And Then There Were Trails: Some of the oldest trails were “built” by horses, cows, or wild game. Others appeared under the footsteps of trappers, hunters, and hikers. Some were dry creekbeds that someone simply decided to call a trail. Motocrossers, smugglers, birdwatchers…all trailbuilders that, whether they want to or not, can take credit for some of the amazing (and occasionally terrible) trails that we love to ride.
An Idea Is Hatched: The trails that Tom “Pro” Prochazka, Dave Kelly, and I design and build become a reality when a passion for mountain biking meshes with an ability to dream. When Gravity Logic’s phone rings and we’re asked when can we start construction, we suggest “not yet.” No sense in spending money without a plan on what the bigger picture looks like, how the park will evolve next year, the year after, and ten years later. No sense in moving dirt if the end result won’t cut the mustard or if the trails that can be built (maybe too steep, maybe too flat) means that there won’t be enough people wanting or able to ride them. A feasibility assessment, our version of a crystal ball, comes first. We look at the terrain, the chairlifts, the pub at the bottom of the hill. We look at the mountain bike culture in the area, the pent up demand for lift accessed riding. We write a report to tell them our honest opinion of what the future may or may not hold…for better or for worse.
These Boots Were Made For Walking: Next we move into the design phase. We walk the mountain up, down, and sideways. Then we walk it again before we even consider tying the first piece of flagging tape. We need to make sure that the Green trail we’re designing doesn’t take up valuable Blue Jump Trail real estate. We need to make sure the Black DH won’t cross the Green Trail and if it has to, that we can build a great overpass / jump / drop that both the Green riders and the DH riders will appreciate… something that keeps both users safe and that both users will think was built just for them. We also try to make the most of the natural terrain – the gullies, the knolls, the rock drops, and the benches. We need to make sure we build a mix of buffed Jump trails, twisty machine built singletrack, and raw hand-built Black DH.
Teamwork? Do we agree on everything? Absolutely not. We argue, debate, and discuss. Tom puts a survey flag in the ground and I move it when he’s not looking. Dave then ignores the flags altogether when he is sent to help oversee construction. The fact remains that sometimes it is 90% science and 10% art. Sometimes it is 10% science and 90% art. Despite our differences, we all agree that three heads are better than one, that sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes Tom is wrong, but that Dave is always right.
Getting Dirty: No matter how carefully we’ve planned we still rely on our builders (and our clients) to understand that the ability to make changes on the fly is incredibly important. Bedrock, wet clay, hidden springs, and poisonous snakes all conspire to turn our clear vision for the “perfect” trail into something less than ideal. Our builders tweak our design, our clients help however they can, and we transform those obstacles into some of our favorite sections of trail.
Lift-Off: Finally, the first chair loads with the first riders eagerly anticipating their first ride down. Are they wondering who built the trail? Do they have any idea how much it cost to build? Do they understand how much blood, sweat, and beer it took to take a small piece of the mountain and sculpt it into a trail? Who knows? Likely, just like us, all they want to do is ride. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.