When Peter Oprsal set out to write a comprehensive guide book on Squamish’s mountain biking trails, he faced the daunting task of mapping a complex network that wasn’t only huge but also constantly changing.
“Because of logging, which is getting more active in Squamish, there were trails that were changing almost weekly,” the 37-year-old said from his home in Whistler. “But the local trail builders were continuously feeding me information, so that collaboration with the community is always key to making a trail guide book as up-to-date as possible.”
By now, Oprsal should be getting pretty good at knowing exactly what it takes to create a mountain biking guide book, as he’s spent the past four years turning his passion and knowledge for the sport into a lifestyle business.
“I really started it all as blog,” he said. “I was in Canmore, and I saw there was this void on information about the trails.”
A former mountain bike racer who competed in World Cup events, Oprsal decided to share his vast knowledge of the local trail system and the sport in general with the online community, and he soon discovered people were eating up what he was offering.
“As I got more and more of a following, I saw that there really was a need, so I started doing it full-time,” he said.
His first book (now in its second edition) was the Bow Valley Mountain Trail Bike Guide, covering all the trails in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise that Oprsal had been riding for six years. But then he came to Sea to Sky country and he knew his fledgling business had to relocate.
“I saw it as an opportunity to grow the business, mainly because of the longer riding season in British Columbia,” he said. “And also, I fell in love with Whistler and the whole Sea to Sky area.”
Along the way, Oprsal partnered up with another avid rider, Ryan Robertson, and the two began working in earnest on mapping out the Sea to Sky’s expansive bike trails, one community at a time.
“Ryan has been really essential in getting the detailed maps,” said Oprsal. “And he’s a really avid trail user.”
So far, the duo has authored guides for both Whistler and Pemberton’s trail networks, and three weeks ago, they launched the Squamish Mountain Bike Trail Guide. The pair also publishes companion smartphone apps for each book called TrailMapps, which allow hikers and bikers to peruse information on each trail, get tips on etiquette and follow progress on a detailed GPS map.
But, writing the books and collecting content for the apps is not an easy – or short – process, according to Oprsal.
“It’s a huge process. I started gathering data for the Squamish book about two years ago,” he said. “I started riding the trails and contacting local associations like SORCA (Squamish Off Road Cycling Association) to get their input. I honestly try to ride every trail in the book. And between Ryan and myself I can say we covered every single trail in Squamish.”
It’s a labour of love, though, he said.
“Riding is a passion,” Oprsal said. “And it’s not only about riding on the trails and being with friends, but I truly do enjoy educating people about the trails – the amazing trails in British Columbia – and helping them to enjoy riding as much as I do. It’s also about turning a passion, a hobby, into work. It’s been a dream.”
However, in a place like Squamish, where tempting tracts of backcountry constantly beckon eager and creative trail builders, it was a bit of a nightmare to keep up.
“The network just keeps changing,” he said. “Along with the logging, Squamish has a very active community of builders who are always creating new trails. Luckily, we had a lot of community support for what we were doing, so they let us know what was going on and what was being planned, so we were even able to get some of the new trails – Legacy Trail, Rupert, Tinder – in the book.”
Even after he had all the information and data he thought he needed, Oprsal had to revise some of the book just before it went to the printer a few weeks ago.
“Once we have everything, I sit down and spend four or five months over the winter writing,” he said. “But, again some of the trails changed while I was writing, and Ryan and I were out riding again just before publication.”
The duo also likes to give back to the communities in which they ride and write.
“Some of the proceeds from the book sales are going to go back to SORCA,” said Oprsal. “We want them to be able to continue to do the great job they’ve been doing building and maintaining these trails.”
Of course, that’s just good business, as more trails and an ever-expanding network means there will be a need for a revised Squamish trail guide in the future.
“With the ever-changing nature of the trails in Squamish and the growth of the community, we feel Squamish will certainly warrant a second edition within the next couple of years,” he said.
The Squamish Mountain Bike Trail Guide is available in several local stores. For more information on the guides, Oprsal’s blog or the smartphone apps, go to bikepirate.com.