good race as well.

It's pretty tricky.

Very tricky. It's getting trickier, it used to be a lot easier.

How much is rider ability incorporated into the trail and location selection process?

For us? Not much because we assume that they're the best. I think at a lower level event; regional or national, then absolutely that should be paramount. For us, we're trying to push the sport forward at the front end and uh, you know, if riders can't, kind of, ride it, then arguably they shouldn't be competing at a world level event. There are a million and one events now for that.

    So yeah, we've got these challenger events now, kind of amateur versions which take about 80% of the actual EWS race. Here (in Whistler) they didn't race the Blackcomb stuff because it was more technical. So we're trying to keep that inclusiveness while still pushing ahead.

    If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those?

    We have local organizing groups in every venue. Here it's Crankworx, in Slovenia, it's actually the guys that build all the trails. Same with Chile and Colombia. But wherever we are, we always make sure that the organization we're working with is integrated with whatever local system exists through those trail associations, council, forestry or whatever. There are a million and one different models around the world.

      Then they obviously need to go through the official permission process of everything if that's what it is and we just go from there. But we really don't want to work with anyone who sort of works in any kind of conflict with people on the ground. It's not good for the trails, the riders or the race, ultimately. You want to turn up and be welcomed and to leave a legacy. That's what we focus on.

      Florian Nicoli in Petzen Jamnica

      Florian Nicolai enjoying the trails in Slovenia. An event where the trail builders were the organizing crew on the ground. Photo: Enduro World Series

      Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable?

        What we've learned is that there are two major components to serious injury. You get a lot of small injuries, minor injury, you know wrists and collarbones, and we track all of our injuries to see if there's a correlation between trail design and the injury rate at an event. High exposure—so, you know, big fall zones—and high speed are the two things that really clearly stand out as being the potential issues for serious injury. 

          You know, we were in La Thuile and it's super technical, and we're thinking this is impossible and it's dangerous. If you actually look at the injury rates from those events, they're actually really, really, really low. Because your speed is super low. The same here in Whistler, you'll see much larger injuries typically in the bike park and on easier trails because the speeds are a lot higher, so the impact is greater.

          So when we make any late amendments to a course it's typically just to slow stuff down, which we'll try and do first with course marking and if there's exposure we'll try and steer the riders direction of travel away from the drop if it's at the side of the trail. But that's kind of it really. Hopefully, that makes the trail safer and better in the long run anyway. And more often than not it's not a permanent change to the trail anyway. The trail goes back to normal afterwards.

            How do you slow it down? Obviously taping is an easy one to do but if you can't, is there a change that you would physically make to the trail to slow it down there?

            Yeah. I mean first and foremost, the trail itself shouldn't… Maybe if it's needing massive amendments then it shouldn't really be in the race in the first place. So any major change shouldn't really ever need to happen. Chicaning with course tape is the most common one, which isn't a fun thing for a rider to go through a chicane, but I'd rather they have a crappy 10 meters of trail through some course tape than potentially annihilate themselves. 

              The other common thing we'll do is just take in a little speed check; try and put in some nice flowing turns. Because I think the trail should generally dictate the speed, not the rider. So if you leave really long, open straights or super open turns and you can go through them off the brakes, or the trail isn't forcing you to slow down, then you're putting the entire decision on the racer, the rider. Then there's that element of; "what if they just don't do that.” (Slow down.) Whereas if the trail, like a lot of the trails here in Whistler; it's so flowy and swoopy and there's, you know, little setups and catches for every corner, but the speed is actually capped by the trail design. Good trail design. We shouldn't ever need to change a trail if it's been well designed and then it's suitable for racing in the first place if that makes sense.

              Who do you look to for the completion of needed changes?

              On site, there's a race director always appointed by the local organization who's ultimately charged with all the sporting components of the race. They also act as a decision-maker in the absence of a commissar at a non-federated event. Under them, there should be some sort of trail crew, dig team, operations team, whatever, and it will be up to those guys. If that doesn't work out then we're out there with our hands and spades to make it work. But yeah, it's rare that we need to kind of scramble for stuff.

              Megan Rose racing the EWS in France

              Megan Rose doesn't just organize events. She races in the EWS when she can too. Photo courtesy of Megan

              Megan Rose – Trans BC Owner and Manager

              Megan Rose has a unique take on riding and racing. After partnering in the kickoff of the BC Enduro Series, Megan moved on to organizing large multi-day events with the Trans BC and the Trans NZ. Megan is a rider who enjoys pushing herself (hard) on the trails and it translates to her events. Big adventurous days on some of the most demanding trails in the world. Sounds fun, right? Despite her tough events, standing ovations at the final award ceremony are a regular occurrence as all participants develop an immense amount of respect for her and the event she puts forward.  

