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Whistler gets it right with bike trails

Liability, risk management hot topics at international mountain bike conference



Reliable statistics on the number of riders out there using the trails are hard to come by, but today 70 per cent of all bikes sold are mountain bikes.

One thing was clear to the participants in the North Shore World Mountain Bike Festival and Conference, and that was the sport of mountain biking is too big, and far too complex, to be ignored.

Representatives from municipal governments as far away as Scotland and Australia took part in the three-day conference, hoping to learn how to deal with issues like trail construction and erosion, liability, trail user conflicts on public land, mountain bike tourism, and public safety. Most had already reached the conclusion that the sport was not going to go away, and that it made better sense to take an interest in the development and management of the sport than to ignore it or attempt to shut it down.

Whistler is already considered a global leader, with its popular bike park, a network of sanctioned and unsanctioned trails, and the Whistler Trail Standards manual, which is already in use around the world. In addition, the RMOW fully backs the mountain bike community, building trails, fostering youth programs, holding events and backing the maintenance of the trail network through groups like Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association.

Mountain biking is not as accepted in other towns.

In Victoria, home to many of Canada’s top mountain bike competitors, riders are only allowed to build and ride singletrack in specific designated areas. In the U.S., some popular areas were closed to mountain bikers as a result of erosion or trail user conflicts. Even on Vancouver’s North Shore, which gave birth to a whole new style of riding, there are lingering concerns about rogue trail builders, trail standards, erosion, liability, and user conflicts.

Because most municipal governments don’t have the resources to monitor and manage their mountain bike areas, a lot of that responsibility has been passed off to the mountain bikers themselves. Clubs are assuming responsibility for trails and the development of the sport through their membership, as well as providing insurance to clinics and events.

These partnerships, and understanding the concept of risk management, may ultimately be what saves mountain biking.

According to Keith Gibson of the Municipal Insurers Association, "Everybody needs to start off with a basic understanding of the legal issues. The problem is that local governments are being asked to provide all kinds of resources, more resources all the time, but property owners don’t want anybody to raise taxes," he said. "That’s why (local governments) try to find groups and volunteers that are willing to build trails and build skateboard parks, and assume some of the responsibility over those areas as well."