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I don't like the direction of modern trail building

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11/13/2020 12:26 PM

Our sport has had a massive influx in the last couple of years. More riders, more money, more media attention and as a byproduct more trails. Overall I think this is a good thing. More MTB specific trails are great, especially single direction MTB trails. But there has also been a trend in the last few years to make the most bland, boring repetitive trails when it comes to building something new.

Part of this seems to be legit trail building operations getting their hands on power tools. Where once you had to build your trail to work with the lay of the land now you can simply ram through your overbuilt 180 banked turns where ever you please. Great trails work with the terrain, using or avoiding natural features. Another issue with power tools is they are usual on rent, meaning the clock is ticking the second you pull up to the dig site. There seems like little or no time for testing. Lastly another issue with power tools is every trail has every root, rock and bump smoothed over. Even worse is when a builder then adds some of those features back in after putting the grade in, a la WCXC "rock gardens."

"Flow trails" also seem to be the hot thing to make the last few years. While I like a good jump line, that doesn't seem to be what most of these trails are. Lacking any real "features" the trails normally zig-zag across the fall line of the slope. The last few years I was lucky to get to travel a bit in the US and do a lot of riding. What I found was all the new built trails felt exactly the same. I get it these trails are easier to ride and are not as intimidating for beginners. The other issue that I found was old trails getting the flow trail upgrade. Which normally equates to difficult sections of trail getting removed or straightened out.

Maybe I'm just an outlier/old/out of touch. I know tons of people love these trails, that must be why they keep getting made. But I just wish we could leave some flat corners, roots and jank in our trails.


11/13/2020 12:30 PM

"Damn kids! Get off my lawn!"

Sorry, that was the first thought that came to mind when I saw the thread headline.

In all seriousness, I too live in WA, so I'm curious if there are specific trails/mountains that illustrate your point?


11/13/2020 12:39 PM

In WA it feels like anything evergreen touches gets cursed.

The new stuff out at raging is a great example. PT got turned into bummer land and lower PT is not great. The Methow Valley is getting the same treatment. My local trails at Port Gamble are also getting flowified, which means cutting out every root and putting a berm on every corner.


11/13/2020 1:21 PM

My understanding of building trails with power equipment is that you really need to build up the surface in order to handle the volume of riders out there these days. Bringing in rocks to be the trail surface, thereby 'creating' artificial rock gardens in not new. It's all in how you do it. If you do it on a steep section to help with erosion - good. If you do it just add in some technical features - not so good. Heavily traveled trails will often have a layer of rock put down under the dirt to help with drainage and erosion.
PT in the first season was very different from PT the second and third years. It just wasn't built to take all the traffic that Raging River brought. I'm not trying to justify the 'new and improved' PT, just pointing out that changed a lot even before it was legitimized and out on the map.
But in order to keep raw trails from getting blown out, you have to make them hard to find or hard to reach, and any organization building legit trails can't really make them hard to find. Evergreen certainly builds trails I don't like, but they are working really hard to build trails for every riding style. Given the spread of riders at different abilities, most of the trails are going to be less fun for skilled riders, and the ones we want to ride will be harder to get to in order to keep them in good shape.
I could use a few less berms, though.


11/13/2020 2:39 PM
Edited Date/Time: 11/13/2020 2:40 PM

The best trails have always been the unsanctioned and illegal ones... no different now.


11/13/2020 3:31 PM

I would agree and disagree. I’ve been riding 27 for years. If anything they need more “flow” trails to accommodate all the new riders and ideally built with mandatory tech sections so riders can work up to the black and double black level tech trails. Canyon Creek is a great example of a new trail: it’s a blue tech trail, a solid blue, fun for experienced riders and intermediate level riders. Even though there is nothing really black on the trail a bunch of comments on trailforks are “too hard, should be a black”.

PT has barely changed, more rode in but barely changed. The one thing that pisses me off about PT is that despite there being a go around for the double black section people are still cutting thru the woods to avoid the hardest parts. But people are stupid so what ever.

My .02 cents. If you like tech go hit up Darrington. It’s fun and pretty much all tech.


