Q & A With Bike Park Manager Evan Cole

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We sat down with Evan Cole of the Snowshoe Bike Park to chat about what it takes to get the Bike Park ready for a summer of riding.

Evan Cole is the Bike Park Manager. Roadside meetings are common as the crew is spread out getting the trails ready.

Q: What is your official title?

A: Bike Park Manager

Q: Starting in the winter, when do you even begin to think about the Bike Park and getting it ready for the summer?

A: We spend pretty much the entire year, even in the winter, looking forward to projects trying to figure out ways to make our drainage better, be more efficient at trying to get the trails ready for the early season, and then probably about the start of April, right when the winter season starts to die down, is when we start really getting in to exploring the trails, checking them out. There’s usually a good covering of snow until that first week of April anyway. We get out there and hike things, look for trees that have fallen throughout the winter season and go from there.

Q: We have over 40 trails here, how do you prioritize what trail gets worked on first? Or does it even matter?

A: Over the past few years we’ve come to realize what our more popular, favorited trails are; Skyline being one of those, Dreamweaver, Dirt Beaver, Easy Street. Our flow trails, the progression trails that people are utilizing the most; those get the most traffic and those are our longest trails so they take the most damage throughout the winter season and from summer season to summer season. They just see a lot of abuse from all the riders.

Q: Can you walk through the steps to go from the closing weekend of winter to the opening weekend of Bike Park? What needs to be accomplished?

A: Clear the trees, check the trails out. A lot of times we’ll take a leaf blower and try to get all the debris, all the wet leaves off the trail so it can dry out and we can see what we’re working with; what kind of tread is leftover from the year before; if we’re going to need to resurface something or just give it a nice rock rake. That’s the main thing. We come down, leaf blow then go down with rakes and hand tools. This is usually a crew of 4-8 guys. This year we’ve been fortunate to have a pretty large size crew, at one point we had 12 people from different departments helping us out.

So come down with rakes, hand tools and try to make everything smooth again. We’re trying to remove all those baby heads, loose rocks that popped up from the freeze and the thaw. And then some of the more wet sections we’ll take a plate compactor to pack down those areas so the erosion doesn’t get too bad.

Q: So basically, clear the trails of any brush and debris, scrape the loose rocks out of the way for the most part?

A: Yeah. I’d say the loose rocks are our biggest issue. And then our trails like Skyline, we went down with an excavator and cleaned out a lot of the sumps. The drainage is another thing we try to check as we’re going down the trail with leaf blowers. We’re trying to make sure those drains are actually working; the sumps, the culverts are clear so water has a place to go so it’s not eroding the trail in a place we don’t want. And then yeah, that’s pretty much it. I say pretty much it but it’s a lot.

Q: So its 6 weeks or so between the end of winter and the start of summer. You take pretty much that whole time?

A: Oh yeah. I think we get about 6 or 7 weeks from that first week of April depending on when the bike park opens up. We spend four days a week, sometimes five, a lot of our crew’s been working five days a week, you know, 45-50 hours just putting in that extra time trying to get things ready because even with the large crew that we’ve got; adding trails every year, growing the ridership, we’ve doubled our rider numbers in the past 3 or 4 years. More than doubling rider visits really makes an impact on the trails. Its not always that winter season being dreadful or a lot of snow or the drains are clogged. A lot of times its just all the riders that come along. 75% of them are taking a lap down Skyline so that trail takes a big beating throughout the season. As smooth as it is right now, I’m sure here in a month after we open there’s going to be rocks popping up all over the place.

Q: So what does that during the season, or continuing, maintenance look like?

A: As we get things ready for the season we try to prioritize or eye up some problem areas that we see along the trails. Usually those include drainage, wet areas of the trails, cause we’ve got such a difficult kind of terrain here with our rocks and roots, a lot of springs that pop up in the springtime, so we try to prioritize those. A lot of the guys are actually riders which is a good thing. It helps us. They’ll work during the week, see some things, test some things that they’ve worked on, go out and also find some new projects to work on that following week and they’ll come to me and say we really need to fix this bridge or this turn on H or Skyline or something. And we’re able to go out there and tackle those problems. We check the flow trails periodically but a lot of it does come from getting out there and seeing the trails.

Q: So what can you tell us about this Whistle Pig extension that’s going on right now?

