My first trip to Powell River was back in April of 2019. The entire trip, from the ferry ride to Saltery Bay and the unbelievable hospitality to the food and drink and the mountain bike trails, was like something out of a dream. I was absolutely hooked on this place and made plans to return the following year to do some more exploring and additional filming. Of course, there was a slight hiccup in the form of a global pandemic which meant that I’d have to wait a few additional years before I could return to the Sunshine Coast.
As I boarded the ferry in Earls Cove, the same giddiness came over me that I felt three years prior. The towering peaks that surrounded the Agamemnon Channel had a humbling effect on me both then and now. It was early April once again, and the transition from winter to spring was a swirling and moody affair. Low-lying clouds draped across the mountain sides, leaving a light blanket of snow toward their summits as waterfalls rushed to greet the ocean below. Three years later, the sense of awe was familiar and strong, and I was beside myself with anticipation of the week that lay ahead.
In 2019, I produced a story for Pinkbike.com about the Sunshine Coast, and at that time the primary distinction between Powell River and its neighbors along the southern portion of the Sunshine Coast, including Roberts Creek, Sechelt, and Gibsons, was the prevailing style of trail available between them. The southern portion of the Sunshine Coast was renowned for its progressive, gravity-fed freeride style of riding, while Powell River was more well-known for its cross-country trails, which explained why it was such a popular stop for the infamous BC Bike Race.
I come from a gravity-oriented background as a professional rider, but was struck by quite a few things in Powell River. First, the locals were unbelievably generous with their time and energy, with representatives from the *Powell River Cycling Association such as Randall Smisko and Curtis Vollmin enthusiastically sharing their trails and community with me. Second, the dirt was amazing everywhere in Powell River. We spent a fair bit of time at the Duck Lake trails, which was the area that the BC Bike Race came through and was the most fully developed trail network in Powell River at the time, and despite that popularity the dirt was always tacky and heroic. Thirdly, while known for its XC offerings, Powell River had something available to its riders that the rest of the Sunshine Coast didn’t: Mount Mahony. During my first visit, there were a limited number of trails available on the 3,600-foot-tall mountain, but the trails that did exist offered breathtaking descents down steep and loamy trails, with one of the most beautiful backdrops I had ever seen while riding.
Upon my return to town, I made sure to reconnect with the same amazing people and was eager to revisit some of the trails I had fallen in love with years before. I met with Randall and some others on the afternoon of my arrival and discovered a few changes had taken place in the short time between trips. One of those changes was that there was no longer a “Powell River Cycling Association.”
“Yeah, there’s some history there,” Randall tells me. “When you have a town in Powell River and then you start to dive into some of the history of where the name came from. qathet was an option and we talked with some people and we got permission from Tla’amin . . . to use that name. So, we decided to just be proactive and change the name to Qathet Regional Cycling Association to get ahead of the ball and have a good relationship with the Tla’amin.”
Powell River is the only incorporated town within the district known as qathet. qathet is a word gifted to the regional district from the Tla’amin Nation which means “working together”, and is apropos for the mountain bike community there as well. In addition to the name change, one of the other key changes to come in recent years is the surge in trail development on Mount Mahony. When I first visited in 2019, I genuinely loved the trails up and down the Sunshine Coast, but it was Mahony that captured my attention more than anything else during that trip. Despite only offering a handful of trails, the world-class potential of that mountain was plainly evident even then, and it seems several others felt the same way about it.
“I think mountain biking as a whole has just really exploded, and in Powell River especially,” Randall continues. “We’ve got more of a core group of riders here, and more people are looking to Mahony for that gravity style of riding. Civil Disobedience really started it all. That trail attracted a lot of attention, and people began to explore more of the mountain and began building new trails and seeking out new lines. It’s got wicked terrain and lots of things that people are looking for. There’s a lot of momentum there right now, and I think we’re feeding off of that energy and momentum. It’s not just one guy taking the lead. It’s different groups doing different things up there, and everyone’s got a common goal to just have a good time.”
Despite the renewed fervor around Mahony in recent years, Powell River’s other trail networks and cycling resources have been picking up momentum as well. Qathet Regional Cycling Association has been hard at work bringing riders of all stripes into the fold, offering up youth programs, advocating for expanded trail and cycling infrastructure, and representing the cycling community in front of government agencies, land managers, and other stakeholders. Mahony might be the cherry on top of Powell River’s mountain biking sundae, but there’s a lot more going on here that’s just as sweet.
“Mahony’s attracted the latest attention,” Randall acknowledges. “But our roots go back to Duck Lake, Millennium Park, and West Lake. We have a lot of different types of riders here looking to do different things. There’s a Monday night ride here that peaks during the summers with over 50 people and they’re just riding cross-country trails. There’s a lot happening here. Bridges are being built and trails are getting upgraded, so there’s plenty here for all types of riders and groups.
“There’s just so many good people that are passionate about it. And we’re at this time now where we’re just trying to make sure that we’re catering to everyone. And even though there’s a lot of attention on Mahony, there are tons of different riders and advocates. We’re not just a one-dimensional club either. We are a cycling association, which means we’re looking to do things like helping develop bike lanes in town. We’re looking at gathering funding for climbing trails and funding for more trail building in general. We’re working to establish sanctioned trails within existing networks to make sure that when future development happens the trails stay put. We have a lot going on right now, but it’s strong. Our membership has never been bigger. We have a lot in front of us.”
In Brice Shirbach’s short film, Intersections, he explores the connection between three very different places: Powell River & qathet on BC’s Sunshine Coast, the southern coast of Oregon, and Fruita, Colorado.