Jessica Foster could not be happier to be riding a chairlift. The mountain biker from Fenton, Michigan was selected for a seven day road trip around the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions as part of Mountain Biking BC's annual contest giveaway, which took place during the first week of August.
"I feel like I'm home again," said Foster as she rode the Fitzsimmons Chair in the Whistler Bike Park, the noise of Crankworx fading as the lift rapidly ascended the lower slopes of Whistler Mountain.
"There was just no amount of training that could have prepared me for those two climbs. The first (day in Wells) took so much out of me that for the rest of the trip I was just fighting to gain my energy back again. I'm very happy to see this chairlift."
Foster and her fiancé Chad Gilbert flew to Williams Lake via Vancouver before connecting to Wells for their first day of riding. Along with an entourage of local trail builders, mountain biking advocates and an assortment of media, the couple rode and pushed their bikes up hundreds of vertical metres of gold rush wagon trails before descending back to the historic mining town via the new Powderhouse trail. Having never been to B.C. before and never ridden mountain bikes in the West, the Michigan couple were thrown in at the deep end.
"I'll never take my bike park laps for granted again," said Foster, who back home drives with Gilbert for up to eight hours one-way to race downhill at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.
The alpine challenge in Wells was just the beginning. The contest itinerary looped back down to Williams Lake for two days before heading into the Chilcotins for the epic ride from Tyax Lodge to Spruce Lake, which saw the couple climbing with their bikes over 1,100 metres of elevation gain.
But the week-long mountain bike road trip served a broader purpose than touring the lucky Michigan couple around the Cariboo's best trails.
"The trip's purpose is two fold," said Martin Littlejohn, executive director of the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association.
"The online contest lets us promote mountain biking in specific regions of B.C. and it's an opportunity for those advocating mountain biking in their communities to get together, ride some great trails and build relationships. We visit a different region of B.C. every year."
One of the reasons the Cariboo was selected for this year's contest was the focus on the region's economic diversification plan. The impacts of the mountain pine beetle to the region's forestry industry has prompted significant financial support for the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium (CMBC) from both the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
"Mountain biking is probably one of the most organized and focused tourism sectors in the Cariboo and it's the fastest growing," said Justin Calof, Executive Director of the CMBC.
"Between 2010 and 2012 there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of trail users in Williams Lake alone, which was on of the metrics we used to calculate the 12 per cent increase in the economic impact of mountain biking in the region since 2010. Williams Lake is the leader of the Cariboo mountain bike economy; we have the most trails, the longest history and it's certainly the hub. Our tactic is to try to spread that wealth around the region as we grab more market share for the Cariboo."
One part of the strategy employed by the CMBC was to develop a new signature trail — such as A-Line in Whistler or Half Nelson in Squamish — one that would attract people regionally, and beyond, to come ride Williams Lake and then hopefully travel to surrounding riding destinations. That trail is Snakes & Ladders, a photo of which is currently featured on the "Ride the Cariboo" billboard that can be seen southbound on Highway 99 just south of Squamish.
"We went out for a whole season, we talked to stakeholders and all the local riders," said Thomas Schoen, the trail builder contracted for the Snakes & Ladders project.
"We asked what everyone wanted and the ridership was calling for a combination of technical stunts, a cross country climbing line and a fast, big-bike line. We used over 22,000 board feet of lumber, the equivalent of two family homes."
The result is an advanced trail with unparalleled variety, all built to standard while still maintaining the burly character that the mountain biking in Williams Lake is known for.
"We've worked with the (Williams Lake) cycling club to build a management plan for trail building and trail management that really pushes the envelope of the Whistler standard, which I think is very limiting on mountain biking provincially," said Calof.
"We've driven some change to those standards that allow us to build bigger trails, bigger stunts but with the appropriate liability and safety standards."
For more information on mountain biking in the Cariboo go to ridethecariboo.ca