North Shore Trail Cambodia Grandfathered Into Sanctioned Trail Network

Legacy trail Cambodia on Vancouver's North Shore finally becomes a sanctioned trail this spring. This is the decade-long story of how that came to be.
There are more sculpted berms on Cambodia now, and I’m not mad. Photo: Daniel Shaw

Cambodia, on Vancouver’s North Shore, is a legacy trail nestled on the lower slopes of Mount Seymour. On the outside edges of the trail network, most people won’t find Cambodia unless they are looking for it. Not the type of trail that usually springs to mind when talking about ‘legacy North Shore’ trails, Cambodia features almost zero woodwork, and is mostly dirt and rock slabs. It’s a testament to the diverse and challenging terrain we have here; that it’s endured for more than twenty years speaks volumes about its importance.

Cambodia will be sanctioned and open to ride as part of the North Shore’s legal trail network, maintained and advocated for by the NSMBA, later this spring. More than a decade in the works, this is huge news, and a win for the local mountain bike community, but it’s not without its intricacies. I wanted to dig deeper into what this means for the trail itself, and the wider trail network, so I spoke with Deanne Cote, Executive Director of the NSMBA to drill down on some details.

We can’t ignore the fact that sanctioning trails is a polarizing move. Involving governmental bodies in trail building introduces a lot of red tape, and means adhering to strict trail building codes, for better or for worse. There are a few reasons for this, but risk management and sustainability play the primary roles. Risk management is the reason why many illegal trails get shut down — land managers want to avoid litigation, and this was one of the main reasons that elevated woodwork trails Jerry Rig and Pink Starfish on a neighboring mountain, Mt Fromme, got dismantled.

While Cambodia being sanctioned has only been public news for the last year or so, this project began around 2013/14. Cambodia falls within an area of land that is part of the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, land owned and managed by Metro Vancouver which includes other sanctioned trails including Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, CBC, and Cabin Trail, all of which have seen complete rebuilds recently.

Cote tells me that “Some of the initial conversations we were having with Metro Vancouver, they were going to shut down Cambodia, and Lola, and they weren’t going to shut down CBC, but there were conversations around CBC and Ned’s and what was happening with them. We had staff who were advocating that we don’t want to see Cambodia shut down, and that it’s a key trail in the network. We were adamant that we don’t want to lose this trail.”

Optional rock roll on Cambodia, on the North Shore's Mount Seymour
There’s still gnar here – optional gnarly lines shoot off the main line everywhere. Photo: Scott Campbell

What’s clear is that the land managers and the processes involved typically move quite slowly. In a report produced by Sartori for Metro Vancouver around 2017, they recommended decommissioning Cambodia, as well as other trails, based on usage data that they had gathered. The NSMBA countered this, stating that the data Sartori had gathered was not accurate due to poorly placed trail counters. Long story short, it was agreed that Cambodia would be sanctioned, and Ned’s and CBC would receive major improvements.

We’re now at the tail end of the process; the work on CBC and Ned’s was estimated to cost over $100,000 each, so the work was contracted out to local trail builders Dream Wizards, and was completed one and two years ago respectively. Cambodia is now close to being sanctioned, and thanks to the largely natural construction of the trail, it needed less work than the other two, and was able to be brought up to code mostly by two of the NSMBA’s staff trail builders and with volunteer work. “We did walkthroughs with IMBA Canada, Lees, and Metro Vancouver. Their main concern was protecting tree roots, because it’s a fairly mature forest in that zone, so it wasn’t anything really scary.”

Of course, when bringing a trail up to sanctioned standards, features are often removed or ‘dumbed down,’ for risk management reasons. When talking about the rebuild Cote said “Their other main prescription was that the main ride line needed to be single-black diamond level, according to Metro Vancouver’s trail standards. Because of their risk management, they were okay with the double-black features, but they didn’t want them to be the main line. [Keeping the features] is a huge deal, because we really wanted to preserve that aspect of the trail.”

Trail sign on Cambodia, on the North Shore's Mount Seymour
Making the main line a single-black while retaining the double-black features was the aim. Photo: Scott Campbell

Having ridden Cambodia recently, I think the trail builders have done a great job of preserving the overall character of the trail. The double-black rock slab features still exist, and the ride-arounds and linking portions of trail work better, making for an overall more progressive experience with more flow. Cambodia is still a difficult trail however, and while some sections are smoother than they used to be, they’ll likely wear down to the rock below given time.

No doubt some of the quality of the rebuild can be attributed to NSMBA’s staff trail builders assigned to Cambodia, Daniel Shaw and Henry Fitzgerald. As elite-level riders, they were able to build the trail in a way that keeps it interesting for advanced riders. “We had full trust that they were going to maintain the flavor of the trail while they were doing the work” Cote told me.

One feature did have to be substantially altered however. “Metro Vancouver were okay with any natural double-black features, but any man-made features could not exceed a single-black diamond rating.” This resulted in one wooden gap jump toward the bottom of the trail being rebuilt into a tabletop/roller type feature. NSMBA pushed back hard on this feature, but eventually had to concede to Metro Vancouver’s trail standards. The final piece of the puzzle is the installation of a metal bridge to bypass a log ride over a deep ravine to access the trail, which was scheduled for March 2024 and delayed by snow. My understanding is that the log will remain in place for those who still want to ride it.

wooden jump on Cambodia, on the North Shore's Mount Seymour
This jump was the only real casualty of the rebuild process. Photo: Scott Campbell

Speaking with Cote, I get the feeling that the entire process is extremely human. Staff turnover both at Metro Vancouver and the NSMBA means that there are inevitable delays as new staff become acquainted with the project and have to build relationships afresh between organizations. Over the years, NSMBA and Metro Vancouver, as well as other land managers, have built stronger relationships, enabling more trust. That in turn makes these processes faster and easier.

Cambodia is the final trail to be revived as part of this project, and while there aren’t any others that are on the immediate horizon, the NSMBA’s staunch advocacy for the local mountain bike trails, and their commitment to building strong and long-lasting relationships with the land managers goes a long way toward ensuring the longevity of our trails, and making these processes smoother for all parties. This gives us a strong foundation to build on, and will make it much easier to sanction or build new trails in the future.

While to some, adding Cambodia to the sanctioned trail network may be sacrilege, the fast-growing population of the North Shore and Lower Mainland as a whole means that the landscape is vastly different to when this trail was first built twenty-something years ago. These factors necessitated a formal trail plan for Seymour, something that the area never had previously, and despite losing a feature here or there, safeguards our trails from being torn down at a moment’s notice.

Rock roll on Cambodia, on the North Shore's Mount Seymour
Cambodia still has rock rolls aplenty. Photo: Scott Campbell

Another example of the advocacy work the NSMBA has done recently is with land manager British Pacific Properties, on the westernmost North Shore mountain, Cypress. Known for its gnarly, DH-oriented trails, at one point it looked as though BPP might shut down all the trails on the mountain, since many end near a planned housing development. Thanks to NSMBA advocacy efforts however, we now have a great working relationship with BPP, three sanctioned trails on the mountain, and the promise of $500,000 toward trail building and maintenance upon completion of the planned construction.

There are no perfect solutions however, and illegal trails will always exist, some relatively sustainable, some less-so. But the more we can advocate for ourselves responsibly and work with land managers to find solutions, the better we will have things and the safer our trails will be from being torn down. I’m hugely grateful for all the work the NSMBA puts in for us behind the scenes; the truth is, it’s a lot more than most of us will ever know. If the options are to lose an important trail entirely, or concede to a sustainable rebuild, I know which option I’ll take.