How to Create Adventure – Part 1 with Curtis Pawliuk
In this episode, Curtis Pawliuk joins Chris and Jordy to talk about how he has helped to create adventure through the development of a mountain bike park in Valemount, BC. Curtis Pawliuk is the Executive Director of the Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association (VARDA). Curtis shares some of the challenges and successes that VARDA has had developing the Valemount trail system. He also touches on its impacts on the local economy and what other communities could learn.
Think big: It’s okay to dream, in fact we need to. This helps us to keep ourselves and others motivated to keep going.
Creating adventure facilities takes resources: It takes time, money, support, and energy. Curtis mentioned the STP Committees– the same ten people that are always working on driving an organization forward. You need to find the people who can spend time to build whatever you are creating.
Build what people want: If you want to be successful at creating adventure, you have to build experiences that people want. This can be different than the experiences that you might want to deliver.
Guest Links & Resources
Valemount Mountain Biking: https://ridevalemount.com/mountain-biking/
Frozen Pirate: https://linktr.ee/frozenpirate
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[00:00:00] Curtis Pawliuk: In those eight years, we have five new businesses that would not be here without the bike bar. No, that’s not with the trail system. No, that’s not, that’s not a coffee shop or a, or a brewery or a little local restaurant who’s really benefiting from the, the tens of thousands of people that are coming. Um, this is, you know, these are, these are bike shops, these are trail building association.
We’re trail building groups. Like this is, um, you know, five new businesses in a town that doesn’t have a. It’s a, a pretty, pretty amazing economic opportunity or economic impact.
[00:00:30] Chris Kaipio: Welcome to Delivering Adventure. This is the podcast that explores what it really takes to share adventure like a pro with your friends, your family, and as a profession.
My name is Chris Capo, and I’m coming to you from Whistler, British Columbia.
[00:00:49] Jordy Shepherd: And I’m Jordy Shepherd. Recording from Canmore, Alberta. After a lifetime of working extensively in different parts of the adventure guiding industry, Chris and I have teamed up to launch this podcast. In each episode, you’ll hear top adventure guides, managers, marketers, and athletes share their best stories, advice, and trade secrets.
The goal of this podcast is to share how you can take yourself and others farther from the mountains to the office and. In this episode, Curtis Pollak joins us to talk about how we can create adventure. Curtis Pollak lives and plays in Veil Mount BC and is the executive director of the Veil Mount, an Area Recreation Development Association, known in short as VARDA, a not-for-profit association specializing in public recreation area development and.
Curtis is also a ca, a professional member, snowmobile guide, avalanche instructor, and the owner operator of Frozen Pirate Snow Services, which is a backcountry, snowmobile guiding, and avalanche safety operation. In this first episode of two, we are going to learn about Curtis’s work on the veil mount bike park, which has become quite a success.
[00:01:56] Chris Kaipio: Well, Jordy, this sounds great. Let’s bring Curtis into the DA studio. All right. Uh, welcome to the show, Curtis. How are you?
[00:02:05] Curtis Pawliuk: Hey man. I’m great. Yeah. Thank you, guys. Thanks a lot for having me. Stoked to be here.
[00:02:08] Chris Kaipio: Uh, where are you right now?
[00:02:10] Curtis Pawliuk: You know what I was, I had the most perfect podcast location. I was staring, uh, the, you know, I was right at the northern tip of the Columbia basin staring at Canoe Mountain, which was the kind of the northern tip of the monies.
I had the Caribous beside me, the Rockies on the left. That didn’t work. So now I’m, I’m down in the snowboard dungeon, down in my basement, and now Valemount, BC.
[00:02:29] Chris Kaipio: Yeah, that, that was my fault. I made you move. Sorry, about that. All good. All good. Hey, so can you tell our audience about your background and, uh, you know, you live in, in Mont, which is right up near the, uh, British Columbia Alberta border, near the Canadian Rockies.
Um, right there. Yeah. If you can kind of tell us your background, how you, how you got there, where you’re from.
[00:02:51] Curtis Pawliuk: Absolutely. It’s, it’s quite the story and it’s, it’s involved. So, I’ll try to, try to be somewhat brief, but, um, first off, before your, uh, listeners hear it, it’s, it’s veil mount. Um, if I don’t correct you on that one right away, I’m going to get, uh, going to get hung out to dry here.
So, Valemount for sure. We’re, we’re pretty passionate about that one. Um, how I ended up in Veil Mount and it’s pretty interesting. I was, um, kind of born in northern BC in Prince George. Um, I spent, uh, most of my, you know, up till till about 19, 20 years old there, and then always in the bush at a cabin fishing.
Um, grew up in the local snowboard hills. Um, not a huge back country family, like an outdoor family, but never really in the high mountains. No, no climbing, no mountaineering, nothing like that. Just the bush, um, northern BC bush. and then, you know, graduated, graduated high school and was kind of lost and doing some odd jobs and basically just living in the back of a Toyota pickup truck.
Uh, fly fishing when I could and working when I absolutely had to. Um, so, you know, had having a lot of fun, but then, I’m feeling a little bit lost and ended up, um, finding a, an upstart college program in a, in a place I’d never heard of, um, called Valemount. Um, it was a, a, an adventure program called the Northern Outdoor Recreation and Ecotourism Program.
