Riders descend down So Long with a view of the Fraser River on the back side of Desous Mountain. (Erick Johnstone photo)

Riders descend down So Long with a view of the Fraser River on the back side of Desous Mountain. (Erick Johnstone photo)

CASUAL COUNTRY 2020: Freedom to ride

Desous Mountain offers world class trail network

Tucked away a short drive west of Williams Lake, a homegrown mountain biking destination is now garnering attention from riders around the world.

It all started around 30 years ago when a group of buddies looking for new locations to experience downhill mountain biking discovered Desous Mountain.

“It was probably around 1990, and I was doing some exploring out there,” said Mark Savard, Williams Lake Cycling Club director, community mountain biking pioneer and advocate.

“Bikes weren’t really at that level to really conquer a mountain, per se, so I’d been doing some hiking around and they’d just logged some of the mountain. We were linking up skid trails, deer trails and you had to kind of reroute down that way. I’d say we started building trails there in about 1993.”

In November of 2018, through collaboration between the Williams Lake Cycling Club, the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium and other local stakeholders, the legalization of the Desous Mountain Trial Network became a reality.

Desous Mountain is situated roughly a half hour drive from Williams Lake featuring descents of 1,000 metres from the top, which wind their way down to the Fraser River, providing spectacular views and scenery of the area.

Initially, Savard started riding the front side of the mountain on what’s facing the Springhouse area, creating the original ‘Desous Classic’ trail — a staple for experienced riders of the area in the early 90s — which still holds up today as one of the more advanced trails in the network.

“It’s still a pretty burly trail,” Savard said. “Where it was mossy now it’s rocky.”

Savard said he and a friend, the late Terry Brochu, rode Desous Classic from top to bottom for an entire year on every full moon: even in the winter time.

“It would take us four hours in knee-plus-deep snow,” he said. “One time we did it in -30C, but it was pretty fun because you’re riding down the mountain and basically powder skiing.”

Natural curiosity saw Savard and his friends soon exploring the back side of the mountain, down to English Road and Highway 20.

“There was a ridge system with natural deer and animal trails, and we’d take that into a horse trail that took us to the bottom, initially,” Savard said.

Collaboration between a few local trail builders soon took hold as word began to spread about the potential of the riding area.

Trail names soon began to pop up — many with a play on the name ‘Desous.’

So Long was the next trail to become established, Savard said.

“Back in the day that one was a game changer, probably in the mid to late 90s and, again, it was just a natural trail we didn’t have to build too much on,” he said. “The forest was open enough you could fit through the trees and ride, so it just sort of appeared. We just free rode down the mountain.”

Pro riders from around the world began arriving in the Cariboo to take Desous Classic and So Long for a spin.

“Pro riders were deeming it their favourite spot,” he said. “Just the scenery, the terrain and the climate was so awesome. It could be pouring rain in town and bone dry out there, and those two were the main trails for quite a while.”

When the year 2000 rolled around, more exploration of Desous continued as riders were looking for more ways to get down the mountain.

Around that time Savard discovered a more direct route down the front side, now known as 00sous

(double ‘o’ sous).

“It was around that time when the ministry started to clamp down and was tearing trails down in town and it was illegal to build trails, so that’s where the double ‘O’ came from — like a double ‘O’ spy trail.”

Savard said 00sous is one of the most ridden trails on the mountain today, featuring “bits of gnarly stuff, and a fun, flowy trail,” which takes riders back down to the Springhouse side of the mountain.

“That front side tends to get more traffic because it’s a bit easier to access,” Savard said. “The back side is quite a long shuttle back around to get your vehicle, so front side laps were pretty popular.”

The next trail to pop up on the back side of the mountain was God Speed — one Savard referred to as a “testing ground” for riders.

READ MORE: Desous Mountain flowing smoothly for cycling club

“It goes from a spot where people would paraglide down into this rock gully,” he said. “It was by far Williams Lake’s hardest trail for a long time when people were a bit crazier and weren’t quite as technical and good as they are now, and it held its own for quite a while.”

Still connecting knobs and ridge systems, back on the front side, Sunset Boulevard became popular, followed by Prime and Endless.

“Sunset got ridden a whole bunch but the woodworking wasn’t too well built and you crossed the road multiple times so the ministry wasn’t super excited about that trail and, being the trail co-ordinator, I got drug through the coals a bit on that one, so that was kind of the start of when we realized what the government liked and what they didn’t.”

Prime and Endless, also on the back side, traversed down through English Road and is considered a local favourite among riders.

“It had some hard bits but was totally doable,” he said. “More downhill, less pedalling. All this stuff kind of happened over 10 years incrementally, but fairly close together.”

For the next several years not a lot of mountain biking development occurred at Desous. Bikes began to be built lighter and riders were getting tired of shuttling around, opting to ride other areas in the Cariboo.

“We decided it was time to do something out there so we co-ordinated putting a master plan out there, fixing the road, putting in a climbing trail and, as we brainstormed, we tried to connect all the dots to fill in all the gaps.”

Working with the ministry (recreation sites and trails), an old gravel pit was converted into a mountain biking campground capable of hosting future events and tailored the trail network to be more family accessible. In all, Desous Mountain now plays host to 17 mountain biking trails.

“We took it from rowdy, raw black diamonds to greens, blues and easy trails having ride around features,” he said.

In more recent years, an 11-kilometre, 1,014-metre climbing trail called Shiney Badger Hidden Canyon, which stretches from English Road around to the front side of the mountain, has been extremely popular, he added.

“People hike it, trail run it, but mostly people just come out and mountain bike and make a day of it,” he said. “They ride a variety of trails then pedal back around and link up to the campsite, and that kind of put us on the map, so to speak, as a riding destination people can not come to to park their trailer.

READ MORE: Williams Lake is the Shangri-La of mountain biking

“There’s enough variety there’s something for everyone, and pretty long rides.”

Rec sites and trails has also installed a staging area on English Road, including a parking area, KIOSK and outhouse.

Desous Mountain has been featured in multiple professional mountain bike films over the years, including the famed Kranked series.

Savard said pro riders love the area because of its interesting terrain and “cool, natural stuff that made it an iconic place to film a segment.”

“A lot of places you’d need an excavator to build these types of trails but they’re just there,” he said.

“I think the thing that made Desous unique from a filmer’s perspective, though, was the contrast of the colour of the fir tree bark, the moss, the canopy and the lighting. They always said they could never find all those things that work together

anywhere else they’d filmed … they’d have to literally setup light shows at some of these places, but here it’s just natural, and it worked. They could just show up, find something ridiculous to ride off of and didn’t have to do weeks of planning and filming for 15 seconds in a movie.”

As for what the future holds, Savard said the cycling club is planning to keep it best in class.

“Lots of maintenance, keeping the trails in great shape and, as for more development, we wouldn’t plan anything without the approval agencies and consulting with our First Nations partners. Working with the people in the Alkali community has been just awesome.”

greg.sabatino@wltribune.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Williams Lake Tribune