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HAS TED TEMPANY BUILT THE WORLD’S BEST TRAIL? THOUSANDS OF MOUNTAIN BIKERS BELIEVE SO. BY VERNON FELTON PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN GIBSON
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I AM ABOUT TO BREAK THE LAW. BUT FIRST I NEED TO DROP BY THE HOME DEPOT. I am no stranger to America’s favorite home improvement store, but this time around, I’m on a mission of a more illicit nature. I’m here to score contraband, or as my contact across the border put it, “A Paslode Cordless CF325 Framing Nailer.” My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to score said cordless nail gun, smuggle it across the Canadian border and deliver it to a man known variously as “Ted,” “Red” and on occasion, “Big Red Ted.” I don’t ask why. You never ask why. That’s the first thing you learn as a journalist—you’ve got to strike an immediate rapport with the interviewee. Gain their trust. Ease into the relationship. And so, while I fear the steelyClockwise from right: eyed guards that patrol our northSerious engineering and ern border, I resign myself to bemanpower went into coming a contrabandista—a mule. constructing each of the trail’s 20 bridges; for Ted, Fortunately, I do not need to stuff it’s up at dawn, home after dark and lunch on the trail; the Paslode CF325 into a condom Half Nelson is testimony to and swallow it, because this thing how good a machine-built is freaking huge. Should you feel trail can be. compelled to take somebody out
with a 3-inch galvanized nail, the Paslode is your weapon of choice. I purchase the gun and immediately feel like more of a man. When I eventually hand the goods over to my Canadian associate, he slaps a cartridge into the gun with a wicked gleam in his eye. “So, let’s nail stuff, eh?” And we do. We nail rickety steps. We nail some siding. We narrowly avoid nailing ourselves to various objects littering Ted’s backyard. The Paslode sinks projectiles with the little kick and bark of a .22; it’s a lot like hunting and a little bit like home improvement, and it brings Ted tremendous joy. Big Red Ted is glowing with happiness and if you understand that, you understand a lot about the man. Ted Tempany lives to build things. He may, in fact, have built the world’s best mountain bike trail.
ALL KILLER, NO FILLER The trail in question is known as Half Nelson, and if I told you that this amazing trail was just 1.8 miles long, you’d scoff at the notion that any trail this short could possibly be that good. But consider this: Half Nelson sees an average of 120 mountain bikers every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. An electronic counter ticks off the traffic sailing down this trail and the numbers don’t lie. Ted’s slice of dirt is one of the most heavilyridden trails in the world. Within 10 pedal strokes I understand what draws the hordes. Half Nelson immedi-
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ately dips, bobs, weaves and roller-coasters through the rainforest above the town of Squamish. A minute into the descent I death-grip the brakes and screech to a stop. My heart is pounding. I am covered in sweat. I am dumbstruck. “Uh, do you like it?” Ted asks with a concerned expression. Half Nelson is the closest thing to perfection that I have ever witnessed. By contrast, the Mona Lisa looks a lot like this hesher guy named Larry who works at my local 7-Eleven. Venus de Milo could use a set of arms. The Great Sphinx of Giza, the seventh wonder of the world, needs a serious nose job. Half Nelson has no equal. You know your favorite trail? The one with the “rad” berm or the “bitchin’” jump or the incredible view? Well, that is Half Nelson. All of it. Every single inch of it. Or to put it another way: 1.8 miles, 20 bridges, 68 berms, 102 jumps, 900 feet of descent. Holy. Crap. Geoff Gulevich, of freeriding and movie fame, has ridden amazing trails the world over. By rights, “Gully” could be expected to possess a less girlishly ecstatic opinion of Half Nelson. Not so. “The trail is so fun, you really just can’t stop after one lap,” Gulevich says . “One time I just kept pedaling back up to the top; I rode it three times that day. You’re having so much fun, you don’t even realize you are putting so much energy into it, but when you hit the bottom of that trail, you’re just huffing and puffing.”
IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS Squamish, British Columbia, has always been home to good trails—more than 300 miles
of the stuff by official count. But many of those trails are steep, rocky and smothered in roots. Squamish riding used to require a competent rider and a good dose of commitment. Squamish, however, was often overlooked by riders who either sped past the town in pursuit of trails to the north in Whistler or to the south on Vancouver’s North Shore. The town was a bit off the radar and so were its trails, most of which were built on the sly in the age-old build-it-first-and-ask-forgiveness-later style. Things stayed that way for decades. But then things came to a head a decade ago during a period of infighting over logging and trail access during the late `90s, known as the “War in the Woods.” The situation grew particularly tenuous in 2005 when one of the area’s most famous trails, the Powerhouse Plunge, was slated to be mowedunder in a logging operation. Meanwhile, hikers, mountain bikers and motocycle riders were at one another’s throats. “It was a tough time,” recalls Squamish Director of Recreation Services Tim Hoskins. “It was hard to believe that anything good would ever come of it, but everyone came together and started to have a discussion. People had to stop seeing each other as the enemy. In the end, no one got everything they wanted, but most of the Plunge was saved
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and all the groups started to work together a bit more. Things are a lot better today.” This new era of cooperation couldn’t come soon enough for the city of Squamish, which was in a state of transition itself. For decades, Squamish had been a good place to live if you were a logger. Or a logger. The days when you could just clear-cut your way into prosperity, however, were drawing to a close. Timber-harvesting jobs were on the decline across the Pacific Northwest. Economic diversity—once merely a buzzword smacking of rainbows, unicorns and college professors—was becoming a real necessity for timber towns, which explains why Squamish rebranded itself the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” and began to get serious about not just tolerating mountain biking, but encouraging it.
