Praise for Williams Lake dominated the conversation as riders from the weekend’s provincial mountain bike symposium gathered for a final group ride to Desous Mountain Monday.
Six years after he moved away from Williams Lake and his post as president of the Williams Lake Cycling Club, Sal Demare said he was thrilled to see how far the local trail network has developed.
“When I left we were in the beginning stages of legalizing the trails,” Demare said as he loaded his bike into a trailer provided for the riders.
“The club has taken it and run with it, created a consortium and what they’ve done is world-class.”
Demare praised the whole town for putting on a great symposium as he raved about the venues, the hospitality and business support.
Justin Truelove of the International Mountain Biking Association of Canada said the symposium was a meeting of the best and brightest minds the industry has to offer.
“It was a great way for us to come together and participate,” Truelove said.
“We could see where the industry’s come in the last few years, see where we want to go and what our focus is going to be moving forward.”
Truelove hails from Ontario, but said in comparison, mountain biking in B.C. is a culture.
“From kids all the way up to adults, parents and even retirees, mountain biking is a great common denominator that brings us all together,” he said.
Truelove arrived in Williams Lake last Tuesday, in preparation for running a trail building workshop Thursday and Friday.
“We were riding around with Thomas Schoen, doing some assessments of trails and coming up with a site to build on,” Truelove said. “We had a great experience on the trails here and had a great workshop and build site on Fox Mountain.”
During the symposium University of North Carolina professor Zac Cole presented results from a study he and a colleague did on mountain biking tourism in North America.
“We surveyed 1,200 respondents across Canada and the U.S.,” Cole said. “The findings differed from others in that the age demographic was slightly older than expected. We looked at how many days people typically travel, how much they spend.”
From their research Cole is hoping the next step will be to help provide direction to communities in B.C. wanting to further develop mountain bike tourism.
“Helping them figure out what type of attributes draw people in, the number of trails, accommodation, those are the kinds of things we are working on,” Cole said.
One of the biggest challenges for communities is to build awareness for each destination and create a point of difference, said Mountain Bike Tourism Association’s executive director Martin Littlejohn.
“At the association we really promote the diversity of mountain biking experiences in the province.”
Trails themselves need to be high quality so people will keep coming back and have exceptional experiences, he added.
“Williams Lake certainly demonstrated that during the weekend. A lot of people who had not been here before were really impressed,” Littlejohn said.
Credit needs to go to the Williams Lake Cycling Club and Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium for developing an extensive and diverse trail network, he added.
Canmore, Alta. business owner Wanda Bogdane found the symposium refreshing.
“We had the ability to share ideas with people who understand exactly what’s going on in the industry,” Bogdane said. “They understand the logistics with policy, land managers with the industry, the demographics.”
In Alberta, she said, the challenge is dealing with provincial land managers where there’s a real division of camps.
“Some people very much understand the appreciative component of recreational activities while others have a closed minded perspective and don’t understand the connection that is fostered with wildlife in the outdoors with the stewardship that results with mountain biking.”
As for the local riding, Bogdane said it was everything she enjoys.
“We love technical, poppy, flowy combinations with really nice steep patches and it seems to have everything,” she said.
Jordan Hammond moved to Williams Lake last May to work as the Cariboo Regional District’s economic development officer, but before that frequently visited the lakecity to mountain bike with friends.
The symposium was a fantastic way to get professionals throughout the industry to Williams Lake to experience the riding and talk about where the sport is going in B.C. in terms of building the tourism economy in smaller and larger communities, Hammond said.
“Williams Lake is awesome, it’s a real gem,” Hammond added. “Pretty well every year my friends and I in Prince George would have our annual pilgrimage here.”
One of the delegates who travelled the furthest to attend the symposium was Alan Blank who works as a bike guide and trail builder in Switzerland.
Mountain biking is a lot more about community here, Blank smiled.
“I like that. They are involving all the guys — the land managers, the trail builders, tourism, as well as First Nations, which I was very happy about.”
The symposium sessions were jam-packed with information so it was nice to get out for group rides each day, he added.
And the food was amazing, he said.
“I haven’t seen anything like it, homemade food at an event and the zero waste management aspect made it a sustainable eco-adventure. It was so nice to see they set that up for an event this size. We wouldn’t do that down in Switzerland, which is sad.”
Blank said he hopes to attend a Ride Congress in Switzerland on Oct. 15 and 16 so he can compare the two industry events.
Around 160 people attended the symposium.