It was a first year of the college program ever came or ever was? It was out there. It was the first year it ever ran. Just the certificate program. So just the one year, but, uh, sounded interesting to me. So literally packed up my little truck and and drove to Valemount and participated in this college program.
And it, uh, it kind of set my career for outdoor tourism, adventure, tourism, ecotourism, whatever you want to call it. Um, just in the adventure realm. It, it basically started me delivering adventure, which was pretty cool. Um, took the experience from that program and, and ended up in Jasper, Alberta for I think five seasons.
I worked as a fly-fishing guide in the national park there. Um, went down to Rebel Stoke, one of the winters, um, you know, I sent out resumes to everywhere. Um, fell in love with sledding in Vale Mount, I guess. Wind back a little bit and then, uh, while I was in Jasper, just was peppering everybody with resumes and, you know, um, for, for the snowmobile guiding operations and snowmobile, guiding is actually a really small activity.
There’s not a lot of operations out there doing it. And, uh, I got picked up by Glacier House down in Rebel Stoke. Um, so moved everything I had down to Rebel Stoke and, you know, spent an amazing season down there. And when I was in the college program, I, I met a young girl, beautiful little blonde girl who’s, who’s now my wife and, you know, a father of, uh, two kids and married for a, you know, oh God, I shouldn’t even say it.
Quite a long time. Um. And we always wanted to come back to Vale Mount, but there wasn’t a lot of employment here. There wasn’t a lot of work to do. Um, we ended up just kind of making the push and making the move and getting back here, and it was kind of karma. , um, VARDA, what we’ll talk about here in a bit more, um, was just created and it was having some issues and it needed some staff and I had a little bit of a reputation as an outdoor guy and, and they picked me up and, gosh, that was 17 years ago.
[00:05:49] Chris Kaipio: That’s amazing. It, it’s so cool how these little programs, whatever they are, um, we’re talking about a tourism based, uh, program that you did there in, in the local college can be so influential. Uh, just by giving people opportunities and, and giving you a chance to see what’s, what’s actually out there.
So that’s, that’s super cool that that was your path. Now, can you describe Valemount for us? Like, you know, a lot of people may have just driven through it on the way to places like Jasper or Edmonton or, or Vancouver, but I bet you there’s a lot of people that actually haven’t been there at all because it, it is a ways.
Away from kind of the center of, of British Columbia? Or if you’re, if you’re listening from around the world, can you describe like, what, what is the town like because it’s not, um, you know, we’ve, we’ve done a lot of discussions with people in, in Canmore and Whistler and, and kind of the big resorts resort towns, but Veil Mount is not like that at all.
[00:06:46] Curtis Pawliuk: No, it’s not. And I, I’d definitely save the amount’s in a, a community that’s in transition. Um, you know, we have, we were that Milltown, you know, big Sawmill. It was, it was full industrial full logging com or logging community, which was great. It was, you know, provided some great jobs. It was, uh, a lot of, lot of local employment.
Um, and then, you know, the, the government made some changes in the, in the kind of the lumber industry of where wood can go. And, and that resulted in somebody buying our timber license at our mill actually shutting down and, you know, the majority of the community losing their. Um, so we saw a lot of people move away at that, that point, you know, everyone lost benefits, lost programs, and, um, so we, we lost a lot of our local population.
We’re sitting now around 900 to a thousand people. Um, we’re still, we’re still that, we’re still a forestry town. There’s a local community for us that is amazing for our community. Provides jobs, provides investment back into the community. Um, you know, seeing Rail also comes through here, so we have, uh, it’s a railway town as well.
Um, but really, we’ve, we’ve made a, we’ve definitely made a transition into the tourism realm for sure. We’ve been known as, um, you know, a back country and winter snowmobile community for a long time. Um, some of the changes that, you know, the company I work with has done VARTA has done is with working with, you know, it’s kind of the sled ski side of things, the snowmobile side of things.
Now the mountain bike side of things. Um, as well as there’s a, there’s a non-motorized group as well, um, that’s developing some hiking trails, a little bit backcountry ski opportunities, but we’re still quite an untapped community. The people that are coming here now, due to the activities that we have, they’re, they’re assuming the town’s full of art, Arcteryx and Gore-Tex and people walking around in ski boots and because they’re, like you mentioned Chris, they’re like the, you know, the camo or the Whistler or the Jasper that’s not veil mount.
Um, it’s, it’s, we’re turning into a more outdoor base community with our residents here. So, people are moving here for those opportunities and it’s really neat because, those people that are moving here without outdoor spirit really have the opportunity to help shape this community. And it’s been something that’s been really cool to be a part of.
So, we’re starting to really see that change into, I don’t want to call it a resort community by any means, but into an outdoor based adventure community. Um, but spearheaded by the locals that live here.
[00:09:02] Chris Kaipio: So, it’s been super cool. So, so based on, on that, you know, if, if you haven’t gone through Veil Mount, What I can tell you is it is beautiful.
Like you, you’ve got this really big valley, the giant mountains all around. Uh, you’ve got Kimba Lake, which is, which is right there. So, there’s a lot of adventure opportunities there. So, can you tell us about some of your adventure related achievements while, while you’ve been out there? Like what are the things that stand out to you?
