Fifty-Six Twenty: Behind the build of the new Revelstoke MTB trail

A behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s longest and most impressive flow trails

RMR Trail Team from left to right: Ben Yeager, Gareth Weston, Nick Hanlon (biker), Simon Delisle and Rob Ley. Photo: Tom Poole

This article first appeared in print in the September 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. It appeared in conjunction with the main story about the new Fifty-Six Twenty mountain bike trail at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

If you haven’t already heard of Fifty-Six Twenty, let’s catch you up to speed. This summer, Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened its first lift-assisted mountain biking trail — the first of its kind in Revelstoke. This 15-kilometre-long, machine built blue trail is characterized by wildflower meadows and a seemingly endless series of jumps and berms. The trailhead is located at the top of the Stoke Chair and is accessed via a 7-kilometre climb trail that starts at the top of the Upper Gondola.

Let’s take a moment to put that into perspective. Whistler’s lift-accessed ‘Top of the World’ trail allows riders to be lifted to the top of Peak Chair (above 7,000 feet) and then embark on the 5-kilometre descent, spanning almost 5,000 feet of vertical. Impressive, right? Or, looking further afield, the ‘Petzen Flow Country Trail’ in Austria currently holds the title of longest flow trail in Europe. Its 11-kilometres of single-track trail features S-bends, tables and ramps. Try not to spit out your coffee here, but Revy’s trail is a staggering 4-kilometres longer than Petzen Trail and offers more vertical than Top of the World.

The new Fifty-Six Twenty trail is known for is extensive use of berms. Photo: Tom Poole

Naturally, when we met with Keenan Kovacs, Trail Crew Supervisor at RMR, we immediately asked the burning question on the tip of everyone’s tongues – is Fifty-Six Twenty the world’s longest flow trail? Keenan responded that it was still up for discussion. Alas, just as construction and maintenance of the trail is an ongoing project, so is the solidifying of the facts that shape its identity. In the meantime, Keenan and his team compete to try and measure the number of jumps and berms on the trail. “The closest we’ve come is 230 berms – but, as you can imagine, it’s easy to lose count.”

It seems the initial response from the crew — as well as riders from all over — has been undeniably positive. This then prompts the question: why aren’t we seeing more trails of this kind? Former Silverstar Bike Park manager and Founder of Contour Trails, Cam Sorensen, believes the biggest hurdle is the sheer length and magnitude of the trail itself. Cam and his crew were called in to assist with the project in its latter stages, as the steep grade coupled with unpredictable alpine weather meant that the project was facing serious delays.

A section of the trail from above. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Both Cam’s and Keenan’s teams faced similar challenges during the shoulder seasons. “Spring is very wet due to the runoff, which means drainage was a constant issue,” said Keenan. “That, combined with impenetrable bedrock, means trying to get a machine through can be close to impossible sometimes. There were certain moments in spring where we’d be crossing super steep sections – such a Snow Rodeo – and it felt like one wrong move and that could be it.”

After hearing about certain arduous setbacks, including being caught in a snowstorm last fall (which led to a hike-out through 30 cm of heavy snow), the project didn’t come across as all too positive. Keenan and Cam disagree. “It’s so rewarding to ride a section after you’ve completed it. For me, the jumps in Hickory and Tally Ho have been my favourite part to work on and ride,” said Keenan. Similarly, Cam suggested that anyone who enjoys mountain biking should immediately add this trail to their bucket list. In the eyes of the team, the grind was fully worth the reward.

The view towards Mt. Cartier from the top of the Fifty Six Twenty trail at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

After tasting Fifty-Six Twenty, most riders have been left with an appetite for more. As per the master plan, RMR has stated that this trail will become part of a network of mountain biking trails that will be developing over the coming years. Next season, we can expect to see more downhill specific trails—without the climb. The details are still being fine tuned, but the wheels are very much in motion.