my Mountain News

Silver Star Goes Deep

Thu, 21/07/2005 - 11:00 pm

Some competition for Number 2 spot
by Cam McCrae, courtesy NSMB.com

Much like this year's Tour de France, first place is a foregone conclusion. Whistler is the undisputed world champion bike park. The massive vertical, the Boneyard and bikercross course and of course A-Line are just a few of the reasons why. The opening of Freight Train this year as well as an unbelievable dirt jump park have further solidified their lead over the peleton. I have never heard anyone suggest that another bike park comes close to Whistler. Until this year I was convinced that second place belonged to Sun Peaks - which is about 4.5 hours north east of Vancouver near Kamloops.

Early on this season I began to hear rumblings from Silver Star - a first rate ski resort near Vernon (SS is about 5 hours from Vancouver). They had invested 300 large in trail and lift upgrades and made a very serious commitment to mountain biking. SS has a long mountain bike heritage, having hosted 24 hour races, Canadian Championships and even a World Cup. In recent years a small lift was turning and taking riders up but despite some really solid trails it was pretty clearly not a stage winning effort.

This year the keen riders on staff managed to successfully lobby the new ownership to get serious about lift-accessed riding. Their first move was to purchase 33 four-bike carriers for their Comet Six Pack high speed chair with every second chair carrying bikes. After that every ounce of effort went into building new trails and upgrading existing ones. The old chair accessed about 1000 feet (300m) of vertical and it loaded at the same elevation as the village. The new chair follows a parallel line but it loads 600 feet below the village which means that there were no existing trails for this section of the park - leaving a lot of work ahead for Cam Sorensen, (the trail crew supervisor and designer) Rob Lowe (who operates the heavy machinery) and the rest of the crew.

It used to be cut and dried; my favourite place to ride in the interior was Sun Peaks. After three days riding at the new and improved Silver Star I’m not so sure. Here’s how it all went down.

I rolled into Silver Star with the family on Thursday evening. I gave Steve Mundell a ring and he came to meet us in the parking lot. After some hand shaking and sh*t shooting we followed him up the knoll to where we would be saying. Silver Star used to have a bylaw compelling home owners to think beyond the traditional colour palette. Every exterior was required to display at least seven colours. That edict has since been relaxed and only 5 colours are required (no word on the max number allowed) but owners seem to have embraced the policy and each one attempts to outdo the next with fuchsias, greens and blues – tossed together in an entirely random fashion.

Our pad was among the least gaudy of the lot – but the most ostentatious and functional as well. There was a large suite in the basement that slept 7 and then room for 13 more (assuming every double bed was used for cuddling) upstairs in the main house. The place had a nice big garage for bikes and gear and everything was plusher than plush. The master bedroom had an en suite as big as a Tokyo apartment and there were heated floors in all the right places. There are rumours that the place is owned by Kathryn Hahn (Kathryn Hahn was in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days with David C. Roehm Sr. who. was in The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon) or some other female cast member of "How to Lose a guy in 10 Days" but there were no famous people photos on the walls.

I digress. Suffice to say we were happy with where we were going to lay our heads. First thing Friday we ate breakfast at the amazing Bugaboos Bakery with our host Steve, Robin Baycroft from marketing, Rick Harman who heads up the Patrol along with Cam and Rob who have been furiously building and designing trails. All were down to earth folks who were obviously eager to see what we thought of what they had laid down. Everyone involved in the park seemed to care more about the trails and the riding experience than about dollars and cents. I soon realized that this was because they are riders themselves - every bit as keen and excited about saddling up as you or I. They were also interested in hearing what we had to say in order to improve the whole experience.

Enough prelims. I know what you want to hear about so let's talk trails. Because the Comet Six Pack lift below the village you get your first taste of trails before you even have to ride up. The obvious first run choice was Blast Off. I've heard trails described as bobsled runs for bikes before but Blast Off takes it to the next level. Imagine taking a couple of pedal strokes on the way in and then being able to coast and leave the brakes alone until you are done 27 buttery 6 foot-high berms later. Your speed is only limited by how high you want to go on the berms. One of my favourite things about the trail is the use of up hills. In several spots you get shot out of a berm and then the trail gains a little altitude before dropping you once again into a berm, you and bike left momentarily weightless before feeling the Gs ramp up yet again. Every time I rode it I was able to crank out a little more speed and a little more grin.