11/13/2020 3:37 PM

I am all for new riders and giving them the best experience and to progress, but losing great natural tech trails to flow trails sucks. Killington took a few out.
I always think about the late 90's when someone would clear (not build) a new trail. We were so excited to go ride it on our hard tail with 80mm fork, rim brakes, 2.1 tires and a 110mm stem!!! 2.1 was huge, if I remember correctly only certain 2.1 tires would fit my frame so it was usually a 1.9 rear, 2.1 front.
Now people see a picture of a new trail that is smooth and they have 160mm travel front and rear, 8 inch disc brakes, 35mm stem and 2.5 tires with tons of grip!!!


11/13/2020 3:43 PM

Darrington is great. I was pleasantly surprised when I got out there last year. I would be happy to see more stuff like this.


11/13/2020 5:25 PM

When I lived in California, I would have installed CushCore for a year straight to have an org like Evergreen.

I see what you’re saying about Raging River, but I’ll provide a different perspective. Some of the new trails out there, including the new DH trail, are down right awesome. Poppin Tops is great for new riders or riders new to the area. It’s easily accessible and lets people learn at their own pace. Tiger has a bit of everything. Same with Galbraith.

And I know this is sounding like an a-hole, but if you don’t like what Evergreen is building, get involved and help them design and build trails. You can’t really complain if you’re not willing to put in the work.

In reality, we’re spoiled here in the PNW. Enjoy it. Because it could be a whole lot worse.


11/13/2020 11:39 PM

The primary point I agree with is the failure to follow the natural contour of the terrain. If you do this well you shouldn't need to build up terrain to manage traffic. At one of my local spots they're starting to bring in machinery and they are totally missing the beautiful natural lines and instead just smashing their way through the woods. Machine built trails are much harder to get right than natural trails, and while huge berms are fun, if the shape and placement aren't just right, then they're way less fun than a natural trail. My experience has been that builders get it wrong more often than they get it right when using machines.

Batts is right, too. I don't mean to sound like a grouchy old man, but 20+ years ago we would take and ride and just let these things burn themselves in. We didn't complain that our head angle was half a degree too steep or our seatpost needed to be a centimeter lower. You just ripped and the jolts were part of the fun. It's cool that mountain bikes are popular but it does come at cost, and that cost is princesses on perfect bikes riding smooth trails.


11/16/2020 5:35 AM

Had me to you mentioned evergreen. Man I miss pnw trail organizations.

Personally I have nothing against flow trails but at least here on the east coast there are a lot of bad ones. Berms that lead off the side of the trail, jumps you need to slow way down to not overshoot off the trail, removal of natural tech on existing trails often leading to erosion. There are a ton of really bad trailbuilders in my area. Especially among the rogue builders, but also a few of the “pros” that tend to get the very few legitimate opportunities.

Also while I’m a strong advocate for keep it natural. Unless you have really good terrain, That can be pretty tough for a trail that sees a lot of traffic. And keep the jank in 2003. I like tech trails that rewards me with more speed, more air, more options for riding well. There’s only so many times that wheelie drop to tight turn around a tree is fun before it’s just tedious.


11/16/2020 7:47 AM

mwolpin wrote:

When I lived in California, I would have installed CushCore for a year straight to have an org like Evergreen.

I see what you ...more

I couldn't agree anymore. I currently live down in SoCal and have spent a good two months up the PNW over the years and can say that everything you guys have going on for you up there is about ten times as good as what we have in CA. Not saying our trails completely blow, but the organizations and community you guys have up north is insane. We would pray to have a legal trail like predator, double down, etc.

Even Santa Cruz, CA one of the best riding zones in CA, virtually every bike manufacturer up there still rides on illegal trails on the daily basis. With a few expections of Demo forest.

I see where you're coming from with the raw factor but trail networks have to adapt to the majority. in the summer months the gifford, okanogan, got some prime raw singletrack. Making me jealous just typing this!


11/16/2020 8:08 AM

StudBeefpile wrote:

In WA it feels like anything evergreen touches gets cursed.

The new stuff out at raging is a great example. PT got turned ...more

Dude,you need to head out west more often. Gamby has always been pretty tame in my experience, but I havent been there in a year or two.


11/16/2020 8:12 AM
Edited Date/Time: 11/16/2020 12:40 PM

The best beers are free there’s just something about a free beer, well riding on a trail built by someone else is kinda the same. You can get great satisfaction from building trails yourself or have massive fun riding on someone else’s work.


11/16/2020 8:36 AM

Think Jake nailed it. Just like many other more niche adventure sports mountain biking has massively grown in users. Some of the "norms" those of us who've been doing it for a long time are going to have to change for better or worse. Flow trails are definitely a favorite right now for many trail builders since they can accommodate just about any level of rider, and usually they are built to drain and handle a higher level of traffic. Unfortunately that's always an easier sell to land managers and city boards.

