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New Squamish trail offers bikers a chance for serious air time

'Airplane Mode' has opened up thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer work.

A new mountain biking trail has opened up, offering riders a chance to soar through the air, thanks to its many jumps.

It's just one of the reasons why the route has aptly been named Airplane Mode by its creators at OneUp Components, a local company that engineers and sells mountain biking parts.

"You've got the fact that it's a jump trail — so air time — but also there's no service down there at all," said Owen Foster, the company's director of operations. "There's not one network that has one bar. So you might as well be in airplane mode."

The trail can be found in the Diamond Head trail network, by Quest University.

Foster said the idea came about in 2017 when employees of the company, then a small startup, went on one of its group lunch rides.

"We came [back] from a ride, and we're just working in the afternoon one day, and someone was like, 'Man, we need a jump trail,'" said Foster.

"Somebody had just come back from Bellingham, or the Sunshine Coast or somewhere else where they had had a really good jump experience. And I think that was just the spark in the room."

The team at the company then started the process of making it a reality. However, while it was an effort spearheaded by the company, the work was done on personal time. Other community groups put in work as well.

In total, Foster estimates that about 2,500 volunteer hours and over 100 volunteers made the project happen. All of the work was done with hand tools.

It started with Foster, who has much experience with local trail building, taking care of the logistical side of things.

This involved identifying a piece of Crown land and an area that didn't cross parcel borders. It also required consultation with those who had interests in the land — such as anyone with logging tenure — and then making an application to the province to get the ball rolling.

Then came the months-long waiting period. Once the provincial government gave its blessing around November 2018, chainsaw work was done to clear out an area.

In 2019, about 1,500 hours of volunteer work was spent on roughing, which is the process of removing unusable material. That included two or three Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association (SORCA) group trail days, which brought in about 50 people each day.

"Just like, bucking out blowdown and throwing it off to the side of the trail. And then kind of pulling up the layer of duff and organic material, the stuff that will never get hard and firm enough to be a trail," said Foster. "In that process, you bump into rocks and roots and more rotten stuff. And then you come across like a 100-year-old rotten old growth cedar… you're up to your waist in red rot cedar before you hit anything that you can work with."

It takes a long time to remove the debris before there can be a working corridor for a trail.

"It's basically just bucketing mulch off of the forest floor. It's really not skilled, it just takes a long

time," Foster said.

Other groups that contributed were a physical education class from Howe Sound Secondary and volunteers from the Squamish 50 race.

That process took about a year.

At the same time, OneUp was growing, said Foster. Back when the idea was first thought up, it was a five-person team. In 2019, it had grown to about eight.

"And our three hires that came in that time, were all like extremely talented trail builders," he said.

As a result, Fraser Brown and Corey Ellah, who were hired around that time, became the lead trail builders.

"Really lucky for the project that those guys took the reins," Foster said.

He said he, Brown and Ellah put in about 1,000 hours between the three of them.

One of the key aspects of designing a good jump trail involves the angle.

"It needs to be a pretty low angle, like your rise over run needs to be shallow — it can't be steep, because airtime and going downhill at the same time equals a lot of brakes and brakes equals not sustainable," said Foster. "It's just going to get ruined if you're trying to make it smooth and flowy and comfortable and inviting to land on."

The trail officially opened on June 25, 2022.

And OneUp has become a 20-person outfit.

Foster said that it's a trail that allows for progression. This means that riders not as comfortable in the air can still coast through the trail at slower speeds, which would keep them on the ground.

As they get more comfortable, they can up their air time.

There are a couple of corners that make it harder than a blue trail, but he called it an inviting black diamond.

"My first real experience riding it was with the whole team," said Foster. "We just had a hoot, brought a big barbecue and spent the day. It was a work day — we just kind of signed off and shut the company for a day and went up and had a blast. It was sublime."