Behind the scenes: Trail building on Mt. Morrisey

A cedar bridge at the bottom of the downhill trail. Photo Sam Loxton.

As the snow recedes from the Sun Peaks valley this summer, trail builders will ascend alongside the thaw to prepare for the grand opening of the community’s newest trail system.

The vision for a purpose-built, pedal-access network on Mt. Morrisey was put into action last year to make use of the mountain’s unique elevation and topography. Sun Peaks Recreational Trail Association (SPRTA) hired the trails team from Canadian consulting firm McElhanney to survey the area and plan the trail network.

“You often forget Sun Peaks is actually three mountains — three very distinct mountains,” said Ted Morton, McElhanney’s project manager for the Morrisey network. “They have different slopes, they face different ways, and I think that’s something really cool to showcase here.”

Before ever stepping foot in the forest, the McElhanney team looked at aerial images of the area to identify potential routes with good terrain but little environmental impact.

Morton said his team looked for desirable slopes, forest density, wildlife indicators and how water features could affect soil quality. Then, they set out on foot with the local bike club to see what actually lies below the forest canopy.

“In the initial phase we tried to cover as much ground as possible on foot and on bikes,” said SPRTA president Sam Loxton. “Broadly identifying where the wet area is, where the nice forest is. And then [McElhanney] went back and did more of a fine survey to really look for the specific trail corridors and natural points of interest.”

Views while the layout of Out and Back. Photo Sam Loxton.

Three initial trails were identified for the first stage of the buildout: intersecting intermediate climb and descent trails, to be opened seasonally from bottom to top, and an optional mountaintop out-and-back add-on reaching into Morrisey’s winter backcountry zone.

Since they planned for the mountaintop trail to extend outside Sun Peaks Resort LLP’s (SPR) original license of occupation, SPRTA required an environmental assessment and First Nations consultation before breaking ground.

The project team consulted with an archaeologist, representatives from the Adams Lake Indian Band, Neskonlith Indian Band and Little Shuswap Lake Band, as well as a representative from the provincial government. Together, they explored the intended route for areas of archaeological and wildlife significance, and SPRTA got the go-ahead.

They wanted the trail to be about the same difficulty as the top of the uphill trail, so anyone making the climb could access the unique Sun Peaks valley views.

“It will be narrower and have more of an old-school technical feeling, but they’ll use a little bit of machine in there as well,” Loxton said. “That one will be open for hiking too.”

Starr Trail Solutions was hired to design and build the trail surface. Morton, who has ridden a fair share of trails as founder of the Canadian National Enduro Series, said Starr’s team is one of the best on the scene right now.

“That will be a phenomenally built trail,” Morton said. “They incorporate features like natural rises in the terrain, different types of soil and rock, and different types of corners so you’re not just riding switchback-to-switchback. They incorporate a lot of hand-building in their crew too.”

The new downhill trail uses the “three second rule,” meaning they’ve included features like small rollers, berms, shark fins and grade reversals to keep the rider engaged by having to move their bike at least every three seconds.

That same level of detail has gone into the network’s de-facto climb trail too. Morton said Kamloops riders will find it different to what they’re used to riding in town, where sparse forest often creates steep, relatively demanding switchback climbs.

“Here, that’s not what we designed. It’s lower-grade so you’re going to be travelling faster,” Morton said. “We haven’t just tried to bring you to the top for a descent — this is a journey.”

Morton said the project team has given a lot of thought to the perspective of the rider, such as where technical spots or recovery zones should be placed along the way. They also tried to keep challenging spots out of the direct sun and made the trail pass water sources regularly so dogs could cool off.

“There are running creeks with cedar bridges … There’s one spot where I’ve weaved the climbing trail through two massive old cedar trees, so you get this shaded, flowy up-track,” Morton said. “Then as you climb through the network you get into more of the Kamloops sparse forest.”

Looking ahead, SPRTA has a handful of trail projects ready to break ground next. Loxton said they hope to add more technical features to the network with an alternate blue descent and develop a new black route to explore different aspects of the mountain.

“Getting these first three trails in is kind of the foundation or the scaffolding of what could become a big network,” Loxton said. “Once you’ve got a climb trail, you just need to build more trails off the top.”

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