But, there are some silver linings to this.

Those flow trails should be thought of as a foothold or stepping stone to getting more trail development accepted which will lead to more advanced tech trails. Also out here in CO organizations like COMBA are starting to really develop some awesome tech blue and black trails. They have some high levels of trail engineering in terms of being able to handle lots of riders and drain effectively, but don't feel like someone just plopped down a rock garden in a random section.

Although there is still the problem of resorts putting in only new tech trails, or even taking out a tech trail. I REALLY hope Winterpark/ Trestle stops putting in only new flow trails. But they are dealing with the same thing, more new users, and tech trails need more maintenance for the same number of users.


11/16/2020 8:36 AM
Edited Date/Time: 11/16/2020 8:42 AM

I agree for the most part. Flow trail can be fun, but mountain biking has the word “mountain”. Go in the trees, rocks, roots, alpine. To me the sport as as much exploration and discovery of land and space than the fun and riding factor. I m more about the raw trails that you just use cause they re here.
Off course most need to be built, but using natural features and keeping the feel of the terrain around it.


11/16/2020 9:29 AM

I couldn't agree to this thread anymore. We need tight trails, technical, and fun to ride. Join and help me #makeskinnesgreatagain.


11/16/2020 9:40 AM
Edited Date/Time: 11/25/2020 12:38 PM

Hey StudBeefpile, this is Charlie Sponsel. I live in Silverdale and I'm on the board of Evergreen Westsound. I'm helping lead an Evergreen work team to "flowify" the trail Derailed right now, and I'd love to hear your feedback more in detail. Our goal was to make this blue beginner flow trail more fun for beginners and for expert riders, too. Sounds like you're not a big fan of the changes that are happening at Port Gamble. Please contact me at or, even better, give me a call at 503-819-XXXX. We always appreciate feedback, and even more than feedback we always appreciate help digging. [phone number redacted because studbeefpile already got a hold of me and I don't need the spambots finding my number]


11/16/2020 10:12 AM

Aww crap, the robots found me.


11/16/2020 10:20 AM

There are a lot of issues that go into building trails. A key one is the landowner and/or manager. If you don't own the land, you have to abide by their rules and regulations. Has to be x wide. Has to be x max gradient. Has to include x user groups. need x percentage mix of beginner, intermediate, advanced trails. Planning for erosion is a huge component as well.

There is the box a trail designer has to work in. Having context is a great way to understand why things are the way they are.

Then there is "I" language. "I don't like"... Yep. You don't. It wasn't built for "you". It was built for the community. Look at how it fits the larger community. Have an opinion, but also have context. Express your opinion in a way that is additive to the process.

And now the unpopular opinion; bikes have advanced tremendously over the last 20 years. Enduro bikes are basically downhill bikes and need a lot of very advanced terrain to feel "not boring". If one chooses a bike that is designed for 20% of the trails, then that is what one has to work with, and the bike owner owns that.

So yeah, a lot of flow trails in the last 10 years, but I'm also seeing much-improved and more sustainable trail building as well - including some pretty advanced trails on public lands.


11/16/2020 10:52 AM
Edited Date/Time: 11/16/2020 10:53 AM

Bottom line is that IMBA thought that they had found a way to get mountain bikers to join together with hikers and equestrians by studying erosion and trail maintenance was developed to pitch to government organizations to allow us access. Honestly the one big downfall of everything IMBA has done is they're grading system for trails and how to properly drain everything in one uniform manner which has allowed people seeking to profit off of trails albeit with good intent to profit profit profit by selling dozers and dozers and dozers of every shape and size they hit hard they hit fast and they don't touch anything with their hands. I know several trail builders I really respect and I see pet projects that they put love into and their raw trails they're narrow and you can tell that they are genuinely fun but then you also see where they have to take a contract for a Greenway or amateur trail and it's just nothing but raw dirt and wavy line after wavy line of absolute monotonous boredom. Sorry for the really long run on sentence cell phone talk to text.
If you're a trailbuilder looking to cash in and you can evidence that you build by IMBA standard then a government organization will sign off on your trail give you funding and people will raise grant money to do it because the government will sign off on IMBA.


Trouble Maker. Here to spit truth in the form of sarcasm.

