British Columbia has a reputation as one of the world's premiere mountain biking destinations, attracting visitors from all over the globe to ride our superlative trails. During the summer of 2011, Whistler Mountain Bike Park reached it's one-millionth rider, an unprecedented milestone in the sport.
But it's not just Whistler that has experienced growth in popularity with visiting mountain bikers. Bike parks, as well as community based trail systems across the province continue to attract more and more tourists every year. The Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium (MBTS), scheduled for May 26-28 in Sooke on Vancouver Island, will bring together government, land managers, community leaders and trail advocates and builders to discuss how to maintain that momentum for the future.
“What we're really hoping to do is to build upon what we've already created,” said Martin Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association (MBTA).
“We're recognized as one of the hotbeds for mountain bike vacations globally and our ultimate goal is to drive more visits to B.C. for mountain biking. We're also trying to support the product that we have here by engaging a lot of communities and resorts around the province that are developing that experience.”
With a large slice of B.C.’s mountain bike tourism flowing through the Sea to Sky, other communities around the province hope to learn a bit from Whistler’s success story. The general manager of Crankworx, Darren Kinnaird will be sharing his experiences of organizing the largest mountain bike festival in the world.
“When people do think of B.C. for mountain biking, the first thing that pops into their mind is Whistler, there's no question about that,” said Littlejohn.
“We certainly recognize Whistler as our flagship. Once people do come, perhaps during their (pre-vacation) research they begin to realize that there are other parts of the province to explore as well.
“We are getting that kind of feedback from our community partners. As a baseline, we are seeing US and internationals visitors, as well as those coming from other provinces, that are representing a significant portion of people coming to their trails.”
The MBTS is by no means the first conference to be held in B.C. The North Shore World Mountain Bike Conference was held in North Vancouver in the summer of 2004, when the biggest issues were land management and conflicts around the urban interface of bike trails. At that time mountain biking was simply looking to establish a sustainable future. Nine years later the sport has exploded and riders, government and industry are mostly cooperating.
But the backbone of the mountain bike experience is still the trail itself, and both construction and maintenance standards are as important as ever.
“The trail is the core product, it's the part that provides the motivation,” said Littlejohn.
“We want to share the best of those practices around trail building; what makes it fun, what attracts people and what sometimes gives it that legendary status.”
In recent years more and more cross-country trail networks across B.C. have become legitimized, allowing mountain biking to develop as a more community-based experience rather than resort-based. Rogue trail building still exists, but Littlejohn believes that with the current calibre of authorized trails available there is a reduced need for riders to head out into the woods on their own.
“I don't know if we'll ever eliminate (rogue building) completely, but I think if the quality of the trails being built now to some extent lessens the need for someone to go out and build their own trail. Sometimes I think people are caught up in some of the folklore of mountain biking, the allure of creating your own secret trail somewhere. I suspect it has more of a place in nostalgia now and less in reality as time moves on.”