              With the amount of terrain the multi-day events cover, managing trail wear and preparing them for some one-hundred and fifty riders is tricky. To compensate, Megan started the BC Singletrack Society to support the riding communities Trans BC events ride through. Proceeds from each event go back to the communities involved. Below Megan describes how she approaches trail selection and preparation. 

              Megan Rose testing the trails of her event

              Megan may be busy, but she still finds time to sample the trail conditions at the Trans BC. Photo: Trans BC 

              What do you look for when deciding on trails for an event?

              There are a lot of factors that go into deciding on trails the Stages Trans BC. We try to stay away from the communities ‘regular’ trail network and look for more off-the-beaten-path trails or thinking outside the box. But to be honest, at the end of the day, the most important aspect is finding variety. We like to have either a day full of everything (flow/steeps/tech/wide open) and/or a week full of everything. For example, incorporating an adventure day that’s not necessarily about the best trails out there, but where that day can take you and how to get there. Then incorporating a true B.C. steeps day where you get the good 'ol steep and tech trails that B.C. is known for. Then other days are of all sorts of trail and terrain types mixed in. 

              How much is rider ability incorporated into the trail/location selection process?

              The event is geared towards those riders around the world that have been riding for a long while, that love the steeps and more tech terrain, and can ride black trails comfortably all day long—so with that in mind that is what we then look for. We don’t want six days of pure steeps and we don’t want six days of just flow. But we look at what a solid black rider would like. We try to avoid trails with gaps, drops and woodwork since its blind racing, but let’s be honest, this is B.C. so sometimes that's a challenge. If we find an incredible trail that has a bunch of drops or woodwork, then we look to see if there are ride-around options and how that would change the feel of the trail. Then we look at what we can do to make that experience safer and better to use that trail. We had a specific trail this past year that was like this and the next question leads into how we worked this in. 

              Adventure biking in Rossland at the Trans BC

              Bring your sense of adventure if you plan on attending a Trans BC event. Photo: Trans BC

              If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those?

              If we need to make any amendments to a trail to make it usable for the race, then we first go to the person or club/group that manage that trail. We then follow the steps directed to us by them on the process and options for making those amendments. Whether it be us or them to make them and an agreement of those changes. We don’t like to amend trails unless they are unsafe or the general public would benefit from it. 

              Castlegar was a perfect example of that this year. The local club rep and the person that built a specific trail we loved (Dave), had a bunch of old skinnies on it and woodwork that was pretty unsafe to race. It was something we wouldn’t put in a timed stage in the race. He had wanted to fix up this old woodwork for a while so he said this was the perfect push to do it and was stoked to see the race use the trail. So he actually went in and removed the skinnies, built new bridges, and we took out a few old wood booters and stumps. We also opened a few tight corners up.

              In the end, it made an older trail with old wood and features become more open and accessible to the public again. That also made the flow of the trail incredible for the race and safer. To be honest it ended up being one of the favourite days for the racers. Had Dave (the person that built the trail), not wanted to replace the skinnies, then we would have just split that trail into two stages and had riders transition through the skinnies section. 

              Riding wood in Castlegar

              Wood features in the sense of 'skinnies' may be avoided, but B.C. trail will always feature a wood bridge somewhere… Photo: Trans BC

              Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable?

              I guess the question above answered most of this, but to recap, we feel a trail requires amendment if a trail has been neglected and/or its unsafe. If a trail is unsafe to ride blind but the trail itself is super sweet for the public to ride as is, then we aren’t going to go in an amend it just for the race. That’s not all that fair to the rest of the public that uses it. We look to amend trails more-so if it helps revive an old trail or open up an old trail. In the end, it comes down to who 'built that trail' or who manages that trail and what their thoughts are, as that is not something we should be deciding.

              The other main aspect we do to trails to get them ready for the race is either buck out the trail from the winter dead fall, if we feel the local club needs help with this early summer maintenance, or brush cutting. We did a bunch of brush cutting this year. We don’t feel like this should be on the local club to do. If a trail runs sweet as is for general day to day riding, but we feel is a bit overgrown or the sight line isn’t great for racing, then we get in and brush cut the trail to make it a more enjoyable racing experience. This process is worked in with the local clubs for approval and their final decision. They are stoked to see us open up trails with brush cutting.

              Who takes care of needed alterations?

                The person that manages and/or built the trail—which 90% of the time is the local mountain bike club. Although there have been some cases where no one might manage the trail, so we look to the person that initially built the trail and put it on the map.  