Once you arrive at the lift you'll notice something that no other bike park has - a 4-bike-wide tray loading system. With a quad you can only get 3 bikes loaded side by side (the fourth bike must hang) but the extra girth of the Six Pack allows for that extra slot. The ride to the top takes around seven minutes and you gain 1600 feet of elevation (about 500 metres). At the top you have several choices. If you roll into World Cup you can take that all the way to the bottom. Part way along there are branches leading to Superstar and Rock Star and Flow - all of which will take you all the way down to the lift (Rock Star wasn't complete when we were there but it's about 98% now).

World Cup is at times wickedly fast (particularly going into the step up where it's impossible to go too fast) and at other times steeper and more technical. There are quite a few jumps scattered along the way and a couple of decent sized tables just before the soon to be famous wall rides. I know you've seen wall rides before and usually they are of the jump on jump off variety. This one is more like a long steep, 10-foot high berm. It looks intimidating at first but once you train someone in you'll have it dialled. It's not difficult but it's one of the most thrilling and fantastic sensations I've ever experienced on a bike. After the tables you roll into a left handed berm and on to the beginning of the first wall.

It starts off at a low angle and gets steeper as the curve sharpens. Just as the G-forces ramp up the radius of the turn increases some. This lightens up your bike some and that excess energy is like a booster rocket. The curve returns just in time to shoot you onto the trail at mach 2.5 or higher depending on your entry velocity. But wait - there's more. After a short straight you dig into another left and then onto another wall - this one a slightly smaller left hander that still stokes the vibe but is slightly less thrilling. I defy you not to smile with amazement after completing this move the first time.

World Cup goes back into the tight and twisty for awhile before opening up on the lower slopes with tables, berms and a nice hip.

Superstar is a smooth berm-strewn rip through the forest. It's one of those unique trails that offers enough challenge for all levels of rider. If you really rail it's challenging enough to keep even the best riders jazzed, but at lower speeds it's accessible to riders with less experience. The builders have done a great job adding interesting features all the way through and you'll find rollers to pump, some small tables and even some technical sections that resemble what you might find on a 4X track. It can also be a great workout if you really feel like twisting the throttle. There are 80 berms to rail before you get to the bottom of the lift.

Rock Star is Silver Star's jump trail and thus far there are 35 air opportunities on the the trail. The upper section is nicely dialled but some of our team riders had some suggestions for the lower section. Jerry Willows and Ryan Newman walked the trail along with Rick Harman and Cam Sorensen. They suggested some changes to make the tables more consistent so you can keep your speed up and hit all the trannies. From what I've heard the machine was fired up the next day. This kind of response to feedback is exactly what a bike park needs.

Flow is a wonder. It starts out fast and wide open; a sinewy ribbon cutting through open meadow. It reminds me of Andrew Shandro and Dave Watson's Chilcotin segment in The Collective. After that it ducks into the trees and gets windy. There are steep pitches with turns at the bottom but they are radiused just tight enough to allow you to stay off the brakes. Just when you think there can't be any more another turn appears in front of you and it goes on like this all the way to the bottom.

Downtown starts out in the open with some steep rock faces and then it ducks into the trees and gets tilted. It has the steepest pitch of any of the trails and there are a few spots where you are boogieing through the trees with good pace wondering if you're going to be able to rein it in. Downtown leaves you in the village where you can choose either Blast Off or Lower World Cup to take you the rest of the way.
Stubby is an old school trail that was built under the radar by Cam Sorensen with some help from marketing honch Robin Baycroft. It's old school tight with some drops and lines that require some local knowledge.

