The Art of Building New Mountain Biking Trails

January 14, 2020

Work is in progress on some new mountain biking trails through the nature reserve, which aim to unlock a new part of the forests of Las Catalinas. Tackling the southern highlands, these trails will aim for a high-altitude flow at the tallest point within Las Catalinas, covering a panorama of views over town, Zapotal valley, Sugar Beach, the Pacific, and the Bahía de Potrero in a long, active loop.

With this new project, the trail team is combining their learnings from town’s existing trails as well as some favorite mountain biking parks around the world to create an free-flowing loop and an exhilarating downhill.


The Art of Building New Mountain Bike Trails

Creating new mountain biking trails is an art that takes into account considerations from a number of different factors. The first step is surveying the topography of the area and laying out general visions for trails. In this initial drafting phase, the overall trail network is laid out, and the type of the trail -- climb, downhill, flow ride -- is decided on.

The next phase is scouting, where the team walks proposed paths, identifies specific features to engage with, monitors ecological considerations like erosion and fire access, and assesses the viability of different routes down the mountain. It’s in this phase that the actual trail begins to take form, marked out in broad strokes by the scouting team, and the art of trail creation takes shape.



Within different types of trails there are a range of different styles and difficulties, each of which must also be taken into account as the trail comes together. For a single feature of the topography, like a small ravine, the drafters’ response can yield anything from a curve in the trail to avoid it, a quick up-and-down flow to keep speed, or a head on mandatory drop for more thrilling downhill portions. The concert of many of these decisions over time is what gives trails their character.

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It helps to have a strong vision for the trail, and in Las Catalinas there are a number of principles that guide the development of new single track. One of the most important regards the question of approachability: the trails in Las Catalinas are designed so that novice riders can safely navigate, but also seek to provide enough energy and skill cap that even experts can engage with these trails. For example, a high-energy double-black downhill might be forgone in exchange for a gentler light blue, one that still provides technicality and adrenaline, but at a level accessible to a rider seeking to learn. In this way, an entire family can set out for a ride, with each biker getting an experience scaled to their skill level.

Once drafting is complete, the build begins, taking into account the features identified in drafting as well as any ecological considerations, and the trail begins to come together.


The New Mountain Biking Trails in the Southern Highlands

For the new trails coming together in the Southern Highlands, riders can expect to find both thrilling downhill and flow-ride portions. One will be a loop will encircle the tops of the mountains, providing low net elevation change as riders cruise through the hilltops, discovering views in all directions from the highest part of land in Las Catalinas.



The other will be a dark green/light blue downhill trail, which will be one of the first of its kind around town (with Cuesta the closest comparison). This new trail will still be aimed at the all-play nature of existing Las Catalinas single track, but will integrate the adrenaline and excitement of a thrilling downhill.



Within these two different types of trails, each turn, each curve, and each feature is carefully considered to provide the most enjoyment to the rider. A fundamental law of mountain biking is that all uphills come with a corresponding downhill, and each track engages with this concept in a different way. On the upper loop, thoughtfully engaging with small ravines and elevation changes helps experienced riders flow through ups and downs to generate speed, traveling long distances with low effort. The downhill, on the other hand, is a fine treat after a day’s ride, a concentrated reward that converts every hard fought foot of elevation into a corresponding thrill.


Mountain Bike in Las Catalinas