                Melissa Sheridan at the HOYH Afterparty

                Melissa Sheridan on the mic at the Hot On Your Heels Award Ceremony. 

                Melissa Sheridan – Hot On Your Heels Founder and Manager

                Melissa Sheridan (and partner Roland Benesocky) are staples in the Squamish mountain bike community. They moved to Squamish for the riding and to be close to Whistler, and have deeply rooted themselves ever since. Melissa took on the role of XC Toonie Director for SORCA after a couple of years in other roles within the organization. She’s since moved to the VP and now Presidential role there but still finds time to host one of the biggest parties, errr, race events of the summer calendar. 

                The Hot On Your Heels race is an event that’s now been running for seven years. Each year it grows and in 2018 there were more than 350 women who took part. It’s spurred on events like the Sturdy Dirty just south of the border and proceeds from the event support Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that Melissa has been involved with first hand for some time. So how does an event that sees more than 350 racers on the trails come race day select and prepare the course?

                Melissa Sheridan on trail during the Hot On Your Heels event.

                Melissa participates in the HOYH event as well. 

                What do you look for when deciding on trails for an event?

                For Hot On Your Heels, I try to incorporate trails that are fun for a wide range of riders, but definitely focusing more on the intermediate rider. Over the past seven years, I’ve grown the race into five stages and I try to mix the stages up a bit from the previous year, while still keeping a few favourites. This way, the ladies have their old stand by’s that they feel comfortable on and they also have a new trail or two to practice lines and dial in their ride.

                How much is rider ability incorporated into the trail/location selection process?

                Rider ability plays a huge role in my choice of trails. The reason Hot On Your Heels was born was because I noticed that a lot of women were not racing. I had a big group of girlfriends that I rode with, many of them super solid riders, but for some reason, the bulk of them weren't racing. I knew that if I was going to convince women to race, I needed to make Hot On Your Heels more of a social ride, with a race component. I had to keep the trails intermediate and the race atmosphere as non-intimidating as possible. 

                I felt there were plenty of races out there already for the advanced rider, so I wanted to make this race more of a stepping stone. As my numbers grow, I still try to keep this theory in mind. I continue to get those first-time racers who are scared to death at the start line, dropping into their first mountain bike race ever. In order for those women to step up to the gate, I need to keep the trails on the easier side and the tires on the dirt as much as possible.

                If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those?

                The number of riders hitting the trails in Squamish over the past few years has grown substantially. There’s no denying it, the secret is out. Some of our trails are able to stand up to the masses but a number of our trails really take a beating. The general level of difficulty changes as riders shred those same lines over and over again. New lines get made, old lines get swallowed up by the forests and the trails simply change over time. So the question is often raised, do we bring those trails back to the original level of difficulty, or do we let them continue to develop.

                I personally don’t feel there’s a right or wrong answer to this one. Some trails do get better over time but when a blue level trail becomes just too difficult for an intermediate level rider, it’s time to give that trail some love. The first person that should be consulted is the original trail builder; however, sometimes this is not possible. Plenty of amazing trails in Squamish have been built by people who have moved on. So next in line would be to consult with the local trail association, SORCA. Chances are pretty good that SORCA holds the Section 57 which means they have the duty to maintain those trails and keep them up to snuff. And lastly, I would seek the advice and help from other local trail builders that tend to build similar ability and style of trails like the one in question.

                Kristan Courtney on course at the 2018 HOYH

                Local trail builders work with and fully support the HOYH event. Kristin Courtney blasting through the newest addition to the network, Singletrack Mind.

                Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable?

                General maintenance and upkeep are different from altering a trail for the sake of ability. I’m a firm believer that when green trails become blue over time, or blue trails become black, those trails should be maintained back to their original level. But when it comes to black level trails, it’s a slippery slope that should be considered carefully on a trail by trail basis. How much trail maintenance is too much? I think each trail should be considered separately.

                A trail like Pseudo Tsuga (in Squamish) really acts as both a blue level trail and a connector. It sees a ton of traffic and is one of the most highly ridden trails in Squamish by all different abilities. It needs to stand up to thousands of riders each year. This trail has changed considerably over the past few years but it’s due to its location and purpose that these changes have been made. But then you see other trails in our network that riders need to earn their turns on. Take Somewhere Over There for example. It’s usually ridden by riders that are competent, skilled and although a number of the riders can’t always ride the entire trail without dabbing, most of them have the skills to get there, eventually.