There's more of course. Dag's Downhill was another favourite of many riders because of the rocky challenges and opportunities to double up and carry speed. Double Dog has some stunts and small drops but still keeps the flow theme alive. Very few of us could get a handle on what our favourite trail was; they were all so good it was hard to choose just one. I still can't pin one down but the list contains Flow, Blast Off and World Cup. Oh - and Superstar, Downtown, Rock Star and Stubbiest. A few more days on the hill will probably help me narrow my list so hopefully I'll get back to Silver Star this summer.

Every meal we ate at Silver Star was fantastic. From the great baked goods at Bugaboos, a perfect 'morning after' breakfast at Putnam Station and a couple of excellent lunches at Clementine's where my wife had the best burger she's had in years. The highlight though was our lunch at The Silver Lode Inn where Isidore - a native of Switzerland - made us a lunch that would have Martha Stuart bowing down in respect. Well - we thought that was the highlight until Steve Mundell and Heather Mclennan put on a barbecue right where we were staying and we ate like royalty. After that the Hemingway came out and G-Ball coaxed me along as a bartender.

For once we managed to shut 'er down at a reasonable hour because we all wanted first chair on Sunday. A couple of days of riding was only enough to whet our appetites and we were eager to discover more wicked trails.

As we drove down the hill towards Vernon I re-lived many of the trails and plotted my return in August. I also bounced around what I thought could make Silver Star even better. I didn't spend much time on the jump trails so I'll let those more qualified talk about that (see below) but on the trails we rode I would like to see a few more features added. It would be nice to have some larger drops to tranny. There are some fun drops on most of the trails but generally they are high speed launchers and a couple of six to ten footers would be great challenges. I'd also like to see a few more challenging skinnies - perhaps on Double Dog. They don't have to be high but making them narrow and technical would add some giddy-up to the rodeo. Icing on the cake would be a 4X course that didn't have to be rebuilt every year. I'm nitpicking here because this is an incredible place to ride - but why not be greedy?

So I'm left with a choice to make. Which bike park is, in my humble opinion, number two after Whistler. Sun Peaks has great steeps, some of the best downhill courses around, a top notch biker cross and some great variety. I haven't yet ridden Route 66 and the rest of Steam Shovel is scheduled to open at the end of July so I can't comment on those additions. Jason Goller identified the tendency for us upright monkeys to prefer that which we've just had our fill of. This is known as recency bias. Silver Star is occupying a pretty warm spot in my cockles right about now - and this effect is certainly part of what is at work.

I think I'm going to have to cop out. I'm a huge fan of Sun Peaks without even having ridden the new goods but Silver Star has made unbelievable progress in their first year of balls out operation. In all honesty I think they are neck and neck which is great news for us riders; it means they will both be pushing hard to be number two, perhaps even narrowing the gap between themselves and the big dogs at Whistler.

I will say this though; get yourself and your bike to Silver Star. Travel from wherever you live - even if you only have time to ride one place - because Silver Star is clearly a destination. It'll rock your world.

You might have noticed that I think Silver Star is okay. We had a mob of riders along with us and I asked them to get off their asses and give you their 411 on Silver Star. They may have been over .08 when some of these photos were taken - along with the photographers - but I got them to sober up before entering the confessional.

NSMB team rider Ryan "Dr. Jekyll" Newman:

Favourite Trail: I liked Dag's Downhill to World Cup because of the variety of styles that the trail offered. The whole trail was very fast, starting out with a few technical rock sections that would make the best riders slow down and take a closer look before proceeding, and finishing with some of the fastest jumps and corners in B.C. Throughout the mid section of the trail were tight turns in the woods and a few tables and berms. After the tables there is a large berm that shoots the rider into a wallride that is over 70 feet long. When exiting the wallride I was going almost double the speed of entry, it was a truly amazing feeling and sound being on the wall. More forest trails carry on until the last section of fast "a line" style corners and jumps that includes one of the largest hip jumps I have ever seen. A truly exhilarating trail from top to bottom.

Thumbs down: I did not like some of the choices on the size of the jumps. Some very fast sections had tables that were much too short and made for flat landings; also slower sections that were flatter and prone to mud build up had tables that seemed "un clearable."