[00:09:31] Curtis Pawliuk: Yeah. You know, I think, um, when I started with Yeah, that, that was my in two, so I guess I’ll start back. VARDA is the Valemount Area Recreation Development Association. It’s, uh, it’s, it’s unique. It’s a non-profit association that used to be a snowmobile club. But back in 2004, there was conflicts in the back country between, you know, motorized adventures, so Heli ski, cat skiing, non-motorized users, snowmobile users, um, and everybody came to the table.
Um, the government helped us with this MA with a sustainable resource management plan, and everybody came to the table and created what we now call VARDA, the Vale Mountain Area Recreation Development Association and that group. Now, while it still is primarily. It’s, its main task is managing the recreational Stoneville tourism industry for the town.
Um, we’ve led off into, um, and that’s working alongside hell ski companies, cat ski companies, the business. It’s a really unique group. Um, but that led us into kind of the expansion and, and. Where whatever vision we saw for our community, we were able to help implement it. And it was a, it’s been a really unique thing.
And those are some of the biggest accomplishments we’ve done. Um, you know, we created the world’s first ever snowmobile assisted ski hill. Uh, it’s called Crystal Ridge. Um, you know, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment during that. S R M P process, that management plan process, they consulted local stakeholder groups, is what they wanted to see in a, in a sort of a management plan.
Um, and a local group had this idea. They were, they called themselves the power borders back then, and they had this idea that, um, they wanted this zone where they could. Do sled skiing, but not in a, not in a massive, um, you know, a busy snowmobile managed area or where a lot of people were more, more of a remote zone.
So, you know, we have six runs now on Crystal Ridge. They’re, you know, they’re 2000, 2000 vertical feet, almost two kilometers long. Um, the challenges there not creating a bunch of avalanche paths. So, you know, really, it’s, it’s tree skiing. It’s a little bit shallower. Um, but you know, it’s a super, it’s absolutely an amazing thing to do.
Um, also with VARDA there, we’ve created the Valemount bike park over the last eight seasons, which is probably, I’m sure we’ll talk about a lot more, which has completely changed our community and really put veil mount on the map as a summer destination, not just that pass through. Um, personally, I, and I’ve been with VARDA for 17 years as the executive director.
I also work, I’m their, you know, their avalanche forecaster, their field tech, kind of jack of all trades, working for a really good board of directors and a core group of volunteers. Alongside that, I run an avalanche training in a snowmobile guiding company, um, called Frozen Pirate Snow Services. So, we’re, um, kind of a boutique company.
We offer, you know, small sized avalanche training courses for the public, the recreational courses. Um, we’re a tenured guiding operation, so doing things the right way. It was really important to us to, to do things the right way and work, work properly with ministries and stakeholders and, and government stuff.
You know, um, tenure, tenure veteran on the Avalanche Canada Board of Directors and involved with, you know, many, many, many different hats. So, you know, um, I think the proud of the things I’ve done and, you know, more excited on the things we can do.
[00:12:34] Jordy Shepherd: So, Curtis, I have, uh, some roots in Valemount as well. My, uh, parents retired there.
I grew up in Jasper Park and who, my parents did retire there. They both passed away, but we still have the family homestead there out. Uh, you’re kidding. I had no idea. Yeah, yeah. On Petaluma Road there. Um, But, uh, yeah, so I’m quite connected to the, the Velma, uh, Velma community there. And, uh, yeah, a friend owns and operates three ranges brewing there.
Some of you’re friends with, you’re friends with Mike?
[00:13:09] Curtis Pawliuk: Uh, yeah. Rundy, yeah. Oh, okay.
[00:13:10] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, her father was, her father was a park warden in Jasper and, and, uh, yeah, great beer. Yeah. And so, I have spent some time at the Veil Mountain Bike Park. Tell us about it. It’s, uh, it’s quite incredible.
[00:13:27] Curtis Pawliuk: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a project of passion for sure, and, and quite an amazing story.
Um, when I mentioned VARDA alongside a non-motorized group, you know, we’re a non-motorized as well with the, with the mountain bike side of things. It gets a bit convoluted, but. Um, in about 2011, there’s a group, a local group called the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association. Uh, and they’re more in charge of, you know, hiking trails, some of the back country ski opportunities that we have here.
Um, and they, they created, there again, another implant from Jasper. So, you know, there’s a, there’s quite a few of you guys here that come, come over to Vail Mountain. Um, there’s a young kid there named Andreas Tony, and he, he was living in Vail Mountain, had. You know, had this dream of, um, you know, building bike trails and, and, and developing veil mount into some sort of a, a trail network or even providing something just for the locals really.
I don’t think at that time it was supposed to be this big tourist attraction or this big recreational economic impact opportunity. So, they, they contacted, um, uh, IMBA Canada to create a master plan for an area we call Five Mile, which is really right at the back of Vale Mount. It’s, I can be up at the bike park within five-minute pedal from my house.
Um, they created this master plan, uh, a first stage of a master plan, and it was supposed to be about a five-year build. But that plan sat dormant for, I would say, up to three or four years. Really? Nobody had, nobody acted on it. Um, and it was basically because Jora didn’t have the capacity to implement that sort of plan.