                Sometimes on a trail, there’s one tricky spot that just didn’t fit in with the rest of the line. Sometimes the original trail builder either did this on purpose or maybe they just couldn’t find a way to get around the tricky spot. I strongly believe that it’s not my place to make the decision as to whether or not that tricky spot should be changed, that’s really up to the original trail builder.

                Who do you look to for the completion of needed amends?

                  First of all, I’m a race organizer, not a trail builder. I leave that up to the skilled builders that are excellent at what they do. If I find a spot on a trail that just isn’t going to work for my riders, I don’t put the trail in my course. That’s the beauty of creating a course that changes each year. I don’t change the trail, I change my race.

                  Brandon Ontiveros in the high alpine

                  Brandon Ontiveros ride high in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Brandon

                  Brandon Ontiveros – Big Mountain Enduro (BME) Owner/Executive Director

                  Whether with a motor or under his own power, Brandon has spent much of his life on bikes. He’s been swinging a leg over mountain bikes for 22 years and was drawn into the sport while living in Crested Butte, ColoRADo for college. His history with enduro racing goes deep and he was behind the first events in the U.S. He started the incredible Oregon Super D series, which later evolved into the wildly popular Oregon Enduro Series. He now heads the BME and lives in Colorado.

                  Brandon has a wealth of experience and in 2003, he began managing ski and bike events. He has a degree in Event Management and Sports Marketing and has worked on nationally televised spectacles like the Gorge Games at Mt. Hood Meadows. With all of that experience, and an educational background to suit, how does he handle trail alterations for his BME events?

                  Brandon Ontiveros racing the Finale EWS

                  Brandon enjoys racing as well and has taken part in EWS events. Here he is at the Finale EWS a couple of years ago. Photo courtesy of Brandon

                  What do you look for when deciding on trails for an event? 

                  The trails need to have substantial vertical/big descents, well-balanced technicality to challenge all levels of racers, be natural and raw (less machine built trail and more hand built), a mix of solid pedal transitions with lift access and shuttles integrated where applicable. Ultimately we try to showcase the best gravity trails/terrain within each venue we race while limiting the amount of flow and jump trails as possible. Not many people want to race a flow trail and jump trails can be too dangerous at race pace. We typically aim for 3–4 stages per day to give participants the utmost bang for their buck when attending a BME event. We want to leave lasting memories for our racers and have them thinking about the world-class trails we allocate and ultimately create an experience of a lifetime.

                  How much is rider ability incorporated into the trail/location selection process? 

                  It is pretty critical. As stated previously, we find the best trails in each area and many of those are challenging and technical for your average rider. BME racers are normally skilled bike handlers, but with our 12 widespread category offerings, even the amateurs and Groms (10–16 age group) prove that anyone can race a BME, so long as you have proper fitness and a decent background riding a mountain bike. Often when trails are too technical for the amateur fields, we'll tie in go-arounds for those sections where applicable and regularly drop the gnarliest stage of the weekend for the Groms due to safety concerns.

                  Brandon Ontiveros getting some fall time action

                  Brandon getting some amazing post-race season fall riding in. Photo courtesy of Brandon

                  If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those? 

                  We go out and dig. Regularly, the crew and I put in solid time building and/or preparing trails for each BME event, including a lot of tree removal for downed trees and handlebar clippers. Following each race, we also run through most trails raced and repair any damaged sections that might have occurred from the event. Before doing all of this we, of course, communicate and work with local trail associations, resort partners and the USFS before any action takes place. 

                  Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable? 

                  The trail would require amends if corners were completely blown out or destroyed or if steep sections become rutted out from the racers. That is standard repair and very rarely do we have to go in and close or re-route any cheater lines that were formed from the race. That ties in with how well we mark the courses and blocking all cut-lines (non-trail) before practice and racing begin. We've seen it many times, that when we bring in the fastest racers in the world, new lines are formed, especially the fast lines. If still within the legal trail systems, we leave those, as it actually makes the trail better sometimes and safer to race at high speeds. Seldom do we go and completely change a trail around or readjust corners, unless it makes sense and is sustainable for the terrain and dirt conditions at hand. 

                  Who do you look to for the completion of needed amends? 

                    Myself and the BME core crew handle trail preparation and restoration if needed. Basically making sure all race trails are in the same or better condition than before the event. I personally run through all the stages after the event and will put in whatever work is needed to ensure trails are sustainable moving forward.