A DIFFERENT FLAVOR OF RAD
Ted Tempany, like countless young people before him, moved to British Columbia in pursuit of powder. This was back in ‘92. Tempany is a good skier—good enough to appear on the cover of Skiing magazine at the tender age of 16. He’s also no slouch on a bike. Tempany tended bar at Whistler’s Boot Pub
In 2009, the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, Squamish’s local mountain bike club, approached Tempany. After years of working with the city of Squamish, the province, the Squamish Nation and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts, the mountainbike advocacy group had secured $50,000 for the construction of a new trail in the Diamond Heights area of Squamish. SORCA wanted Ted to build it. The proposed trail was initially going to be a mile long. Ted quickly realized that anything that short was going to be a straight-up, straight-down affair and that’s not Ted’s style. If Ted is known for anything, it’s for the amazing flow of his trails. There are plenty of speed chutes around Squamish, but Tempany wasn’t interested in adding another one to the mix. “We get a lot of rain,” Tempany explains as we climb back to the top of Half Nelson via a double track. “I mean, a lot. So, if your trail is too steep, water’s just going to run straight down it and turn it into a mess—just massive erosion. You have to design trails that contour and roll so water sheets across it, instead of down it. That’s the kind of trail that lasts up here. It’s also a lot more fun to ride.” Fun. It seems so obvious—trails should be fun, but oftentimes the best trails only evoke that thrill in more advanced riders. Tempany wanted to change that with Half Nelson. This would be a trail that anyone—from the absolute rookie to the crusty veteran—would love. Most people will tell you that one trail can’t be everything to everyone. Beginners and experts want different things out of a trail. Tempany believed otherwise. “I spent a lot of time riding the bike park and Whistler’s great,” Ted says as he sways back and forth over the handlebars of a battered Chromag hardtail. “But after a while it
for 10 years, but spent much of each summer freeriding and racing downhill as a pro. Somewhere along the line he also found the time to produce mountain-bike movies (Rise and Halfway to Nowhere) and build trails. At some point Ted began to think about putting down roots, but by that time, real estate in Whistler was in the stratosphere. Squamish, just 30 miles down the road, however, was within Ted’s reach. Tempany scrimped and saved and eventually made the move to Squamish where he bought a decidedly rustic apartment building, which his friends jokingly refer to as “Tempany Towers.” In a stroke of genius, Tempany rented out four of the units and the steady, if modest, income afforded him some leeway to do what he loved: build singletrack. Tempany’s handiwork on trails such as Nineteenth Hole, Cakewalk, Blow Out Your Candles and Peanut’s Wild Ride quickly gained attention. He and his newly formed company, Dream Wizards Events Ltd., were soon in demand. In 2005 and 2006 Tempany designed Bike’s Monster Park slopestyle courses and in 2008 he and his crew did much of the shovel work on the Red Bull Rampage.