They just, they didn’t have a staff. They were strictly a volunteer run organization that was, you know, in a small town like this, you’ve got the, the SSTP committees, the same 10 people committees, so everybody gets a bit tired and, um, they approach me, they approach me. I like that they approach me at VARDA and.
I, I was a biker. I had a, a very, very strong history of success, I’m going to be honest in, in getting large projects done and finding funding for large projects. And my, probably the hardest part about the bike park was convincing a group of business owners, um, local governments, Snowmobilers, like my VARDA board, convincing them that, uh, you know, bike trails were going to be the future of Elmont or could play a big part in the future of Elmont.
Luckily, I was successful. Um, and we’re now on the eighth, we just finished our eighth season of building. Um, we have 54 trails, like some of those are connector trails of course. And um, but you know, we’re very proud of a kind of. A new school polished, very high-quality downhill network as well as now with the last couple years we added up to 30 kilometers of cross-country network on the north side, on the Swift Creek side.
It’s, in my opinion, it’s been one of the best things that has ever happened to AMO in the last, you know, 15 years since, you know, or 20 years since I’ve been here.
[00:16:13] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, this summer I had the opportunity, I think it had just opened the, what’s it called? The Secret Garden.
[00:16:18] Curtis Pawliuk: The Zengar. Zengar Zen Garden.
[00:16:18] Jordy Shepherd: Zen Garden, yeah. Yeah. I, I won’t give it away, but go ride it. It’s fantastic.
[00:16:23] Curtis Pawliuk: No, we want everybody to come. Yeah. We want everybody to come. I think that’s one thing that you’re going to notice when you come here. Someone will grab you by the hand and pull you out mountain biking, like if you want to find your way around the trail, someone will show you.
It’s, it’s pretty cool.
[00:16:37] Jordy Shepherd: So how does the bike park benefit the community of Elmont and the surrounding area?
[00:16:43] Curtis Pawliuk: You know, I think that’s something, I think that’s something that surprised me. Um, surprised our local government. Surprised our business owners. You know, I had some. We have a, we’re a a destination management organization, so resort municipality.
So, we get some, uh, a hotel room tax that comes back into tourism development, marketing, that sort of thing. Um, and again, trying to get some, some funding to build this bike park. Um, some of these, some of the people contributing to this fund or some of the larger business owners, you know, we didn’t, we didn’t, even myself, I didn’t really understand how far.
In-depth mountain bikers go into their culture, um, into involving themselves in a local community. They’re a user group that, that shows up in a community. They want local food, they want local beer, uh, you know, they want a camp and stay close by. Um, and it’s completely shifted the mentality of some of these local businesses.
Uh, one of our largest hotels, he was a skeptic of what we were actually doing with bike trails now is investing tens of thousands of dollars into storage units and marketing campaigns, you know, it’s really come full circle. In those eight years, we have five new businesses that would not be here without the bike park.
Now that’s not with the trail system. Now that’s not, that’s not a coffee shop or a, or a brewery or a little local restaurant who’s really benefiting from the, the tens of thousands of people that are coming. Um, this is, you know, these are, these are bike shops, these are trail building associations or trail building groups.
Like this is, um, you know, five new businesses in a town that doesn’t have a lot. That’s, that’s a, a pretty, pretty amazing economic opportunity or economic impact. And then the way bikers like to involve themselves into local culture, they, you know, they want that local sandwich. They want a taste of the towns they’re in.
They want a taste of the culture they’re in. Mont downtown Core used to be busy. There was nobody down there. It was a, it was a, it was a, a beautiful place to be, but it was a ghost town. Now, you know, all summer long, it’s full of smiley people, it’s full of bikes, it’s full of people biking around trucks with bikes on them.
It’s a, it’s a vibrant downtown core and the economic impact, like, it just, it can’t be missed. Yeah.
[00:18:44] Jordy Shepherd: When I was there this summer, it was packed, jammed. Packed. So, the shuttle service with the, the van and the racks of, for bikes on the trailer that was there was the people were lined up, like they lined up for the chairlift.
It’s pretty exciting. It was absolutely crazy. And I, I’ve watched this over the last few years, how it’s just, it’s just blossomed. And so where did the, where did the funding come from for this? Like how, how, you know, what partnerships were developed required grant.
[00:19:15] Curtis Pawliuk: For sure. Yeah. So, we’re, we’re lucky that we’re lucky AA, that we’re a non-profit association that has an employee.
Um, you know, that’s a, that’s a very good thing. All of this work can get pretty tiresome for a group of volunteers. So, you know, part of the work, one of the most impart of my job is finding funding, um, bail mounts also. A tagline that, that I, I often use is that we are, we are the north of the south and the south of the north, and that puts us into, uh, gives us opportunity by, it puts us into, uh, classification as a northern community, but maybe in like the Thompson Okanagan and then also the Columbia Basin.
Um, so I have. Potentially three different variations where we can look for, look for funding, look for grant opportunities. Um, but it’s not all, that’s not where it all came from. We have, you know, we have a strong membership. We have over 320 mountain bike members annually. Um, you know, those guys create a.
Create quite a substantial impact into the community. We have, you know, local fundraisers we’re, we’re in, we, we’ve invested heavily into relationship building with Belmont Community Forest Tourism, Mont. Um, so yeah, we’re, we’re lucky. It’s, it’s a challenge to find the funding, but having some staff kicking around someone who’s dedicated to moving these projects forward is a really big benefit.
