The pandemic put the brakes on a huge number of activities. Fortunately, many popular pastimes in Squamish are outdoorsy and so were less affected by health regulations.
In the case of mountain biking, local enthusiasts are stunned at the explosive growth of their sport over the past two years.
The skyrocketing number of trail riders comes just as the group that oversees the area’s bike trails celebrates 30 years of representing the sport.
SORCA, the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, was one of the first of its kind in the province, says Ian Lowe, the group’s new executive director and longtime member.
Now, almost any community in B.C. with a sizable off-road trail system has what he calls an “ORCA,” including North Vancouver, Pemberton and Whistler.
The Squamish group works closely with stakeholders, including the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), the municipality, the province and private landowners and developers to advance the interests of riders.
SORCA also organizes events and builds and maintains the trail system around town.
Electronic trail counters measured a massive uptick in users since the pandemic’s beginning.
“Going back only three or four years, if we had a trail that got three or 4,000 [rides], that was a well-ridden trail,” said Lowe. “Now we’re seeing numbers surpass 10,000 in certain situations.”
Limitations on indoor activities and the comparative safety of cycling during a pandemic are mainly responsible for the increase in traffic, he said. The physical and mental benefits of cycling also countered some of the stresses that have accompanied this unprecedented time.
“People sought different ways to get their physical and mental wellness, and a lot of people turned to the outdoors ... whether that was hiking or biking or kayaking – all the sports absolutely took off,” he said.
There is also the “captive audience” factor, he said.
Not only Squamish folks but Vancouverites and other British Columbians whose recreational options were limited made the jaunt to explore some of the trails in the Sea to Sky.
Squamish has 20% of the world's top 100 trails as per Trailforks.
The giant leap in trail biking occurred even though SORCA cancelled all its structured events over the past two years. Because races, events and programs almost always culminate in some sort of social event — a barbecue or party — and because even outdoor events have been, at times, subject to limitations, the growth in the sport is especially notable.
A 2016 study suggested that the trail network around Squamish was responsible for $9.9 million in visitor spending pouring into the community per year. Lowe says no more recent numbers are available, but he is certain that number has skyrocketed proportionate to the spike in trail users.
SORCA also works to draw less represented groups to the sport, through programs like girlsBIKEsquamish, which has helped increase the number of female riders. Lowe said that watching riders on the trails suggests something close to gender parity, which is another big change from just a few years ago.
The SORCA Mountain Bike Skills Park, located on the south side of Brennan Recreation Centre, is another gateway for new riders to gain experience.
“It’s perfect for newer riders who are just trying to get that sense of being airborne for the first time,” Lowe said. “Kids love it because you can roll over all of the jumps.”
A significant redevelopment of the skills park is among the big-ticket budget items on SORCA’s 2022 agenda. Another, which is awaiting approval, is the extension of Miki’s Magic, a newer trail that was created to honour Mikayla Martin, who died from a cycling accident in 2019, at age 21.
“Making the extension will make it a very, very popular trail and area,” said Lowe.
An event celebrating SORCA’s 30th anniversary is slated for Sept. 17.
**Please note, this story first appeared in the 2022 summer edition of Discover Squamish magazine.
Since the story was originally published, we updated the date of SORCA anniversary date, which was set after magazine publication.