got to be this bloody fashion show. It’s like you needed a From left: One corner magi$5,000 downhill bike to enjoy the park. When I was a kid, cally melds to the next, we had one little BMX bike. The only time I could take it making Half and Full Nelall about flow; gassing out was when my brother wasn’t riding it. I remember that. son up one of the small engines A lot of people don’t have the money for a super expensive in cramped quarters; there bike, but that shouldn’t stop them from riding. I wanted to is absolutely nothing ‘Half’ about Tempany’s full-size build a trail that anyone could enjoy on any bike.” Stihl chainsaw. And so, over the course of a miserable, wet fall and winter, Ted Tempany and a band of volunteers built a trail that was decidedly different from the trails that BC is famous for. It was expensive, time-consuming work. This was no rake-and-ride production. The 20 cedar bridges are massive hulks of engineering. The countless drainage features, which help the trail withstand so much rain and so many riders, are meticulous. And in pursuit of that perfect flow, Half Nelson wound up nearly twice as long as the trail the government had paid for. Ted ran through the $50,000 in short order. For months, Tempany volunteered much of the time required to make Half Nelson a reality. Ditto for Clark Lewis, a local doctor who repeatedly followed his sleepless graveyard shifts in the emergency room with entire days manhandling a chainsaw. Steve Klassen, the proprietor of the local Bean Around the World coffee shop, frequently hauled breakfast up the mountain for the others and spent countless days mucking about on the trail. And there were plenty of
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other locals who pitched in on their own dime. In total, Ted and company sank an estimated $100,000 worth of volunteer labor into the project. The end result instantly garnered raves. Half Nelson feels less like a traditional downhill trail and more like a downhill pump track. You can ride the whole thing without turning a pedal or hitting the brakes. You just flow down the sucker. You don’t need a fancy bike. You don’t need a lift ticket. You don’t even need to be particularly skilled. Half Nelson is a trail anyone and everyone can love, and this makes it a truly rare thing. When Half Nelson first opened in April of 2010 it was being ridden an average of 73 times From left: The builder a day. Today, 106 mountain bikers judges Brandon Semenuk’s hit it daily—testimony to just how sublime style; whether you’d rather spend half of amazing this trail is. your ride in the air or keep “Half Nelson is definitely changboth wheels on the ground, Half Nelson has a little ing the way people look at Squasomething for the whole mish,” says Geoff Gulevich. “Peofamily and virtually guaranple are coming up just to ride that tees ear-to-ear smiles. one trail. Heck, I’ll probably stop by
and hit it tomorrow, on my way over to Whistler.” If anyone can ride it, isn’t Half Nelson boring for a seasoned pro like Gulevich? “Nope. I have a great time on it. You can just roll it; and I’ve seen entire families—you know, mom, dad and the kids—riding down Half Nelson on a Sunday afternoon. Or you can jump everything. It’s good for every style of rider.” If the greatness of a trail is measured by the number of people who can enjoy it, Half Nelson has few, if any, rivals.
LIVING UP TO THE HYPE A lot has changed in Squamish since the town declared itself Canada’s outdoor recreation capital. For starters, census data shows that Squamish grew 14.7 percent between 2006 and 2011, making it the fastest-growing urban area in the province. Mountain biking, and outdoor recreation in general, has a lot to do with that. A recent study conducted on behalf of the city of Squamish found that a staggering 42 percent of the city’s 17,000-plus residents ride the trails. Mountain biking, in fact, tops the list as the most popular activity among the citizenry. Half Nelson also helped pave the way for non-renegade, government-funded and approved mountain bike trails in Squamish. In that respect, it was a huge culture shift. Today, there’s a recurring line item—$40,000, to be exact—in the city budget for maintaining trails. An additional $140,000 in district funds is earmarked for trail upgrades.
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FROM HALF TO FULL Of course, if riders had one complaint about Half Nelson it was this: the trail was too short. You finished it and immediately wanted more. This past year, Tempany and his crew—with the help of Red Bull—helped rectify this when they built a new trail, Full Nelson, which intersects with Half Nelson. Full Nelson adds another kilometer to the Squamish mix. Like its sibling, the focus on Full Nelson is flow, though the new trail rewards committed riders with even bigger air and thrills. Full Nelson was the focus of Brandon Semenuk’s segment in Anthill Films’ 2012 release, Strength in Numbers. Hundreds of riders showed up to ride Full Nelson in May, when the trail officially opened to the public. It was a madhouse and a show of love for Tempany’s vision of mountain biking. Semenuk, who lives in Squamish, is a fan of Ted’s work. I catch the freeride phenom on the phone, just before he’s leaving for the 2012 Red Bull Rampage in Utah. “It’s flowy, fun and super playful,” says Semenuk. “Half and Full Nelson are whatever you want to make of them—it’s just a question of how much you want to push yourself— and that’s bringing out a whole new scene of people that maybe didn’t ride that much before. They can ride Half Nelson and learn how to corner. Learn how to jump. And then they can step up to the more challenging trails around here.” “So, in a way, Half Nelson is like the perfect gateway drug to mountain biking?” I propose. “Huh,” Semenuk considers this for the briefest of moments and I can almost hear
him smiling over the phone. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah, totally.” I stop by Bean Around the World on my way through Squamish one day. It’s 6 o’clock on a bitterly cold morning and I’m a quart low on the caffeine. Tempany Towers is a mere 39 steps from Bean’s back door, so I stroll on over. The lights are on. The scent of bacon wafts down. Somewhere above me, Big Red Ted, all 6 feet 5 inches and 240 pounds of him, is punishing his breakfast. A battered Ford F-350 sits in the front yard, ready to tow an equally abused mini excavator to today’s job. That fancy nail gun that I brought Ted so many months ago has, undoubtedly, long since shuffled off to Power Tool Purgatory. That Paslode never even stood a chance—not with Ted, because Ted Tempany never stops. He’s out there when it’s dark. When it’s wet. When it’s snowing and normal people stay indoors, Ted Tempany is moving dirt. He is bucking logs. He is carefully sculpting tomorrow’s great trail. He can’t help himself. Ted lives to build things and if you understand that, you understand a lot about the man.
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