Before you think my title is alarmist, a few things in order first. I am not new to biking; I was born and raised just below Princess Park for the first 32 of my 42 years. I have been riding, in the woods, for 30 years, and I have seen it all. I am a dedicated rider whom would ride more if life did not command so much of my time. That said.
I ride mostly Fromme, so it will be the focus of my observations. A bit of a history lesson will provide the context for my views. In the OLD days all we had was BMX bikes with bald rear tires. Staples for riding were the BP, old skidder roads and whatever water run-off path seemed reasonable. There was no trail network as such. There were no stunts, no woodwork, no maintenance, since most of the paths were water fall lines that were mostly rock. The mantra "get feet wet or butt kicked" was gospel, you can guess the which of the two was more common. Armour was soccer shinpads. I don't recall helmets. But the fact was this: there was very few of us and very few of anyone else, either. This is important to remember.
Something happened around the late 80's. Mountain bikes became popular and began to be used, and the bikes were primitive (or liberating, depending) in that there was no suspension, canti brakes and 2.1 tires (at best). The trails were essentially limited to the bikes. You didn't have big hucks or flowing trails. There still was no trails as such. But in the 90's the lines began to be cut from being in the woods and being bored with " the old stuff". Hence the first trails. If you look really hard on Oilcan, Ladies, Executioner you can see the evidence: chainring marks (there were no bashguards yet). Trails had few features and mostly were natural, as that was what was the easiest to cut and make. YOU handled it, or you didn't. There was no "taming" the trail to the rider. You got better or gave it up. Of course this lead to the major release of riding in the 2000s with hucks, skinnies, and ladders/features for their own sake rather than traversing water or holes. Of course, some trails became obscene in the ridiculousness, such as the now defunct Swollen Uvula (which is the hangy-down bit in the back of your throat despite the sexual suggestion thereof). But I would agree the trails had gotten too scary, too risky and for obvious reasons had to be brought down. Note that there is a direct correlation with this time to the size of drops and the amount of suspension thereof. And the bike weight (remember the Banshee Scream with Monsters? I do.)
But in the last 10 years I have noticed a real change, and I am not so sure it is for the better, however one defines that. I will start by saying that I think it really started with the popularity of biking through the early freeriding scene and seeing more bikers on trails originally designed for more "low impact use". Erosion set in fast on mostly loam trails and thus the move to either wood or armoured trails began. Note this made dealing with wet roots more infrequent. Eventually it got to the point that the older style of "more natural trails" (or eroded, depending on your point of view) was seen as unfavourable. There are few like this left. Most trails got armoured, understandably, and with the increasing traffic it was mandatory. But with the removal of the "microfeatures" on trails a valuable skill was lost. Newer riders became use to the armoured, more flowy style of trail that was a consequence of, not result of, evolution. Think of the lower parts of Crinkum and now the downward most bits are cut off. The bottom half of Executioner is gone. Cut off for "poor reasons". But if tougher (not scarier) parts are gone, where does one learn this? If no one learns it, no one has the skill to handle it and thus, any trails with aforementioned parts will be shunned to its (unfairly) unrideable nature. Thus, the trail either dies off or is decommissioned for no good reason. And look at it today: Ladies Only. Totally groomed compared to the past. If you do Executioner today, and do the Dreamweaver route (heavily used by hikers who are ambivalent to why it is there and made only to avoid the upward hike at the end of Executioner) there is NOTHING on Dreamweaver to look forward to. Nothing. We lost the best part of Executioner for this. Or Espresso. Now, I am the first to applaud ANY work and especially that of Digger. But the Espresso route today is so completely not "Shore" and yet it is the most ridden. The carefully lined berms are all dirt, and easily eroded by less skilled riders. In some areas it is already eroding. There are few features on the trail itself, and almost ALL of the old line is bypassed, or at least not encouraged. I have yet to see anyone (when I am on it) do the old school line. This includes the super steep part on the bottom third. And the current version of Espresso is extremely labour intensive to maintain. I foresee Digger on it virtually all the time. And what does this trail teach a beginner? Body english? Hopping over logs? Wheely drops? Nada. And you can BET that the person riding Espresso routinely today is not the same one who did it 10 years ago or does Grannies today (which is a personal old-school favourite). Count on it. I see a lot of kids on Bobsled and I am all for it, but you can be sure there are many newbies that do Bobsled regularly and have no idea that Walk in the Clouds existed or where Bookwus is.
This has a real consequence. IF trails like Bookwus and Pink Starfish are not ridden due to a lack of interest from riders (again, because they lack the skills or style to ride them) it is much easier to close them for good, and once gone, it is not coming back. Look at Seventh. It is fully armoured the entire way down. All the microfeatures are gone, and it is directly related to the vicious circle: trail gets used, needs work, so gets armoured, which smoothens the ride, gets more riders of less technical skill, gets more use, more armouring……. I agree this has to happen on some trails, but ALL? What of rider development? Skill development? How many go down Lower Skull? Why? Why not? Eventually, as it "progresses", the mountain will have but one or two trails, perfectly armoured requiring little or no maintenance to placate either district council or riders.
And related, I have noticed "big bikes" are gone. They are all now "all mountain" (whatever the hell that means) and you cannot tell me that there is NO relationship to bike development and trail evolution. I personally love big bikes; there is no way it is going to break before I do. One reason I love my Monster T. There was a reason the freeride bike came into being. I remember all the broken hardtail frames and light bike frames that simply couldn't handle the Shore. The All Mountain bike might be nice for groomed trails, but on more gnarley trails, I wonder how they would fair with a steady diet. Who does a wheely drop anymore? One good one on the entrance of Ladies was destroyed for a lame gap jump. And that was a classic hardtail drop.
Don't call me a curmudgeon on this. I am a hardcore rider and defend riding against all forms of non riders (meat pylons) and will continue to do this so long as my body allows me. But I think of the generation coming up and wonder how the sport will survive with the "mountain" part of it when the trails are becoming something that is the antithesis of mountain? Where is the challenge of surviving a tough root section when none exist? I think of Neds and remember the inherent challenge it use to have being so rough, and now I see it as a fast downhill run.
I know I cannot change the world, or hold back the tide. I am for young, old and lady riders (and I fully remember the sausage-fest it was in the old days) but it seems to me the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. Last month, major life-threatening sabotage was seen on the Vedder. We need to strike a balance and I think stepping back for a moment and realizing how we got here might shed some light on where we are and where we need to go. And perhaps that might be taking a step back, whatever Monica Craver says.