In case you didn’t know, mountain biking is in Squamish
An event celebrating SORCA’s 30th anniversary scheduled for September 17.
The pandemic has slowed down a large number of activities. Fortunately, many popular pastimes in Squamish are outdoors-oriented and have therefore been less impacted by health regulations.
In the case of mountain biking, local enthusiasts are amazed at the explosive growth of their sport over the past two years.
The skyrocketing number of track cyclists comes just as the group that oversees the region’s cycle paths celebrates 30 years of representing the sport.
SORCA, the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Associationwas one of the first of its kind in the province, says Ian Lowe, the group’s new general manager and longtime member.
Today, nearly every community in British Columbia with a significant network of off-road trails 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 cyclists.
SORCA also organizes events and builds and maintains the trail network around the city.
Electronic trace counters have measured a massive increase in users since the start of the pandemic.
“Going back just three or four years, if we had a track that got three or 4,000 [rides], it was a well traveled track,” Lowe said. “Now we’re seeing numbers go over 10,000 in some situations.”
Indoor activity limitations and the relative safety of cycling during a pandemic are primarily responsible for the increase in traffic, he said. The physical and mental benefits of cycling have also countered some of the stresses that have accompanied this unprecedented time.
“People were looking for different ways to get their physical and mental well-being, and a lot of people turned to the outdoors…whether it was hiking, biking or kayaking – all sports absolutely took off,” said he declared.
There’s also the “captive audience” factor, he said.
Not only Squamish, but also Vancouverites and other British Columbians with limited recreational options have made the adventure to explore some of the Sea to Sky trails.
Squamish has 20% of the top 100 trails in the world according to Forks.
The giant leap in trail biking has happened even though SORCA has canceled all of 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 a party – and because even outdoor events have sometimes been subject to limitations, the sport’s growth is particularly noticeable.
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’s sure that number has skyrocketed in proportion to the increase in trail users.
SORCA also works to attract less-represented groups to the sport, through programs such as girlsBIKEsquamish, which has helped increase the number of female cyclists. Lowe said watching runners 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 the Brennan Recreation Center, is another gateway for new cyclists to gain experience.
“It’s perfect for new pilots who are just trying to get the feeling of being in the air for the first time,” Lowe said. “Kids love it because you can roll over all the jumps.”
A major redevelopment of the skills base is one of the big budget items on SORCA’s 2022 agenda. Another, which is pending approval, is the Miki’s Magic extension, a new trail created in honor of Mikayla Martin, who died in a bicycle accident in 2019, aged 21. .
“Doing the extension will make this a very, very popular trail and area,” Lowe said.
A celebratory event SORCA’The 30th anniversary is scheduled for September 17.
**Please note that this story first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Discover Squamish magazine.
Since the story was originally published, we have updated the date of SORCA’s anniversary, which was set after the magazine was published.