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Feature - Trailblazers

History, passion, vision, chemistry and sweat going into resurrection of Sea to Sky Trail project

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A few steps from Whistler’s well-beaten path are the roads that diverge into the woods. In fact, the woods are riddled with trails – bear corridors, old logging roads, hiking tracks, mountain-bike trails. A lifetime’s worth of exploring. The depth and dimensions of Whistler that aren’t visible from your vehicle bleed out like arteries into the wild green mountains. Nobody knows all the trails in Whistler. Or how they came to be.

Anyone can build a trail. You just need a chainsaw, shovel, pick and prybar; and you can go to it. Your productivity is going to be slow, unless you have a bobcat and mini excavator at your disposal. Not to mention that your renegade trail-building runs a few risks. You might be fined by the Crown, sued for trespassing; you might leave an area butchered, a mess of water runnels, eroding gullies, abandoned lumber.

To cut a good trail, a quality trail, you’ll need to do some groundwork. Topographic maps. Aerial photographs.

"Planning is a very important aspect," says master trailbuilder Ross Kirkwood. "First you look at your maps and take your best guess at the route you’d like to follow. Then you go out on the ground and prove it."

You’ll walk it out. Note obstacles. Look for the terrain features – viewpoints, fields of wildflowers, abandoned logging equipment, old stumps – which you’ll be looking to incorporate into the trail. You’ll burrow down, find the logging roadbed that’s been hidden for a hundred years. Seek out control points, like river crossings, minor cliffbands, low passes. Flag and reflag the route.

You’re more artist than slasher. Have a feel for the land, its curves, its flaws, its secrets.

"It’s a long process," says Don MacLaurin. MacLaurin has had his hand in creating the Whistler Interpretive Forest, the Musical Bumps Trail, the Russet Lake and Wedgemount huts, and was involved with the Sea to Sky Trail Society in its first incarnation in the ’90s. "You try to visualize what it’s going to look like. Good trailbuilding is as much an art-form as it is a technical ability."

Negotiating and promoting are MacLaurin’s strong points. His trailbuilding efforts over a 40 year residence in Whistler have combined the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of Forests, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Rotary Club, the B.C. Federation of Mountaineering Clubs and Whistler Mountain.

Not everybody works so well at co-ordinating interest groups, collaborating with the powers-that-be. Which is why renegade trail building has flourished in Whistler.

"Most of the good trails have been built essentially by dedicated individuals who give their free time to hack and shovel and create the trail they want," says Mike Manheim, one of the "visionary hammerheads" behind the Sea to Sky Trail concept. "But the RMOW’s involvement in local trails is cutting edge. They’ve evolved in skill over the last five years tremendously, and what they’re doing now is really state of the art."

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