11/16/2020 11:00 AM

I've been following Vital MTB (best media source in the game!) religiously since before it was Vital MTB back when I was 11 years old and this thread is the one that has prompted me to make an official account login so I can comment.

I couldn't agree more with StudBeefpile - the wide, bermy flow trails that are popping up all over the US absolutely suck. There is a complete disconnect between the natural terrain and geography that once defined and dictated the course of trails. You could pick up many of these new age flow trails and place them anywhere else and it wouldn't matter because they are the exact same. Not to mention, these machine made trails are ugly scars criss-crossing our hillsides in stupid 180 speed catch bank turns, severely fragmenting habitat used by the wildlife that we share these hills with. Machine made flow trails = TERRIBLE for the environment. These dumbed down trails have no sense of fall line, or respect for the places they are built.

Ugliness aside, these trails blow from a riding perspective. Natural features borne from the contours of the mountains are the essence of mountain biking. If you can't handle the natural characteristics of a riding geography, go somewhere less rugged. Heck, stick to the foothills or bike paths but don't try to bring them into the pristine mountains where MOUNTAIN BIKERS have ridden delicate, environmentally-minded singletrack trails for years.

Folks, I realize I sound like an uninclusive pessimist, and I'm sorry, but please have a bit of respect for the sport of mountain biking and the beautiful places that allow us to do this great sport. Overbuilt, new-age trails produce crumby riders and a crumby future outlook for the sport. Oh, and if you have to use an e-bike to access these super lame trails, again, please stick to the bike paths in town.


11/16/2020 11:14 AM

This topic has been brought up consistently for the last decade, since flow trails started becoming a “thing”.
I don’t personally believe flow trails have “taken over” like many people seem to argue, they are just more visible. They are generally easier to film on and easier to access, as they tend to be closer to infrastructure. They also get the most attention considering they tend to cost the most to build.
Yin/Yang, for every section of flow trail built, a rough raw section should be added elsewhere. Experienced trail builders seem to understand this better. I have friends on both sides of the fence. Experienced and novice, who prefer flow trails for their own reasons, as well has the exact opposite.
Blatant pussification or sanitization of trails is a different argument that has been going on for decades, much longer than the existence of flow trails. If it’s individuals causing it, there is a huge problem. If it’s a trail advocacy group or trail crew, there’s generally a reason. And it tends to come down to land management, or the original intent of the trail. You don’t always get the luxury of going wherever you want when building, and using the perfect aspect of nature to your advantage. When flagging, trails generally have to be approved by Forest service or BLM. Budget and time come into play also. the upper half of a trail may get finished first and a raw place holder put in down low. That place holder will usually disappear at some point for the continuation of the intended design as financials and time allow. Sometimes, what was put in doesn’t always hold up well and needs changed to allow for better sustainability and less erosion.
There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes in trail building that the public is not, and probably will not ever be privy to. If the public was made privy to too much info, trails would never actually get built as people would spend too much time arguing.

Now, for an important closing piece. Say you find a raw illegal, or lesser known trail and you fall in love. You don’t want it getting popular and overridden, causing future issues. So do everyone a favor, and TURN OFF YOUR F***ING STRAVA. I don’t care if it’s in “private”. Your heat map still shows. Leave that shit at home or turn it off. You want to fuck with tourists? Don’t ever strava good shit, and every time you ride the “boring” trails, leave it on. Make it look like the most boring trails you don’t like, are the greatest most popular thing ever. With more and more users on STRAVA and Trailforks, people are learning how to use them to find trails without asking directly for beta from local riders and shops.


11/16/2020 11:22 AM

Land managers are very, very scared of letting experienced trail builders do their own thing versus following the ol IMBA model. This isn't going away, and its good everyone is bringing this up. Negativity isn't always great, but managers and builders need to be reminded that switchbacks are shitty trail designs, berms need to be steep and push you all the way through the turn, and letting stuff get ridden in like a DH track is the best way to make dynamic and interesting trails.

Lets be honest though. It's not going to happen without pressure, there's going to be a lot of mediocre trails being built in the future. Ideal option is to get involved in your local organization, even if it's not your vibe right now, and push the direction of what's being done. If you're not going to make any progress that way, well, option 2.

Let the green riders have their awkward flow trails. You then call some homies, get tools, beers, roll a few doobs, go find a shuttleable chunk of shitty public land (I recommend using the Onyx hunting app to see who own's what), and make your own sketchy shit.