Sun Peaks or Silver Star? I enjoy Sun Peaks more than Silver Star at this point; however I can chalk that up to having ridden Sun Peaks more times and as a result being more comfortable with the trails there.

NSMB team rider, Eamonn Duignan:

Favourite Trail: This is a tough one, but I think it would have to be Flow. The seemingly endless tight loamy single track, which is jam packed with super tight corners and some pretty gnarly lines that seem to go on for ever...Yep that's what does it for me! I also couldn't get enough of the wall/berm rides on World Cup.

Thumbs down: I think the jumps on the lower half of the World Cup need some tweaking, other than that they have her pretty dialled!

Overall impression of Silver Star: I had a great time at Silver Star. The people were super friendly, the food was top notch and the trails were fantastic! I'd just like to thank everyone at Silver Star, from the very hyper lifties; to the upper management at the mountain, you guys rock the mic!

NSMB lensman, David "Fergs" Ferguson:

What was your favourite trail and why? - Dag's Downhill into World Cup. I was only able to ride this combo once at the end of the day on Sunday. After the ride I knew it would have been the combo that I would have logged the most hours on if I didn't have my gear with me. The chunky shale cropping out of the singletrack at the top of Dag's was an unusual challenge, rewarded with a smooth drop and straight line blast into the forest. The speed kept the flow going, enough that I could pump my way through a lot of the trail. The drops were fun and smooth. Dag's popped me out just beside the step-up on World Cup. The trails converged at this point, less than a minute's ride from a couple of hits and the famed wall ride on World Cup. Amazing!

Overall impressions: I left Silver Star with a giant grin on my face and a very positive feeling. There was no "attitude" anywhere in the village or on the hill. The staff were all very positive and accommodating. The accommodation and food were absolutely top-notch. I am definitely heading back for another weekend sometime this summer.

NSMB Mac Daddy, Jason "G-Ball" Goller:

Did the trails live up to your expectations?
The trails exceeded my expectations, for year one of being committed to running a serious MTB park they’ve done a great job in trail development. The variety was excellent and more than I expected from super fast and flowy to knarl, tech and step it was all there. An awesome variety for almost all levels of riding.

Favourite Trail: Almost impossible to put into any sort of order, what struck me is I didn’t have any one favourite trail, I was stoked on almost all of them.
1. Downtown
2. World Cup
3. Dag's Downhill

Thumbs down: How many of the trails dumped into that same a-line style trail at the bottom. I think the bottom 1/3 of the mountain needs another option or two.

NSMB team rider, Colin Miller:

Memorable moment: The ride I had down 'Flow' rippin' with T-Bone and Eamo Sunday morning certainly stuck out in my mind. This trail was obviously laid out by an experienced trail rider as most of the corners had the perfect radius for the speed you enter with. I love the feeling of diving into a corner off the brakes feeling the tires just digging into fresh dirt and carving the bike thru the turn. The only thing better is doing this behind your buddy and watching the roost come off his back wheel. Its cool when after only a few corners into a new trail you have a feel or sense the theme of what's to come and feel comfortable to get of the brakes and let the bike go underneath you. Trev was flying on his Specialized SX Trail.

My favourite moves on the hill were straight lining the rock lines on 'Dag's DH' at as high a speed as possible. This sticks out as it was part of the dh course I raced a few years back and was the first warm-up run Sat am. Oh wait it was the only trail I rode Sat, Dag's to the WC. Kept working on the lines until they where was dialled. Oh how I miss dh'ing fast thru the trees! The G's you pulled laid over fast on the wall/wooden berm was also a cool sensation along with the long buzz of your tires on plywood.

NSMB team captain, Trevor "T-Bone" Hansen:

My favourite trail, after much deliberation, was Flow. It was so fast through the trees; it reminded me of a really fun tree-boarding trail on Whistler with its switchbacks, floating loamy dirt and well laid out terrain. I loved the wall rides and the first sections of Rock Star.

Thumbs down: Leaving.

