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Stewart Spooner: Rossland, B.C.’s Trail Guru

I say British Columbia and what comes to mind first? Bike parks, Skinnys, Latters, Features, Steeps, Gnarly, Rooty, Whistler, and Interior BC are all probable options. Despite being awarded the title of "Mountain Bike Capital of Canada" in 1993, Rossland may not what register first with most mountain bikers. Home to Red Mountain ski resort, Rossland is more known for its skiing than its biking. That said, it's hardly utilized for either amazing resource. The town of roughly 3,000 people sits approximately 2,000 feet above the Columbia River and its neighboring town of Trail, BC. What we found during our stay in Rossland was an incredible network of trails (roughly 150 kms worth) that were mostly empty, with the exception of the incredibly friendly and accommodating locals.

 

One of those locals was Stewart Spooner, the trails manager for the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society. I sat down with Spooner to talk about the state of Rossland Singletrack.—Cam McLeod

 

Rossland Steward Spooner
Spooner enjoys his morning coffee while contemplating his next trail project.

When did you move to Rossland?

I moved here in 1991 from Melbourne, Australia. My brother, a friend and I bought a Volkswagen van and drove from Vancouver to be ski bums.

 

What were the trails like in 1991?

The trails were steep, rough and a lot of different styles of riding. One popular style was to point it straight down the hill, sit behind your seat and surf it down the gnarliest line you could find. The other style—and local law—was when you went out and cleared your line, you left all your logs in place and there a lot of logs around here. If anyone in your group made it over the log, then the log stayed. It was sort of a challenge that everyone else had to rise up to get over and people became pretty good at getting over logs, so the riding became somewhat like a steeple chase. You would surf down something really radical and any flat sections you would do these crazy maneuvers over logs, then another steep bit and some more logs. That was riding.

 

Gradually we heard about skinnys and bridges in Vancouver and started incorporating that into the trails and that's when I started building trails as a job.

Rossland Mountain Biker
Colin Treanor enjoys the fruits of Spooner’s labor.

How did you stumble into this position Trails Manager with the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society?

I wanted to build a map of the local trails and I connected with the local trails society. I realized that they had a whole bunch of plans with what they wanted to achieve with developing the local trail network, but no idea how to do it. So I suggested that they should pay me and I would implement their plans. They put me on with a fairly modest position to start with. By the end of the year I seemed to make them happy and I got a bit more money and a bit more opportunity and have built it up since then

 

What year was this?

That was 2001. The first year was just me and the chainsaw. I would clear the trails of windfall, put up a few signs and I had to decide which of the existing trails would become part of the official trail network and imagine how it could become better. And I have been trying to find ways to do this since.

Rossla Kootenays
A sampling of what Spooner has to work with. The Kootenays surrounding Trail, B.C.

In the 12 years you've been with the Trails Society, How many kilometers of trails have you established?

A Lot.

 

Do you know how many Kilometers of trail exist officially?

We did a count once and we have about 150 km of trail. I would guess at least 3 quarters of that were developed specifically for trail use since then.

 

How would you describe your trails?

When compared to other places, I think we have a bigger mix of trails. We have a whole range, from fairly moderate experiences to more challenging ones. I don't just build stuff that I want to ride. We try to make as many people happy as we can with the public money we receive.

Down the rabbit hole.

Where does your funding come from?

Most of it is from local or regional government. It has some peculiarities in the local political situation. We get $65,000 from the region, which is all the local communities pulling their money together. The city of Rossland, which also contributes to that regional function, contributes another $20,000 in recognition that most of the trails or located around Rossland. Because we receive this regional funding, we are making efforts to do more work in the other communities.

 

What would you recommend for visiting mountain bikers?

I think our best experience is for the all mountain rider. If you like to peddle up and enjoy sort of moderate technical trails, we have an endless selection of good riding. We are not really catering to the high-end downhill market like the bike parks. There are certainly places that have a more focused high-end downhill scene in British Columbia. Someone who is used to smooth Colorado singletrack on their 29'er might find the B.C. terrain more technical than ideal. But for people who like a little technical challenge, we have tons of good riding.

Rossland Red Top Trail
Overlooking Trail, B.C. from the Red Top trail.

What is the classic Rossland riding experience?

Most people who come here want to ride the Seven Summits trail. The Seven Summits has a bigger reputation than anything else we have here. It's a big outing and certainly a goal for lots of people.

 

What the best trail for beginners?

A lot of the trails close to town are user friendly. Trails like Larry's, Moe's, Green Door and Milky Way, Drakes, Tamarack… these are great for those lower skilled mountain bikers, by our definition.

 

What is the best trail for flow?

Monticola is the one that you could ride chainless and pump your way down.

 

What is the best trail for those that want to jump their bike and ride features?

The Flume and Cherry Poppins are both really challenging. They have big rock drops and high skinnys, lots old school rooty, steep, gnarliness. If you have a big bike and want to go shuttle something, they are the popular ones.
Rossland Red Top
For those that are familiar with Red Mountain and want to go experience the ski resort in the summer, what are some good options?

Red Top is a trail that goes right to the top of Red Mountain itself. You get right to the top of the lift with an amazing perspective of the ski resort. It's a challenging climb but super fun coming back down and it's definitely worth the ride just for the view.

 

What's the most scenic ride?

It's hard to beat the Seven Summits. Whether you do the whole ride or you do it as an out and back, its hard to beat.

 

Is the trail society working on anything new at the moment?

We have endless projects.  We are making a concerted effort to try to provide more experiences to the other communities in the region that give us money. We have been putting a lot of effort into developing a fun, all-mountain style trail in Trail. It will be nice for us too. [The snow] clears much earlier and the season lasts much longer in Trail. There are years when you can bike there all year around.

 

We also have a big project which seems a bit daunting. We are going to build a trail that starts at the Nancy Green Pass trail head, where the start of the Seven Summits trail is, and build a trail all the way back to Red Mountain resort. It will be about a 17km, moderate level, two-way trail.
Rossland Red Top Trees
What motivates you as a trail builder?

I love designing and imaging the new things. I love wandering through the forest and thinking about where the new trail is going to go with a roll of tape in my pocket wondering where the hell I'm going to build a trail through all this mess.

 

How would you describe your style and approach to trail building?

I'm probably looking at it like a skier. I was a surfer, then a skier and then a mountain biker. I come to these things with a strong sense that I want flow and rhythm in my trails. I'm always looking for bouncing turns through the powder. I want to be doing that on my bike. I want to be finding those moments of un-weighting and pump and flow and projection and some sort of rhythm. Whether it's easy to find on a bermed rollercoaster of a trail through the sandy forest, or whether it's linking up little rock bluffs and features that take a little more skill. It's that same feeling whether you’re pumping down a wave or ripping through the powder—it's that feeling on a bike that really motivates me. The more opportunities I can create for different people to have that experience, the better, I reckon.