[00:20:31] Jordy Shepherd: And tell us, tell our listeners about the building process. How did it actually get built out, the planning of it? You know, the actual, uh, shovels and equipment for sure.
[00:20:42] Curtis Pawliuk: We, you know, we, we actually get contacted a lot on how this stuff is done, how we’re successful, how other communities can be successful as smaller BC communities are.
Well, communities everywhere are transitioning to some form of, you know, sustainable tourism. One thing I could say that I, I, it, it took me a while to learn, was to plan, uh, really plan, consult, talk. Um, so when you actually construct a trail, there’s, there’s so many stages. There’s just because you want to build a trail somewhere doesn’t mean that trail should be there.
It doesn’t mean that style of trail fits there. It doesn’t mean the ground wants that trail there. It doesn’t mean the community wants that trail there. There’s a lot of work to do that goes in behind, you know, deciding where a trail should be and, you know, luckily. The group back in the first days created this master plan with, with IMBA, and that would, that gave me a kind of a starting point as to what to build and where to build.
But we very quickly noted, noticed deficiencies or that maybe parts of this plan didn’t quite fit into what our community vision was. So, we, we, we did change some things over, but. You know, when you’re starting to look at trail development, you’re looking at a, is this a good place for this? Um, you know, is this trail going to be able to stay here for the next 50 years?
Um, is it a sustainable place to put a trail? You know, what is there? Is it, is it wet? Is it dry? Does the forest handle it? What type of trail can I put here? What’s my user? Does my community want a trail here? Um, and then we go into, you know, actually gr that’s ground truthing the trail. Then we go into getting, you know, permission if it’s on private land, ground land, or public land.
We might have to involve rec sites and Trails BC We certainly have to consult, you know, with your local First Nation groups, any other stakeholders such as a community forest or um, any groups involved into that land base. Um, and then, you know, once you have that dream and have ground truth and kind of gained those permissions and then it’s funding source and.
A big thing to decide is are you going to machine build? Um, or are you going to, are you going to hand build? There is benefits to both. Um, machine build trails are often, um, they’re a bit more expansive. They’re a bit more, sometimes they can be, you know, more fascinating to look at. They’ve certainly are what brought people into our community and what developed the VE Mount Trail system.
Um, but they also require a ton of maintenance, um, you know, to keep the brake bumps off of ’em. They’re more of a flatter surface, more of a flow style. Where if you hand build something in, they tend to wear in on their own, develop sort of an organic feel. So, there’s a really, there’s a ton that go into, you know, trail management, trail design, trail building, trail planning.
Um, and it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really, it’s best done with a committee and community involvement and stakeholder engagement and, and, uh, and know the end product can be pretty amazing as we’ve seen what’s happened here.
[00:23:27] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, I’ve noticed being up there with the road that kind of splits, the splits, the.
Or dissects the whole area there on the mountain side. It seems like there was extensive planning that went into there because it could be, you know, very easily you’re running into, oh no, we’ve got trails crossing the road all over the place. And then, you know, cars interacting with people that, which is never a good thing to have and, you know, affecting the shuttling experience, affecting the uphill and downhill biking experience.
So yeah, it seems like it was really well thought out and uh, and really well. I, I definitely have noticed the ambulance there quite a bit too. So just, uh, a heads up for folks.
[00:24:06] Curtis Pawliuk: I had feeling. I had a feeling that was going to come up. Um, and, and I knew risk management was going to pop up here somewhere, but you know what, what you guys do for a living, what I do for a living, we’re managing, we’re managing.
For risk in activities that are inherently risky. Right. So, it’s, you know, and it is, it, it can be, it can be a numbers game for sure. Um, with our bike park alone, our trail system alone this summer, we have six electronic counters out of the company in Canmore there. So really high-tech counters. Um, now those, those six trails recorded over 80,000 passe.
um, from May to the end of September alone, 80,000 passes. Um, so when you’re, when you’re, I think our record’s really, really good, but when you’re managing, uh, the risk of something that’s inherently risky, there’s things are going to happen for sure. Yeah. And I like that you. I really like that you hit on the design of our trail system.
Um, our goal was, you know, inclusivity, um, accessibility for all levels of riders, enjoyment for all levels of riders. So as, as our trail system has developed, we’ve, our goal was to always have a green, a blue and a black from as many staging areas as possible, or, you know, um, trail, trail junctions as possible, but reducing trail crossings, road crossings.
Um, the last thing. The last thing I want to do when I’m riding a trail is pull out my phone and have to go on trail forks to find out where I’m going. It just drives, you know, it has to happen. It’s part of the game, but it just, it drives me crazy. So, we tried to make things user friendly, make it flow, but also have variety.
And if you build it right, like our, to me, our, our quote unquote 54 trails, that’s about 150 trails. The way I can link them together and ride them differently and ride them backwards.
[00:25:53] Jordy Shepherd: What were some of the challenges you experienced in creating the bike park? A few of the top challenges.
[00:25:59] Curtis Pawliuk: You certainly learn ’em as you go.
Um, you know, you learn, you learn your challenges as you go. They’re, they don’t all come up right away. Um, I’d have to say respecting and involving, you know, all stakeholders. There’s, there’s ones that you wouldn’t even, you wouldn’t even consider, or ones that you just, you wouldn’t even think about. How do you.