A: It’s definitely an exciting addition to the Bike Park. Its something we don’t have right now. I think it’s a more singletrack feel, something you might find in a state forest, definitely smooth, machine built trail but its got a lot of up and down in it. Its not necessarily a complete downhill trail I wouldn’t say. It’s pretty flat in some sections, kind of rolls along using the natural rocks and roots. It’s a beautiful trail. I think its going to be a lot of fun for that green level rider that’s looking for something else to ride besides Easy Street and the traditional Whistle Pig. Its just a little more narrow and will get them accustomed to a trail more like Dreamweaver or Dirt Beaver where they’re going to find a more narrow corridor.

Q: Is that the primary reason that got put in? To help make that transition from the wider Whistle Pig to narrower Dreamweaver?

A: It’s kind of double faceted. You’ve got that being a great opportunity to grow your rider, get them ready for another step but also we’ve got a lot maintenance issues we like to do on Easy Street or Whistle Pig. They’re flatter trails, they hold a lot of water and its not as easy to shed the water off of them. And where they’re 8 or 10 feet wide in some sections they take a lot of abuse from the rain and things like that. So to be able to close a certain section down and not limit the amount of beginner terrain we have for the guests is really crucial for us. Especially after an event like GNCC where, I don’t want to say they tear it up but, they practically tear up that middle section of Easy Street, so now we’ll be able to avoid that with the new section of Whistle Pig. So if we need to spend a day to fix that or there’s a berm on Easy Street that the guys want to go work on we’re able to close that section down and send traffic somewhere else and give them a couple more beginner options instead of saying you’re a beginner level rider? Sorry. Everything’s closed.

Q: How do you determine when its time for a trail to get a revamp or a reroute?

A: Tough question. We’ve got a lot of letter trails like A, B. Those are probably the two most predominate ones that are just really troughed out, gullied out. You reach a point where, unless you come in and add soil to re-raise the level of the ground, you’re going to be below the water level just in the natural terrain. Once you get something like that you realize there’s no building that trail back up you have two options. You could either come in with a machine and try to rebuild the tread; stack it up and get it above the water, or, you could reroute the trail and almost create an entirely new trail really depending on what you’re going for. Whether its more of a flow trail or a jump trail or a beginner trail or expert trail, something single track, it all depends on what you’re goal, long term, is. If you’re trying to replace the trail or you said hey we don’t need a black diamond here, hey we don’t need singletrack here, you’d come in with a machine and do some re-grading, create some more switchbacks, try to change the whole trail.

Q: Speaking of that, is there something going on with Missing Link?

A: We’re working with Trail Solutions from IMBA again; a good crew. They’ve helped us a number of times. They helped us with Big Ash last year, they’ve done some work with the World Cup. A number of people have come from Snowshoe which is cool, its kind of a local feel whenever they show up and help us out. But, Missing Link’s going to get a whole new face lift; turn it in to actually that true missing link component of the Bike Park that we’re missing; where the rider fails to progress from Skyline to Ninja Bob to a trail like Big Ash. There’s a fairly large jump there and that rider is missing out with something to kind of piece that together. So this new, kind of, change up with Missing Link is really going to fit into the two of those and make a nice composite of trails over there on that right side.

Q: We’re sitting on P right now, or Rooty Pebbles. Can you tell us what we’re doing on P and why the team is putting in so much work in on P for this season?

A: It’s exciting. We’ve got two Downhill Southeast races this year. We’ve got an early season, right after opening weekend and then we’ve got another one in July tag teamed with our Go Nuts series. Its going to be neat because we haven’t done a big race on the Basin side here in I couldn’t tell you how many years so to be able to use something that people are familiar with, Rooty Pebbles, and also give them some new sections that they’ve never even thought about riding before, using some of the IBO sections of trails, old Powerade Race Series from like 2009. We’re talking like 15 years old. So its pretty cool to bring back some of those sections that some people might even remember but also give them something they’re familiar with and give them a race on something that they’re not used to racing down. People are typically over on Pro DH or Hareball so to be able to come over here on the Basin, have a little bit shorter track but maybe about the same time, it’ll be neat.

Q: The floor is yours. Anything you want to say?

A: I’d just like to give a shout out to all the guys working. Like I said, we’ve got a big crew this year which has been a blessing. We had some help from Bike Patrol members and also from Snowmaking, some snowmakers have joined our team season and they’ve been a great help, they’ve really been kicking butt. Its going to be an exciting beginning of the season. I think people are going to be stoked and I know all the hard work is going to pay off for these guys.