Sandy Ridge with Jason Wells

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Here in the Hood River, Oregon we are hard into our shoulder season.  We have been getting minor snow and freezing temperatures, the perfect ingredients for crappy dirt and crappy skiing.  While these conditions are short lived, it is a great time to catch up in aspects of our lives that tend to be neglected during the heart of mountain biking and skiing seasons.  Personally, my shoulder season has resulted in a lower back flare up and appendicitis!  After a quick surgery and some couch time, which I took full advantage of, it was time to get productive!

After a great day of lapping the Butter Cup chairlift, giving my cousin some ski lessons for the day, I ran into Jason Wells at Solara Brewery in Parkdale, Oregon.  For those of you who don’t know who Jason, he is the main builder behind many new (less than 10 years old) trails in this country.  Specifically, he is the main trail builder behind the Sandy Ridge trail system, which we all know and love.  Jason said that he was heading out to Sandy with a fellow BLM representative to work out some details on preparing for the next volunteer work party taking place this coming Sunday the 7th of December.  I, being happily unemployed at the moment, was stoked to head out with Jason to learn about his points of view on how trails should be built and maintained.

I had never ridden with Jason before.  I’d heard that he was more of a trail jibber than racer from some friends.  I was stoked to ride with and learn from Jason for the day.  The plan was to meet at the Sandy Ridge gate at 9am, but do to some gnarly conditions on the Pass between Hood River and Sandy, we met at 915.




The plan was to ride Hide and Seek and inspect Flow Motion to review the previous work parties’ work and check out some spots Jason thought needed some work.  We loaded up the trucks and headed up the hill.  I rode with Mark from the BLM.  Mark, originally from Arizona, has a construction background and decided that he wanted to go to school for Forestry in Oregon.  He graduated in 2011 and began working for the BLM.  He has been riding bikes since before there was such a thing as no biking trail signs.  He wears many hats at the BLM and loves working on mountain bike trails and is stoked on how active the mountain bike community is in the North BLM Zone.


Arriving at the top Kiosk above Hide and Seek, Jason, Mark and I discussed logistics of how the day would go and they answered some questions I had about the possible future of Sandy Ridge (these plans are not set in stone by any means).  There are four possible new trails being discussed.  The first, which will soon be started, is an easy route next to the pump and berm trail going from the parking lot to the gate.  The next three options are exciting!


The first is a possible expansion off the end of Quid Pro Flow.  Instead of pedaling back up to Two Turn Tables it would continue down to the parking area (as shown below).



The next possible trail addition would be a fall line oriented trail that would go next to Hide and Seek.


Another option would be off of Follow The Leader.  Instead of traversing the sketchy mini boulder field there would be a high grade descent that would take you back to the road (as shown below).


All of these possibilities are exciting and seem to accommodate a diverse set of abilities.


Jason and I headed down Hide and Seek to check out some of the recent work.   On the way down we discussed how that trail had evolved over the years, in some ways for better and some ways for worse.  Jason led the way and I followed.  After seeing is unique riding style I realized why the trails at Sandy Ridge are so fun.  Jason loves to have at least one wheel off of the ground at all times.  Whether it was a small trail double or a high or low spot to manual over, Jason was never just coasting down the trail.  This is how to ride a bike!  I love trail doubles, but tend to ride faster sometimes sacrificing a transition or a jib feature.  Jason took his time and popped higher clearing things I wasn’t able to clear at the same speed.

We rode a few sections of trail and stopped.  I asked if he thought a certain section of trail was clearable via popping off of a certain rock to jump over the rock garden.  He said it used to…  Over time the trail has changed due to riders avoiding the challenge of riding over rocks.  He said that he noticed the change in line choice occurred 2 separate times.  Pictured below.


The pink line was the original line, with the option of using the rock to double over the rest.  Over time dirt was eroded and using the rock to double the section got sketchy.  The yellow line was the simple result of riders choosing to go around a more technical part of the trail.  The red line was the result of an Enduro Racer taking it upon themselves to move logs and dirt to build a smoother easier line around what the trail builders originally intended.  Take this as you will, it is just an example of the many factors that come into play when managing a trail system that sees over 120,000 riders a year.  According to some sources, the Sandy Ridge trail system is projected to see over 200,000 riders in the 2015 season!

After Jason and I reached the Hide and Seek mid-point we met up with BLM Mark on the road to check out the ideas he had for some berm and drainage work on Flow Motion.

It is interesting to see how much the soil content changes across the trail system at Sandy Ridge.  The dirt on Flow Motion is different than the dirt on Lower Hide and Seek.  One of the main reasons is the water level on Flow Motion is much higher than Lower Hide and Seek.  This allows for more undergrowth which causes the dirt to have more bio content.  The different soil packs differently and reacts to precipitation and temperature changes differently than the soil on Lower Hide and Seek.  This is an important fact to note.  The next time you go out and build a trail, it is necessary to take into consideration the amount of traffic the feature will see and what the soil content is.  Flow Motion doesn’t have any and doesn’t need any rock aggregate to preserve the trail.  While the same is not the case for Lower Hide and Seek.

Jason showed me how much of a challenge drainage planning on Flow Motion was and how it could be improved with the upcoming volunteer work party.  Basically it came down to building drainages much wider.   Instead of building drainages in low spots that are a tool width wide, they should be as wide as the trail allows.  This is shown in the photo below.