How do you reach everybody? Um, how do you involve everybody and how do you not forget somebody? And you know, when you’re, when you’re working with a community, you’re, you know, you’re trying to consult with people, you’re trying to involve people, you want to collaborate with them, um, and then also empower them a little bit.
Um, help them, help them make some choices. So, you know, a mistake I might have made was, was thinking that we could push into this zone to the north that, you know, it seemed like nobody used it was logged to pieces. Nobody was using it. It was dry. It would’ve been a great area to develop a trail. And, um, and, and we did that.
We, we, we consulted, we spoke, we talked with the right people. And, you know, one group we forgot was, it was, it was kind of a local hunting ground. It was really close to veil mount. It was almost too close for my liking for people to be walking around with a bunch of guns. But, um, it was a, you know, it was a local, local hunting turf for whitetail deer and.
You know, we, that was a user group that we affected and I feel terrible for it. So, you know, that’s certainly challenges is respecting everybody’s needs, um, funding, securing funding with shovel ready projects. It’s, it’s not easy. Um, and I think it’s the u it’s the trouble for, for most of the user groups.
And it’s not just the funding to build, it’s the funding for the, to maintain the animal that you built. Um, you know, you never know how, how busy it’s going to get. We certainly did not expect this demand, um, the demand that we have now. We’re lucky that we have great partners, um, you know, great support and it’s, it’s still a challenge, um, to maintain what we’ve.
And then now we’re, you know, the world’s, the world’s moving to such a, a risk adverse society. I think managing, managing liability, managing, um, Government’s perception of risk. I think all of those things are becoming more challenging and they’re, they’re, we’re not there. We haven’t seen the end of it yet.
So those are some of the things we’ve faced for sure.
[00:28:08] Jordy Shepherd: Has it been challenging with the growth of it and the, the constant development that you’ve done there? Like, I’ve noticed every time I go back there, there’s basically had to be amendments to the trail maps and the signage and it’s, it’s probably just a constant thing.
[00:28:24] Curtis Pawliuk: Yeah, I hate maps. I wish everything could be digital, but it’s just, it’s not the way, you know, I just, I just complained about pulling out my phone. Um, yeah, we, we build, you know, we’re building on momentum. Um, we’re building on, you know, the, the benefits of the community, but we’re really trying to build sustainably.
Everything we add has been talked about, discussed, debated, um, how, who’s it good for? Um, you know, it’s, There’s, there’s pro building, like building for your friends and building for yourself, and then there’s pro building, right? So, you know, building for the building for a reason, for the community. Um, and it’s, it’s been a challenge to kind of, to fit all that in and, and maintain, watch that capacity as we go.
But everything that we’re doing has, has a purpose, um, and has a, you know, has a, a loosey-goosey plan behind it. But we’re, we’re always thinking ahead as. How are we going to maintain what we’ve built? How do we keep the quality up? That’s the most important thing for me. People come to Mont because of our quality trails.
If I’m riding around and I find a brake bump, it’s not acceptable. Right? And so, we’ve got to, I know, we’ve got to make sure that we can keep that maintenance and, and that might end up putting on the brakes of some construction. Like this past summer we. We really just, um, you know, we did a rebuild of our jump line.
We extended our climbing trail and extended a, another green access network over on the Swift side. So, slowing down a little bit, but it’s, I don’t even look at it as slowing down. I look at it as this getting a bit more picky on where you put a trail and why you put a trail somewhere.
[00:29:53] Jordy Shepherd: Is there a talk of, like right now you just roll in there, park and go biking, there’s no charge for it.
Is there a talk of, uh, user.
[00:30:02] Curtis Pawliuk: Ah, wouldn’t that be nice? You know, even, even $5 I had would change. The outlook of mountain biking, I think everywhere. Um, and especially in our area due to the due to the high maintenance and, you know, high cost of stuff that we’re doing. But unfortunately, with our trails are, and most trails in BC are on, on public land, so they have some sort of agreement with rec sites and trails.
Um, and due to the duty of care, um, A user fee has, has yet to be established in a, in a mountain bike trail. Um, if you look at the snowmobile industry where we’re, we’re charging access fees to go up a groom trail, um, our duty of care and our, our, our agreements are really from the parking lot to the end of that groom trail.
So, we have to, we completely maintain that groom trail. But I look at it like a boat launch. Uh, we’re maintaining a boat launch. Once you, once you put your boat in the water, put your skis or your sled of the mountain, at the end of that group trail, you’re in, you’re in Mother Nature, you’re on your own. Um, if we invite people to a staging area and say, go ride your bike.
We’ve a, we’ve built everything that’s out there. Uh, we’ve, we’ve manipulated the ground, we’ve put this there, we’ve put that there, and yeah, it’s, uh, I sure hope it happens one day and that we can find a way to do it for the future of biking and the quality of the trail systems in dc, but at this point, it’s, it’s not looking good.
[00:31:21] Jordy Shepherd: Are donations an option? Can people donate if they feel.
[00:31:25] Curtis Pawliuk: Hundred percent. And that’s kind of how we, how we really survive. Um, trying to make donations easy. You know, we have donation boxes in the lower staging area. Um, we have eran, we, you know, we got signs up everywhere for e transfers. Um, you know, we’re going to move into the QR codes with a direct transfer.