Sun Peaks or Silver Star? Silver Star

Overall impression of the trails, people, food and facilities at Silver Star.
High quality trails, friendly, laid back and helpful people, great food and facilities

NSMB team rider, Barb Haley:

What trails did you really like?
Difficult to pin it down to just one...depends one what kinda mood I was in......Want steep twisty single track?? Yah got it. Want smooth flowy, bermy turns???? Yah got it. Want jumps??? But of course! If Ihad to pick - Dag's and Flow

What needs some improvement?
Can't think of any. Silver Star has set the bar for other mtb parks. They should be watched and followed in all areas of operation - 'specially in hospitality!

Sun Peaks or Silver Star? Silver Star - d'uh! no offence, but Silver Star is busting it out! But I have to reserve that comment until I see the new stuff up at Sun Peaks....

Captain Bling, Jay Sinclair:

Did the trails live up to your expectations? I have to be honest here and say not really. I found the trails to be very similar to each another and the design of Jumps and Ladder work to be immature and in need of serious honing. The ladders were constructed out of Pine and some were even made from Rounded Dowling. The Jumps although lippy, didn’t seem to match the terrain, there were small topped lippy jumps at the bottom of big hills (Which you had to break hard into to not drastically overshoot) and big faced long tables at the end of a gradual uphill sections. The is that the trail crew, especially Cam Sorensen, was very responsive to suggestions and most of the trails have been cut since April of this year and are very new, leaving lots of room for remolding and reshaping. No mountain bike park starts with perfect trails and ideas, they are all a work of art in motion.

Sun Peaks or Silver Star? I have to say I prefer Sun Peaks. I find Sun Peaks to have much more flow to the trail design. I enjoy the fast falline technical sections in Sun Peaks and With route 66 and Steam Shovel it satisfies my need for Air miles.. If I had to advocate one mountain only, it would be Sun Peaks, until Silver Star has some time to grow.

MTB newbie, Camilla Burgess:

What did you imagine the riding would be like? Fun but freaky. I'd only seen North Shore stuff and the Red Bull competition in Utah, so I thought it would be really challenging. I wondered how anybody learned!

Favourite trail: Super Star was my favourite trail - a long 'blue', with a great flow and a good combination of berms and jumps. It was a great trail to learn on; at the start of the day I was rolling over all the jumps, but by the end I felt confident enough to get some air.

Overall impression: Silver Star is a welcoming atmosphere with very friendly, hospitable people. It was a great place for me to learn as it was never too busy. Lineups for the chair were minimal or nonexistent, and the liftees were humorous. I appreciated the wide variety of food available in the village, from the delicious-smelling bakery to the decadent plates prepared by the Swiss chef at the Silver Load Inn. A beautiful location with trails going through forests and fields of bright wild flowers, I would definitely return for another fun filled weekend.

NSMB tester/contributor, Corey Anderson:

Did the trails live up to your expectations? The trails blew me away. They have taken a mountain that delivers exceptional natural lines and bred trails that use all of their features and all of the mountain. In the end, it makes for a large selection of trails that cater to every riding style.

Favourite move: Has to be the wall-rides. They are such unique stunts placed in the trees in a natural setting. It’s unexpected and an unreal use of the terrain. Somebody had an idea that was out of the box, and the end result is a stunt that nobody could seem to get enough of.

Overall stoke rating: They are sitting on something beautiful. Their park is ahead of its time, and the investment they have made in the Bike Park is showing. The trail builders know what gets riders going off, and the restaurants, hotels and lift/park staff know what they are doing to make everyone feel welcome and stoked to ride.

The last word is thanks. Everyone at Silver Star was incredible. I've never experienced such warm hospitality in all my travels as a mountain biker. I'd like to thank Adrian Witt and Robin Baycroft for setting everything up, Steve Mundell for looking after us and cooking up a great barbecue (with help from Heather McLennan), Cam, Rick, Rob and Keith for touring us around the mountain, Jeff Myers from the Ride Guide for patiently filming the team, and every person we encountered at Silver Star. Everyone was so down to earth, friendly and warm that none of us wanted to leave. Thanks Silver Star!

To find out more about mountain biking at Silver Star, click here.

The full article, including pictures, can be found on the NSMB website.