The best trail systems were not built with GPS mapping, IMBA standards, and permission.




11/16/2020 11:46 AM

That-Norco-Dude wrote:

I couldn't agree to this thread anymore. We need tight trails, technical, and fun to ride. Join and help me ...more

A week ago we set out to build whole new trail in one day, 500m(1500ft) vertical using few existing paths in the begining and in the end, but completely new in between. It doesnt have a single berm or any significant jump and the only digging was few bike lengths of rocky offcamber, rest was just removing small trees and bushes, cuting the grass and removing the lose rocks... Next morning one of the biggest local advocate of smoothen everything (ofc rides ebike) went to check it out and his comment was "some digging required to make this trail rideable!" Yesterday I rode it on my agressive hardtail...


11/16/2020 1:11 PM
Edited Date/Time: 11/16/2020 1:12 PM

I get you. I'm not a digger. Not everyone must and should dig. Imagine if everyone who rides now would do it.
I'll try to do my part helping from time to time, with money or lobbying for the sport.

Anyway what I have seen is:

You have a perfect normal trail (wanna call it old school?), roots, rocks, it's been riden for generations of bikers and bikes, summer, winter.

And then the bright idea!

"we got to make this trail sustainable".
rocks provoke erosion. stumps will make someone crash. this turns is off camber. there's too many leafs.

1. Proceeds clean it like a highway, you could ride a road bike there! do berms every turn available. Winter comes and creates huge pools of water.
A normal trail or turn who has survived years is now changed "for the best".
2. next step: we have to stop riding this trail during winter to make it sustainable.
Too many riders and the mud and water will wreck the trail and berm.



11/16/2020 2:00 PM


But in all seriousness, this does hit a chord. The local sanctioned/legal trails have been dumbed down for the masses. A collective of us moved to another hill and built trails that scare the shit out of anyone who comes for a ride.

11/16/2020 2:43 PM

As roots_rider says, keep the local stuff local. If you are a strava user, turn off the heatmap- its a toggle in the privacy settings. When you ride a local private trail or an outlaw illegal special, don't use Strava, or if you are compelled to use it, make that ride private, and keep the heatmap off.


11/16/2020 3:20 PM
Edited Date/Time: 11/17/2020 11:26 AM

I'd like to take an unpopular position for a moment to defend flow trails. Flow trails aren't inherently bad. In fact, I can think of a few flow trails I've ridden that are phenomenal. Whoops in Bend, Crank it Up in Whistler, and Silky Johnson at Sol Vista/Granby are all machine-built flow trails with no mandatory jumps, and all three of those trails can entertain an absolute beginner or a WC downhill pro. Seasoned pros have come to Whoops and broken wheels or ripped tires off.

Flow trails don't have to suck. I think what we're really complaining about here is BAD trail building, not flow trail building. The simple truth is that building great trails is hard and most trail builders, legal or otherwise, suck. A lot of people, not just trail builders, think their shit doesn't stink, and when you apply that attitude to trail building you get garbage in, garbage out. The best trail builders are highly experienced, but also extremely humble, invite criticism, and are willing to redo things when their first draft doesn't work. I've almost never built something I like on the first attempt- the real artwork is done in the editing and revisions.

The trail I'm working on with Evergreen West Sound right now, a blue-level flow trail at Port Gamble called "Derailed," is a great example of this. The original trail alignment wandered all over the hillside, and it did a poor job of managing the rider's speed. The steep bits were all straight and the flat bits were all turny, basically the opposite of what you want. Here's a video link to see the original alignment. I dare you to watch all 6-minutes- you can't do it:

We're doing a ton of work to this flow trail to make it faster on all the flat bits, funner on all the steep bits, and more consistently challenging and entertaining for riders of all skill levels. That requires building up berms in some areas and straightening other areas, but I think that's a good use of the terrain. [Almost] everyone seems to enjoy the revisions so far.

I agree that there are a lot of homogenous, uninspired, rubber-stamped flow trails that criss-cross hillsides with no thought to the actual terrain they cover. No argument, those trails suck. But I've seen a lot of primitive rake-and-ride trails that also suck, where some dip went straight down the fall line and piled dirt on top of sticks to build jumps and berms. The metric should be good trail building, no matter what you're building.

11/16/2020 3:49 PM

There's been a trend near here of smoothing out existing trails. All of them, even the technical climbing trails... The mind boggles.