                    Andreas Hestler taking part in his own event, the BCBR

                    Andreas Hestler is one half of the team that founded the BCBR. Photo courtesy of Andreas

                    Andreas Hestler – BC Bike Race Co-Founder

                    Andreas, or Dre to many, has been involved in Canadian cycling for most of his life. He competed as a World Cup XC racer, spending 10 years battling the fastest racers in the world and winning five Canadian XC National Championships. Dre also represented Canada at the 1996 Olympic Games—which, to many, was the debut of mountain bike racing to the world. 

                    As he moved away from the World Cup, Dre shifted his focus to stage racing, first competing at the Trans Rockies (which he won three times), the Trans Alp, Trans Andes and eventually he had a dig at enduro stage racing with the Trans Provence. In 2008 he slowed down from racing and began to focus on producing his own event with Dean Payne; the BC Bike Race. The BCBR has become wildly popular and sees riders from all over the globe descending on the coastal region of B.C. every summer. 

                    Now going into its 13th year, the BCBR owes a lot to the small communities where stages are held. The event has brought thousands of riders to the trails in the south coastal region of B.C. and with that volume comes strain on the networks. Here’s how the BCBR deals with the trail planning and preparation process. 

                    What do you look for when deciding on trails for an event?

                    I imagine it's pretty similar for most events, looking to match the participants up with the most suitable terrain. Depending on what your discipline is and your communities, this can be easy or hard—thankfully in B.C., we have new inventory growing every year and some of the largest trail networks in the world. BC Bike Race also likes to highlight, when possible, the latest creations of the local trail builders (up or down) and or the stand out flavour of the region. The story BC Bike Race tells is about: the communities, the trails, the trail builders and those participants journey through our backyard, on the awesome trails we ride all year 'round and they get to ride for one day (each community along the route).

                    How much is rider ability incorporated into the trail/location selection process?

                    For BC Bike Race, as a Cross Country or Trail event, we do consider rider ability and the vast discrepancy from the front to the back, in both fitness and skills. We also consider overall distance, travel times, impact to traffic, school programs, community events and the physical and mental combination that comes from seven days of mountain biking. I'm sure I've missed some things in the considerations, but rider ability is one of many.

                    If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those?

                    We do all of our trail work through the local clubs. In general, we don't want to change the flavour of any trail for our specific needs, but things like brushing and clearing tend to be high on the list for all users. BC Bike Race works with a Course Director in each town that is plugged into the local club, our goal is to be an asset to the community, the club and the Province of B.C. as a whole. Communication and collaboration are the keys to working together.

                    Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable?

                    My personal opinion is that trails are fluid. Unlike a concrete skate park, trails will always be changing and evolving (snow, water, windstorms, erosion, ridership etc.) and needing maintenance. By working with the local clubs and trail builders we hope to make sure that we are in touch with all user groups and ultimately the landowners are happy, and we continue to have access to the sport we love. I personally don't believe in changing a trail's flavour in the name of an event—but if events direct energies and monies towards needed maintenance (even if not on the route) then we are working towards the greater goal of that community.

                    Who do you look to for the completion of needed amends?

                      I believe I've covered this in the above questions. I would look to the BCBR Course Directors and the relationships we have with local clubs to address any issues that might be needing attention, missing rungs on bridges, brushing, clearing of downed logs—and anything else that is under the direction of the local club.  

                      David Vazquez Racing His Final Fort William World Cup in 2009

                      David Vazquez spent 2009, his final year racing World Cup Downhill, on the Lapierre Saab Salomon team. Photo: Google

                      David Vazquez – UCI Gravity Technical Delegate

                      Those that were born around the mid-90’s might not know the name, David Vazquez. David was a Spanish World Cup Downhill racer with a career that spanned 13 years. His first season was in 1996 where he raced all of the European rounds as a junior. The following year while still a junior, David began to see results and placed second in Nevegal, Italy. He finished the 1997 season with a sixth place overall. 

                      In 1998, his first year as an elite racer, Vazquez signed with Volvo Cannondale and finished second overall. Throughout his career he rode for some of the biggest teams in the sport, including Specialized and Giant factory teams. David’s final World Cup level race was in 2009. Three years later, after Chris Ball resigned from the UCI to form the EWS, David was given the call for the Gravity Technical Delegate position. He’s been in the role ever since. 

                      The technical delegate role looks after the safety aspects of a course and assists with guidance on what the racers want to see in the race tracks. With the UCI being who they are, how they approach the trails is a little different, but at the end of the day, safety and a good track for racing are priorities.

                      Learn more about David's role with the UCI in his interview with Rob Warner

                      What do you look for when deciding on trails for an event?

                      So first of all, they need to have had an international event before, or a UCI C-One or a C-Two, minimum. They're going to have a bit of experience. In the past, we had a couple of places that didn't have any experience. So they—the year before the big event—hold a test event with invited riders. So that happened as well.

