Valemount bike park boosts tourism

Valemount might be known for its sledding and waist deep powder, but the sleepy mountain community has quickly established itself as mountain biking destination thanks to a new network of bike trails.

With more than 20 km of trials, riders from near and far–including Jasper–have been flocking to the area this summer to get their shred on.

The bike park has become such a hit that more than a dozen riders from Jasper carpooled to Valemount for Freewheel Cycle’s weekly group ride, July 19. Smaller groups from Jasper have also reportedly been camping in Valemount to get in on the action.

“It has attracted a new user group and that makes a significant difference in terms of the economic spin off for businesses in town,” said Jeannette Townsend, the mayor of Valemount.

Curtis Pawliuk, general manager for the Valemount and Area Recreational Development Association (VARDA), which is overseeing the project, shared similar feelings.

“It’s a very difficult thing in this day and age to get a new group excited about your destination and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing and by the time we’re done we’re going be on people’s radar,” said Pawliuk.

The project is the brainchild of Andreas Thoni, a Valemount local and member of the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (YORA).

Over several years the volunteer organization pooled its resources so it could hire professionals to design a master plan to build a mountain bike park in the area.

Completed in 2012, the master plan sat dormant for several years until YORA approached VARDA to take on the project.

Fast forward to 2014, shovels officially hit the ground in the fall building a suspension bridge over Swift Creek so riders could access trails on the north side of Swift Mountain.

The following summer, teams of builders began implementing the first phase of the master plan building several more trails, including Tin Foil Hat, one of the area’s most popular downhill trails.

“In less than two years we’ve come a very, very long way,” said Pawliuk. “The master plan is integral to the success we’ve had.”

Phase two started this summer, with the opening of the park’s first flow track called Bacon, on July 1. Builders also finished upgrading the Swift Creek trial, a 10-km-long trail that takes rides back to town or back up to the staging area.

An advance 4.5 km downhill trial is also slated to be completed by mid-September along with a one-kilometer connector trail, according to Pawliuk.

He said they intend to finish the master plan by the end of next summer, including adding a climbing trail.

“The ultimate goal is to have an IMBA epic, which is typically an alpine trail that is on the bucket list of all the elite mountain bikers,” said Pawliuk, in reference to the International Mountain Biking Association, which sets the bar when it comes to building trails.

While building an IMBA epic trail is part of the master plan, it has not yet been approved, according to Pawliuk.

He did however, confirm that they would like to join the B.C. Enduro Series as early as next summer, or bring a downhill race to Valemount.

To date, Pawliuk estimates that by the end of the fall they will have spent $350,000 to build the bike park through various grants from the Northern Development Initiative Trust and the Columbia Basin Trust. The regional district has also supported the project financially.

“We recognize that mountain biking is sports tourism at its finest,” said Joel McKay, director of communications for Northern Development Initiative Trust.

“If you bring mountain bikers into a community generally the demographic is such that they are people that have vehicles, they have disposable income, and they’re going to come for a few days. In a lot of ways they’re a great tourist to have in your community to support local businesses.”

Editor’s note: Paul Clarke, the editor for the Fitzhugh, was part of the Freewheel Cycle group ride in Valemount on July 19.

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