The chairlifts at Mount Washington – known for taking skiers and snowboarders up the side of the mountain to enjoy some of the best winter conditions anywhere in North America – will be spinning this summer taking bikes and riders up to enjoy the fruits of Mike Manara and his team’s recent hard work.
Manara is the resort’s Snow School Director in the winter, but he is also in charge of the mountain’s Mountain Biking Operations – responsible for the design, construction and rebuild of the mountain biking trail system on the mountain – and he is very much looking forward to showing it off to the riding public after a three-year hiatus of their mountain biking program.
“The decision to reintroduce the Bike Park wasn’t taken lightly,” says Don Sharpe, director of business operations at the resort. “Our new owners are committed to a successful long-term plan for summer development, so they wanted to make sure that whatever we did was sustainable. We have all been working on bringing mountain biking back to Mount Washington since last November.”
And back it will be. Manara and his team have been researching, repairing and building for months now, traveling to some of the best downhill facilities in North America for ideas and advice.
Manara was recently afforded the chance to spend three days riding in Park City, Utah, for example, at one of only five International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Gold Level facilities in the world.
“When you go to a place like that with such a variety of top-quality riding, you can’t help but be inspired to bring back great ideas we can use here,” Manara says.
And while he was down there, he met with Charlie Sturgis, head of the Mountain Trails Foundation, and discussed their trail network and how they achieved such a world-class park. But that’s typical for Manara. He’s always talking to people about bike parks, intent on making Mt. Washington’s the best it can be.
“By spending time with industry partners,” Manara says, “we have been working on best practices with our connections at Whistler Bike Park and Silverstar to absorb knowledge from the top parks in the industry.”
And that’s what he wants to make Mount Washington.
It’ll help that there’s money being put into the project. Mount Washington is planning for an estimated $250,000 to be invested in the park this summer with ongoing enhancements coming every year thereafter.
The first phase – of three – of the bike park rebuild was focused on the park entrance at the Hawk Chair. The team started that section with a series of berms that Manara says “will be fun for every skill level.”
Additionally, Manara says, the mountain’s easiest trail, “Green Line,” (also Vancouver Island’s longest uninterrupted mountain bike descent, according to Mount Washington), has also been reworked, as has the more demanding “Back in Black.”
Phase two of the rebuild will entail connecting a number of the old trails into one new line to create the park’s first intermediate run, called “Hot Wheels.”
Phase three will see the top sections of the mountain addressed, along with a rebuild of the park’s scenic 10 km cross-country bike loop, “The Finger Trail,” which can be ridden from the base area without taking a chairlift.
It’s not like they don’t know what the park needs. Manara and his crew are all avid riders themselves, and have many, many years of experience doing exactly this.
Manara himself was one of the founding members of the United Riders of Cumberland in the Comox Valley and has served for many years as their president. He was instrumental in the negotiations to get a land use agreement with private landowners to develop the Cumberland trail system. He has served as the Vancouver Island representative for the Mountain Bike Tourism Association and is a past recipient of the Lars Fossberg Award – an annual award presented by the Canada West Ski Areas Association to a young manager of a ski area who shows a high degree of creativity along with the ability to improvise.
And he has formed a team of trail builders that he feels would rival any other.
Bill McLane from Nanaimo, for example, worked on the trails for the mountain biking film Builder and helped build the original “Monster Mile” trail on Mount Washington, one of the mountain’s signature runs.
Mario Fehrenberg and Scott Stansbury have come along with Manara from the Cumberland club system, joining Jerry Baker from Courtenay and Tony Radomi, who has been with the resort for over 15 years and was, in fact, the original builder of the venerable “Back in Black” run. Nick Dunn and his brother, Peter have relocated from Fernie to the Comox Valley to be a part of the rebuild, as well. Oh, and Nick just happens to be a former Canadian Junior Downhill Champion.
Jef Gurney, also born and raised in the Comox Valley, began the first bike-specific trails around Comox Lake in 1990 and has been a part of the building or repairing of dozens of others in the region, as well.
And that’s not even the whole crew. Manara has put together a group of 12 riders and builders who he knows will turn the Mount Washington Bike Park into one of the gems of Vancouver Island. And he’s whipping them into shape.
“I am hands on with the crew,” he says. “We are finding new ways to build great trails at the resort, including using smaller machines which require less reclamation work. This means the overall time spent on the trail work is more productive and less impactful on the environment while producing more interesting riding because it can have a better flow with the terrain.”
And flow it must have. All 12 builders on the team agree that building fast, flowy, smooth trails is what makes the riding fun.
“That’s why it’s great that all the people building the trails are also riders,” Manara says. “It’s important that the people building the trails understand the flow and style that makes the experience great for the rider.
Mount Washington’s general manager Peter Gibson says they are “thrilled to be back in the bike business. The amount of work the crew has put in is astounding, and it shows in the quality of the trails that are ready to ride.”
The bike park will be open 7 days a week from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm except for Thursdays when the park will remain open until 7 pm to give people a chance to get up there for a few hours after work.