                      So, first of all, they need to have the experience and second of all, they need to have the space. That's most likely the hardest thing. To have this, you know, like the finish line/arch and finish corral, room for all of the trucks and all the space that we need for timing and the television truck and you know, all that stuff.

                      The space is really hard to find. That's mainly the first thing. Then obviously the course has to meet the minimum requirement in terms of time and elevation loss. The rules say that there must be no uphills and stuff like that. But a good rule that I always use is that you can make it from top to bottom with no chain. A little bit of flat is okay, but as long as you have good rolling then it means it's a good course.

                      In the past, we've had not so great courses that without a chain you wouldn't make it to the finish line. But nowadays all of them have these requirements… Actually, it's not a requirement, it's a guide.

                      One example is Leogang. It was probably the least popular out of all the World Cup races these last six, seven years. It's been improving, even though it's still really bike parky, but it's been improving and it's not as bad as it used to be, in 2011, 2012. An example was Aaron Gwin winning the race run with no chain (2015). You know, that was a really good thing.  

                      When you say important… When you say it has to have a decent grade in a minimum time, what are you talking about there? What's the minimum time requirement and what kind of grade?

                      In the rules, it says minimum two minutes. Two to five minutes.

                      And then grade. What if something's too steep and is going to result in a lot of erosion or something? What's the policy there?

                      There are no rules with that. It's a bit of common sense, you know, something really, really hard… Well any section that is hard to ride, we always have a b-line option, you know, like a chicken line option. Any drop, any really hard section and stuff like that, I always have to make sure that there's an easier way to do it. If you have a flat tire, you might be injured or for the junior girls, you know, there has to always an option in jumps or difficult sections.

                      How much is rider ability incorporated into this kind of selection process?

                        The riders?

                          Yeah. I mean you're obviously catering to the world's best, but what if something's incredibly challenging for someone… say the top 20 are finding it challenging?

                          Nowadays they tend to be easier rather than the other way—than too hard—because of the popularity of bike parks. They're growing and growing and it's really hard to find some natural terrain. That's our biggest fight to get, you know, to stay away from the park stuff. It’s too easy and again, try to get really hard natural sections. You know, to have really difficult sections on the courses.

                          Reece Wilson in Val Di Sole 2018

                          The track in Val Di Sole is one of the most natural on the circuit and has always been among the favourites for riders. Photo: Red Bull/Bartek Wolinski

                          If a trail requires amends ahead of an event, what process do you take to perform those? 

                          Well, we work through a report. After each event, the UCI does their own report. If things need to be improved or there have been complaints from the riders or you know, there are always things to work with. So that's how we try to improve, but sometimes it takes two or three years to get it right. It's a very slow process because there's always budgeting involvement or permissions or you know… Some land from private owners and they don't let them do it and sometimes it depends on which time of the year you're racing there. May is more complicated because it's cow season, you know, they eat their grass. From July to August, it's quieter so we'll have more permission. So there's a lot of things involved. Improvements to a course are not that easy.

                          What would you do if it was a first-year event? Do you, yourself go in early and look at things and say; "oh, this needs to change or that needs an improvement there?"

                          Yeah, exactly. I don't design the course, but I tell them what they have to do. Like I said before, the start gate, all the safety things, you know; protection, evacuation system, all that stuff. So that's why I go in first. I go before and I inform them of what they need for safety things and so on.

                          And then that improvement is left up to their team to take care of?

                          Exactly. We have to leave a little bit of trust, you know because then they have almost a full year or at least the whole autumn or the whole springtime to complete the work. And then I show up there one week before and if they haven't worked hard, then it's an especially big problem for me. We do as much as we can but normally the last few years they've been pretty good. Even the first year organizers have been pretty good. No issues there, over the last few years.

                          In the day of the Sprung videos and stuff like that you used to see clips of guys on the course hacking at stumps and stuff during practice. That doesn't seem to happen anymore. Is that the case?

                          It's improving and because there are so many bike parks everywhere and they're normally the most interested in having an event… Um, yeah, there's a lot of bike park stuff so it's more predictable, there aren't that many natural sections. It's a shame but it's really improving a lot. I remember, for example, Leogang in 2012 for World Championships… Man, that was fully a bike park race; flat sections, gravel, hard gravel berms, top to bottom. It was crazy.