You know, membership is, is in very important as well. But yeah, the, the, the cool thing about bikers is they’re very open to doing this. Um, and I, you know, when you, when you go ride somewhere to put 20 bucks in a donation box, as long as you can. And it’s our fault too. Our donation box is kind of small and, but we’ve got signs everywhere.
But as long as you’re, as long as you’re, you’re, you know, you’re reminded to donate or it’s, it’s, it’s easy. It’s a quick of a QR link or it’s a big donation box and you got 20 bucks in, you know, the community wants to do it and they want to support trails. It’s, uh, I have to say it’s a, it’s an extremely rewarding group to work with and to work for.
[00:32:15] Jordy Shepherd: And how about future plans for?
[00:32:18] Curtis Pawliuk: We’re always looking, um, we’re always looking, especially with the benefit of, of what trails have done for our community. I, I truly believe that trails are the future of a mountain, and I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet, but that’s not just bike trails. You know, I think our ski touring opportunities are, are, you know, I’d like to be able to park a car and go skiing and that’s, it’s very, very difficult here in Mountain.
But we’re always looking to expand the bike, the, the trail system, the mountain bike trail system, but do it in, in a sustainable manner. Um, you don’t want to, I don’t want to jam, jam that mountain full jam, everything in. I want the experience to still be really good for the users. You know, I want the parking lots to be at capacity, but I want that capacity to be, you know, um, I want there to be a limit to that capacity within those parking lots.
So, it’s still, it doesn’t affect the user’s experience. So, you know, ideally, I hope that we can find a new location at once. And you know, if you look at Rebel Stoke, for example, you’ve got, how, how many areas or how many different places do you go to mountain bike, right? Where the amount, we still really just have one.
It’s just really, really good. Um, so we’re always looking to expand, but at the same time, you know, pump the brakes a little bit and maintain the machine and make sure it still runs.
[00:33:27] Jordy Shepherd: I’m more of a cross-country rider than a downhiller, so I ride my bike up as well as down and quite proud of that. And it’s an amazing up track there.
So, for folks, if it’s getting jammed up there with the shuttling, I, I really highly recommend, uh, just pedal your bike uphill. There’s a great up track.
[00:33:47] Curtis Pawliuk: Yeah, we just added three kilometers to it this fall. Yeah. So, it goes all the way up to the Turducken staging area now, which is pretty rad. But,
[00:33:56] Chris Kaipio: So, Curtis, there’s a big push in some areas that have traditionally been more resource-based economies to now pivot towards diversifying their, their local economies. And our, you know, many of these areas are looking towards tourism. What’s your advice to communities out there that might be thinking about trying to build a facility like this?
Like what have you learned along the way that you would want them?
[00:34:21] Curtis Pawliuk: Yeah, awesome question. And I, you know, I do love to see communities transitioning to, um, to kind of the outdoor, outdoor adventure environment or outdoor adventure-based economy and. I guess one of the biggest pieces is it’s really hard to do.
There’s, there’s competition out there and especially, you know, if you’re located up in northern BC or Northern Alberta or somewhere that’s, you know, not on, not on a major highway. The most important thing and what I think really helped us out was, um, build that bright light first. Like build something.
build something that’s better than anybody else has. Um, and it could be, it could be one jump line, it could be, you know, um, a, a really, really epic flow trail. Um, build a, build a, what do you want to call it? Build an attraction. Um, and then, you know, that could even be an alpine coaster. It could be one of the best alpine bike trails in BC.
Just set yourself apart from the norm with even just one thing. Um, and then that word of mouth and the organic movement and marketing and people coming. That’s going to spread and it’s going to light a, it’s going to light a small fire, it’s going to get some more wood put on it, and it’s going to grow like wildfire, um, if you’ve done it right the first time.
Um, so really try to build, find out what that attraction is, find what best fits your community, but also the people have to want it. Um, you know, there has to be buy-in within your local community and in a, in a purely industrial community, that change takes time. Um, people think of tourism and it could be low paying jobs and, you know, a lot of, in the service industry, and you know, that’s, sure that’s true on the low-end side of things, but there’s, you know, There’s a ton of room for unique ideas, entrepreneurs, um, you know, you know, new business owners.
You just need to be creative. And I, as far as the community goes, I really believe in creating, creating something that sets you apart from another destination or another area, um, is probably the best first step to, to get the ball rolling.
[00:36:14] Chris Kaipio: I, uh, live in Worcester now and just down the road in Squamish. They have always, there’s been a, a lot of mountain biking there for, you know, for quite a while.
Yeah. But it really exploded when the federal government gave the local, uh, community about a hundred thousand dollars or so, and they invested half of that into a, a trail, uh, half Nelson, which, um, is amazing. But I think it, it did a, a few different things. Put the area on the map for this one. Trail, but it also starts to set the standard that you’re measuring.
You know, everything else that you do. And it’s like, okay, well then if we did this, then what’s next? What else can you do? And, and it just spurs, um, I think it spurs a lot of, uh, interest in the local community to want to. To do even, even more once you see that,
[00:37:05] Curtis Pawliuk: that’s possible. Yeah, I, I agree. And that, that half Nelson’s a, that’s a flow trail.