In this case the drainage should be from the rock to the tree.  Jason’s reasoning is that instead of a few leafs having the ability to plug up a drainage, it will take several leaves.  If a drainage doesn’t get plugged up then it doesn’t require as much maintenance, allowing trail builders to focus more on the ‘fun’ aspects of building.   This became a theme of what I was learning from both Jason and Mark.  They felt that the trails could progress more in the long run if volunteers helped with maintaining drainages more.  This would allow for more focus to be had on the ‘fun’ aspects of the trails (building berms and jumps) in the future.  From my point of view, it seemed that Mark and Jason often find themselves spending some of their time raking leaves and scraping in drainages, while they could be on a machine doing in 15 minutes what 10 volunteers accomplish in a full day’s work (building a berm or a jump).  The best option would be to have several volunteers clean drainages over the entire trail system, preventing puddles from forming and preserving the work that has already been completed.

While on Flow Motion we came across a berm that needed some work.  This is going to be one of the main projects at this weekends build party.  I asked Jason if he would give us some words on how volunteers should add to the berm.

After Flow Motion we decided to head down Lower Hide and Seek to see some problem areas that have been developing.


I was out of state during the last work party, but was lucky enough to see the fruits of everyone’s labor a few days after.  It was great to see several corners had been armored with stone aggregate preserving previous years work, but I also noticed several spots that seemed to just be fresh muddle puddles.  I asked Jason why the work seemed to be collapsing only a few weeks after the work had been done.  His reply was a bit surprising.  Initially I had the inclination to think that the stone aggregate simply made corners sketchy because they acted more like ball bearings over hard park than anything else.   However, Jason pointed out several corners that were significantly improved with the use of stone aggregate, if used in the right amounts.  During the rainy season (about 300 days of the year in this area) the aggregate armors the trails and adds to traction.  During the end of the dry season, after the trails have dried out, the dirt contracts and some of the aggregate pops loose causing the corners to have less traction.  If someone raked the trail once a week the corners would be fine. That is often not the case and the loose aggregate builds up causing some corners to have less traction than normal.

The opposite of the problem of too much aggregate, is none at all.  The pictures below show the results of not using aggregate when building in certain types of soil (ie Lower Hide and Seek).



sandy_with_jason-5 sandy_with_jason-6







The soft spot pictured above will eventually turn into a puddle and erode into a mussy mess.  To improve it should have a drainage option and be armored with stone aggregate.

I also learned something new on this trip.  If a lower section of a tree is buried.  The tree will die.  This is something to keep in mind when building trails.  The type of tree pictured below would be okay to cut down, but should have been cut out before the berm was built.



Below is a picture of one of the berm projects for this weekend’s build party.  We will be building the berm up a bit to prevent the need to shut it down as much before this corner (score!).


After a full day of some riding and talking trails, I had a few questions for Jason about his history and points of few on building trails.


I hope to see you all at the build party this Sunday!  For more information go here.



JF:  Where are you from?

JW:  Port Angeles, Washington


JF:  When did you move to Parkdale?

JW:  I moved to Parkdale in 2006 and lived in Bend from 1992 until 2006.


JF:  Were you involved in the trails built at Dry Hill?

JW:  Dry hill grew to what it is today way after my time.  We had dirt jumps up there about 25 years ago, but it has since grown tremendously.  Casey Northern and Lars Sternberg, along with many others, made it what it was today.


JF:  What bikes are you riding at the moment?

JW:  Devinci Spartan, Kona Honzo hardtail, Black Market Killswitch, Giant STP rigid.


JF:  No big bike?

JW:  I have a spartan, that is a big bike!  I would love to have a big bike but it doesn’t seem like it is that necessary living in Hood River.  If I was riding whistler 10 times a year I would have one.


JF:  What is your riding background?

JW:  I grew up riding BMX.  Flatland and racing BMX.


JF:  When did you start building trails?

JW:  Umm…Birth? I dont know.   We’ve always built dirt jumps everywhere.  Professionally I have been building trails for 10 years.


JF:  Where is your favorite zone to ride?

JW:  Thats a question I can’t answer.  Honestly, there are so many good places to ride.


JF:  What trail that you built are you most proud of?

JW:  That’s a toss up.  Maui, we have been doing a lot of work over there.  We put in a bike park there last summer and I am going to go over there in the next couple of months and dial it in and finish it.  It is a two mile downhill trail, six mile xc loop, metal framed wooden decked jumps, 10 foot tall curved wall ride…all a very progressive trail design.  It is super dope and super fun.  The community over there is badass.


JF:  Who funded the work over there?

JW:  The state of Hawaii.  I think it was a capital improvement fund.

JW:  Another one of my favorite projects was Rockburn bike park in  Maryland.  That was is cool because it accomodates so many users.  First day of opening was shocking at how many people were over there riding.  It was just three little flow trails and a pump track.


JF:  What is the most common trail building error?

JW:  Drainage Drainage Drainage…..or building with crappy material.


JF:  What is the future of the Sandy Ridge trail system?

JW:  Endless!

JF:  Where are you going to be building in the near future?

JW:  There is a lot of new stuff being built at Post Canyon in Hood River.  Also Sun Valley, Idaho (Croy Canyon), Oahu is putting in a 4 mile XC trail that connects two different areas together, 2.5 months of work adding to the Maui bike park.  Hopefully alot more at Sandy Ridge.

JF:  What high country XC trails in IMBA currently working on in the Mt Hood area?

JW:  We flagged out a 9 mile XC trail near cascade locks that goes through some very rad terrain.  But it is currently going through the NEPA process and may be in that stage for a very long time.

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