                          So my first year with the UCI—that was 2013—I was really disappointed with how the course had turned out. I stopped racing in 2009, when most of the courses were natural but from 2010 the bike parks started growing a lot and it turned the World Cup into a bike park world cup. We didn't have the natural sections anymore. Even in classic places like Mont Saint Anne where you used to have super natural wood sections… Even there, inside the wood sections, they would put machinery in there and they bermed out everything and smoothed it out. I was freaking out. It took two or three seasons to start getting a lot more natural sections and it's been getting better and better every year.

                          The Vigo World Cup part of Earthed 3 starts with some trail amends during practice. This was in 2005, four years before Vazquez retired from racing.

                          Why would a trail require amends and how much of a change is acceptable? You’ve told us safety is a requirement for an amend. Is there anything else? I guess too much machine built would require some amends? 

                          So there's no rule that says you have to change that much of the course. But they know that they need to have new sections because the riders are otherwise very upset. If the riders are upset and the comments are bad and I'm also not happy, the report is not going to be good. So if they keep on that way, they might lose their events because nowadays we have a lot of options to go somewhere else. It's not the same as six, seven, eight years ago. Now we have a lot of options and we have quite a lot of bids for World Cups. So the hosts work hard.

                          The events we go to now, they do their best, but they are always limited on the number of things they can do. Some new sections they can't do because of either environment limitations or private landowners, you know, they don't let them explore more. That or they ask more money when they see the business, they'll ask for a ridiculous amount of money for the section the organizer wants to use and stuff like that.

                          But as I said, every year now we have newer sections and it's pretty good now.

                          Who do you look to for the completion of needed amends?

                          It's just the organizer doing the job. Sometimes they might hire a rider. For example, in Lenzerheide they hired Steve Peat and Claudia Caluori, so yeah, in some cases there's been riders involved in the design of the course. But that means the organizer is doing the changes and the work obviously. They (the organizers) always like a good team.

                          Conditions in Manizales Were Challenging For Everyone

                          The Manizales EWS in early 2018 was a wet and wild affair. Chris Ball and his team learnt that selecting courses that are safe is one thing, but keeping in mind weather extremes further complicates it. Photo: Enduro World Series


                          These organizations share many ideologies, but execution varies somewhat. Trail changes are largely taken care of by local trail associations and builders rather than event staff. Where possible, the original builders are consulted and possibly asked to make any changes required. At the very least, local organizations are consulted before work commences and I think we can all agree, it's a great start. The most important consideration is that trails need to be safe for the level of rider expected at an event. 

                          However, this is only one side of the equation. Thoughts from trail builders are a key component to this discussion. Are they satisfied with how situations have been handled? Check back for that in the future. 

                          Trending on NSMB


                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          +2 Luigi legbacon

                          Great article, well written and it covers a wide range of interesting (to me) events. However I am going to be that guy, the one who actually mentions the elephant in the room, about the use of trails (non bike park/ Whistler Blackcomb) for the EWS in Whistler. 

                          The article above indicates that Chris Ball liaises with Crankworx as far as local trail use is concerned and I am sure that he does. Unfortunately the situation appears to be most years is that Crankworx seem to be somewhat disconnected from the real cost of repairing and maintaining trail that has been completely mangled by 300 riders running multiple laps over the same trails in a short period of time (officially three days, but the no riding until official practice is completely ignored every year so it is actually more like a week). 

                          I am not a trail builder so I donate to make up for my lack of building. I have asked and been informed that it costs about C$1 per metre to maintain well built trail to the same standard it was built at. 

                          Crankworx makes a big song and dance about donating $5000 to the local trails every year and then they go and rip up between 15 and 30 kilometres of non bike park trail for the enduro events (EWS and Challenger). 

                          The type of damage is evident in the upper part of Lower Howler which has never really recovered from the EWS and, according to one WORCA trail builder I spoke to this year, is proving to be a challenge to maintain let alone make better. There is talk of having to build a re-route as several corners are severely eroded by use and weather. This year Hindsight went from being a great new alternative to Tunnel Vision to a smashed up mess in the space of a week. One year we lost five years worth of loam off Highside & Hi-Hi in the space of the week.

                          There appears to be a large use/ wear and tear to trail recovery donation gap that does not ever seem to be addressed by Crankworx or the EWS and is not really an expense that WORCA or the locals should have to wear.  This is not something that is the fault of the racers as they assume that the organisation makes proper arrangements with the local trail community to maintain, repair and improve the trails. 

                          Whilst it is pretty cool that the EWS is part of Crankworx and having the EWS and Crankworx visit Whistler does pump money into the local economy it would be a lot better if they offered up a figure that matched the damage that they do to the trails. And that their trail repair follow up was over a period of a few weeks or a couple of months rather than coming up to nearly three years (without any significant repair). 