Hey, if I remember correctly. That’s right. It, yeah. So, it’s a flow style trail, but it’s, it’s, it’s in and more of an old school trail network, so, I think the success of what we’ve done, um, started with flow trails. Like you can’t, you can’t build a double block diamond trail. Um, and, and that’s your attraction.
It’s just, it’s, it’s for such a small user group. So really try to try to develop your attraction that’s going to, you know, get the most bang for your buck and be accessible to the most people. And I do believe that Flow trails did that for us, but you can only ride so much flow. Um, you’ve got to, then you’ve got to branch off into, but then you can add your.
Historic lines, you’re more rakeen rides your, you know, your other network. But yeah, try to try to get something that’s quite accessible. And I think that’s what Health Nelson did for that network. And you know, that’s what some of our signature flow trails have certainly done for us. If we just built a black diamond network of old school hand-built trails, nobody would, nobody would’ve come here.
[00:38:02] Chris Kaipio: No. It’s, it’s funny, I talked to a, I talked to this guy. He started a, a hiking guiding business and uh, I was chatting to him and I said, so who are your customers? Like, where are they coming from? What do they like to do? What do they like? And his response was, I don’t. And I’m thinking, well, if you don’t know what your customers want, then how do you even know you are building the right trips for them?
And you know, a little bit to your point, I think he was building trips that he wanted to do, uh, versus what his customers or potential customers out there wanted to do. And, and yeah, it didn’t work out very well. And so, knowing, knowing what. The people that are coming to your area are going to want to do is, is super important, even though the locals might want, uh, you know, a certain type of, of activity for themselves.
[00:39:02] Curtis Pawliuk: You know, I, I, I agree that’s one of the hardest human factors to get around is am I building something for myself? Am I building something for the public? Um, am I building something for the, the greater public? And, you know, the, a community really has to decide that. Are they, are they building? Do they want to do this to build tourism, or do they want to do this for the enjoyment of the community?
Because they’re, it kind of goes two different directions.
[00:39:24] Chris Kaipio: We’re going to pause here for now, Curtis, and pick up the rest of this conversation in our next. If you would like to learn more about VARDA and the Valemount Bike Park, you can visit their website at ridevalemount.com. If you want to find Curtis at his snowmobile guiding and Avalanche instruction company Frozen Pirate, you can find him @frozenpirate.com.
You can also learn more about Curtis by checking out his Instagram page at Frozen Pirate. We have posted all of these links in the show notes. Okay. Jordy, what were some of your takeaways from what Curtis had to say?
[00:40:05] Jordy Shepherd: Well, first, Chris, uh, people can contact Curtis at that contact information, frozen pirate info with there, but, uh, from what he told us, he’s pretty darn and busy, pretty booked up for the season, but you might be able to squeeze in some of its services if you ask nicely.
So, one of the takeaways was think. And convince others to think big too. It’s okay to dream. In fact, we need to, this helps us keep ourselves and others motivated to keep going. The other side of it is this takes resources. So, first of all, a big hurdle is you need to find funding. And on top of that, it also takes a lot of time and effort.
Curtis mentioned, which I thought was hilarious cause I’ve experienced this, the SSTP committees, the same 10 people that are always working on driving an organization forward. You need to find the people who can spend time to build whatever you are creating. Even this podcast, as simple as it sounds, has taken Chris and I over 400 hours of our time to date to develop.
Fortunately for me, I have Chris the, so. Same one person who is a driving force behind our podcast project.
[00:41:12] Chris Kaipio: Jordy. Excellent points. I’m just going to add a one more here. And that is to build what people want. If you want to be successful, you have to build experiences that people want. This is something I’ve learned the hard way.
Well, this sounds like a no-brainer. If you are already an expert, this might not be what you want to deliver. This can create a challenge for people. If you’re serious about delivering great adventure experiences, whether it’s building trails, facilities, lodges, or just leading trips, you really need to think about what your guests or visitors are going to want.
As Curtis shared with us, this meant that to be successful, VARDA had to build a variety of trails that were mostly aimed at beginner and intermediate rider. Well, there are still some advanced trails in the bike parks network. They knew that those trails alone wouldn’t make them successful. Applying this to experiences, it’s funny how many people have asked me over the years how hard hell skiing is.
For many people who may not be familiar with the Heli ski experience, their perception is that it is for experts only. And I’ve even met people that thought that you have to jump out of the helicopter because that is what they’ve seen on tv. I always point out that if that was the case, Heli skiing companies would not have a lot of customers to draw upon.
That said, if you want to deliver high-end niche adventures, there are opportunities. To be successful. You just need to do them extremely well. While there are more people that go hiking than climbing on Everest, there are still guided trips on Mount Everest. Speaking of building what people want, let’s turn this over to you, the listener.
What were your takeaways? You can share your thoughts on this episode or this show by sending us an email at email@example.com. You can also find us via our social media feeds or at our website delivering adventure.com. We have posted all of this info and links to where you can find Curtis in the show notes.
Before you go, if you enjoyed this episode, make sure that you take a moment to follow or subscribe to the show so that you don’t miss out on future episode. Next up is Curtis telling us all about the development of North America’s first snowmobile assisted ski area. Thanks for listening.