                          As a comparative example, the BC Enduro Series (CNES) and Trans-BC donate more to the local trail building organisation for each event (10% of entry fees which is patched by MEC their major sponsor) than Crankworx/ EWS does which doesn't really seem that balanced or fair for Whistler.

                          All comments and hating welcome as it is an issue that is overdue for discussion.


                          Cam McRae
                          4 years, 1 month ago

                          Excellent points Andrew. 

                          I too have noticed the wear and tear to trails in Whistler after EWS. Hundreds of beastly riders all going at the same time can be devastating to steep trails, particularly when conditions are already dry and blown out. 

                          I assume you think CWX and the EWS should step up and address the real cost of post-event maintenance? Has WORCA said anything about this?


                          AJ Barlas
                          4 years ago

                          Great points, Andrew. What you've heard about cost/metre reflects what I've been hearing for a couple of years too (should it be more now?). In the follow-up to this, discussion with one Whistler trail builder who has been affected by the EWS will be included. He's had some struggles in the past but seems much happier now. There will also be feedback from WORCA, who has worked extensively to initiate new policy on how the trails are used and what is considered acceptable for repair work. Looking forward to diving into this some more.


                          Todd Hellinga
                          4 years ago

                          I'll try to answer a few of these things as I'm pretty qualified to answer it as I was the planning director for the past 3 years and involved in trails stuff well beyond that...

                          First, re. High Side/HiHi. As the builder/maintainer, I was asked and consented to EWS using it. That trail was in a WORCA enduro a couple weeks after it was completed, is regularly used in toonies (probably at least 6 this year), and was used in BCBR. It's probably one of the more heavily used trails in Cheakamus and for the record, was/is predominantly a bench cut, mineral trail that has never had much "loam" on it. It's the perfect trail for high use and events as it requires little to no maintenance at this point, a few hours in the fall once rain comes back generally primes it up fast. That being said, a couple sections are getting a bit worked and I have plans to upgrade them in the spring after the fuel thinning/management works are completed this winter.

                          Hind Sight was also something conceived by myself and Tim Haggerty and had financial and human resouce support from WORCA, BCBR, and WB. Hind Sight was low cost and is getting better and better with minimal maintenance season to season. Tim put in 5 hours of work on it this fall and imo is running better than ever.

                          These types of low elevation, high use trails, are exactly what events should be using, and the WORCA trails sub-committee has been working with Crankworx/WB to develop an events policy to clarify expectations and responsibilities to prevent ad hoc reactive decision making. Additionally we provided a list of trails to them we felt were most suitable for high impact events like the EWS that could have potential impacts easier mitigated. They chose this past year to focus on trails within the WB Controlled Rec Area and worked with the builders of those trails to coordinate pre/post maintenance. For the past few years pretty much every trail used has been vetted/approved through WORCA and/or the designated builders/maintainers. That isn't to say there haven't been a few misses or gaps, but we're actively working to address those issues and keep on working collaboratively with each other.

                          I think for an established trail destination like Whistler, big events like this are less important than in areas that are trying to develop tourism (many other EWS venues), but we still should accommodate them in some fashion. We're hoping the events policy will be applied across to other events too locally, we're seeing more and more desire for trail running events, so it's something we're trying to address now to ensure consistency in how all kinds of different trail using events are handled.


                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          +2 legbacon Cam McRae

                          As far as I'm concerned take the races to a paid venue like a bike park and stay off local trails. When I hear thing like "improve a trail" or "remove barclippers" you are ruining a perfect planned tight spot. Just stay away please.


                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          0 Nouseforaname IslandLife

                          "Amends" doesn't mean what you think it does.  "Amends" are apologies or compensations.  You mean to say, "amendments", ie changes or alterations.


                          AJ Barlas
                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          +2 IslandLife Cam McRae

                          An amend (pronounced uh-mend), is a verb, meaning to change for the better or add to; to alter the working to make more suitable, accurate, acceptable, up-to-date, etc. Using it in a plural form as done here is where the complication comes and perhaps using 'amendmants' would have helped with that. I see where you're coming from as 'making amends' for something is as you say. Sorry for the confusion.


                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          +1 Nouseforaname

                          I really joymented your comment.  It was very an informativement.


                          4 years, 1 month ago
                          +2 Cam McRae AJ Barlas

                          Making your own noun forms of verbs like a boss :D

                          I also interpreted the title as "making amends", like repairing damage caused by a race or other forms of restoration or contributions to local trails. In the end it doesn't really matter as that is also something brought up in the article.

                          Great piece by the way, thanks for writing this!


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