More is More
QMTBC is preparing for a different looking summer
Words Ben Hildred | Images Callum Wood
What can I tell you about Queenstown that hasn’t already been said? Any given summer, droves of millennial dirtbags and Gen Z influencers embark on a jet-fuelled pilgrimage to the holy land of Speights, hyped-up burgers and mountain biking. This year, though, due to world events, a large portion of the town’s transient working pilgrims have been stuck in the wrong season.
With lengthened pants and visas, Queenstown’s mountain bike community has soldiered on despite being surrounded by snow-capped mountains, curious-looking winter folk and a noticeable drop in temperature.
But unlike the weather, the town’s mountain bike community has been far from chill. Queenstown Mountain Bike Club (QMTBC) is going from strength to strength, with plans for exciting developments in the near future. The Queenstown Bike Park has also seen a lot of new improvements, as the progressive trails carved into the steep Ben Lomond hillside breed a melting pot of talented riders.
Queenstown’s huge array of trails comes down to an incredible local scene with over two decades’ worth of graft and drive to pursue a shared vision.
I first time learnt about Queenstown in the Naughties watching Nathan Greenwood school mountain bike celebs on ‘Drop in TV’ with his huge senders on Dream Track, while the likes of Tim Ceci (of Vertigo Bikes) chopped in the first trail ‘Vertigo’ on the hillside that now houses the bike park.
Since then, Queenstown’s scene has been on a constant, high-paced path of evolution, maintaining its reputation as a premiere, world-class destination.
Since its establishment in 2003, QMTBC has been at the forefront of trail development. The club’s success is a direct result of the local support through membership, donations and investment, and the willingness and enthusiasm of hard-working volunteers. I caught up with club president Chris Conway and the team to learn more of the hustle in the woods above Lake Wakatipu.
A recent success that was funded through the club and built by Elevate Trail Building is the McNearly Gnarly jump line in the Wynyard bike park. There’s been an amazing 22,658 laps recorded in just over a year! Why do you think it’s been such a hit?
The McNearly Gnarly trail started as a wee idea in Pete McInally’s mind a few years ago as something that would be a great addition next to the Wynyard Jump Park. He’d scoped out a line and saw the potential in the terrain.
We recognised there was a gap in our trail network for a true, progressive jump line that’s easily pedal-accessed and doesn’t require a downhill rig. With a growing mountain biking population, including many young riders proving to be increasingly capable, McNearly Gnarly is an invaluable resource for progressing jumping skills that suits both beginners and advanced riders.
We’ve anecdotally heard some of our members saying “I never really used to like jumping, but then McNearly Gnarly opened and now I love it!”
Atlas Beer Cafe has been instrumental in helping raise funds for QMTBC with their annual Wynyard-based ‘Season of Shred’, and McNearly Gnarly is one of the first epic trails to be built with this money and from many hours of volunteer fundraising.
The trail is named after the late, great Kelly McGarry, who, while helping Pete McInally film a video one day, coined the phrase: “get your s**t together, McGnarly, or I’m gonna start calling you McNearly!”
Has the change to a more static riding population this year throughout winter affected QMTBC at all?
QMTBC is nothing without its members. We represent them as members of our community, so if our members are doing it tough, our club is too. In saying that, the pandemic was also a great opportunity for the club committee to step back and consider what we can do to support our community. Decades of hard volunteer work has built Queenstown into this incredible riding destination. So yes, we’ve been affected, but we’re doing what we can to turn this into something positive moving forward.
Heading into the new season, are there any new trail developments and improvements to look forward to?
A complete rebuild of the Wynyard Jump Park is under way, with improved flow, better progression and use of space. Hint: McNearly Gnarly might keep flowing on down into Wynyard! The Wynyard Express trail, which is one of Queenstown’s oldest DH trails, is being rebuilt and is almost ready to roll. 7 Mile has received some serious love, so get out there and check out what we’ve done to one of Queenstown’s originals.
Our Wednesday night dig crew has been hard at work and done an amazing job rebuilding sections of Salmon Run after some pretty epic rain events earlier in the year.
We’ve got some natural tech lines planned for the Fernhill Bike Park area and given past projects, such as Salmon Run and Lower Missing Link, some improvements. There are climbing and link trails in the pipeline, and while they don’t sound that exciting, we’re pretty pumped with how they will bring our network together.
Queenstown Bike Park is celebrating its 10th lift-assisted birthday this season. I managed to pull Skyline’s MTB supervisor Jimi Ramsay off the trails for a few questions. Jimi and the guys have been grafting hard all winter, priming and improving your favourite bike park classics, as well as working on their new album, ‘Now That’s What I Call Downhill 2020’ ready for its spring release.
This year marks a pretty big milestone for the bike park. The variation and volume of trails is ever-growing. How many trails and variants will be opening for the 2020-21 season?
It’s a big year for Skyline—it’s the 10th full season we’ve been open to bikes in the park. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked there for the past six seasons, and in that time I’ve seen huge changes. A lot of credit has to be given to Kep Rek for that. He was the supervisor before me, and when he got the role in the ’14-’15 season we went to town on the trails, doing a lot of work growing the network, and bringing it up to a real world-class level.
We have 31 trailheads now; there are a couple of smaller link trails I’m not including, but the different variations of trails you can take from top to bottom is massive.
Could this be the golden year for domestic, Kiwi mountain biking?
It definitely isn’t going to be a bad one. In celebration of our 10th season we’re planning a number of events, including some relaxed fun ones and some more serious racing. We’re still in the planning stages, but I think it should be pretty epic if we can pull it all off.
Are there any new features or trail revamps/improvements you’re particularly looking forward to sharing with the riders?
Oh yeah! The time we were able to work on the trails was cut short due to the season extension, but we managed to get into the lower section of Rat Attack and make a pretty cool line. I rode it the other day and was stoked on how it turned out. As well as that, we still managed to get down most tracks and give them a good touch-up. However, there’re always changes we’d like to make, so keep your eyes peeled throughout the season.
A cornerstone to the riding community is Paul Angus aka Pang. After his suspicious dealings with the local, now eluded sorcerer, ‘Huck Wizard,’ (Google it), Pang was seemingly cast with a spell of relentless enthusiasm for mountain biking and the local race scene in Queenstown. I sent some questions Pang’s way.
Working with QMTBC and Skyline, you’ve helped enable multiple local races and summer series, raising money for the club, and, in turn, giving back to the riding community. How is the local race scene and how has it evolved since you first came to town?
The race scene went through a lull about five years ago, but has become healthier again over the last few years—especially in downhill. In part, this is due to the amount of riders now living in Queenstown, but also the amount of groms that have come of age.
We still need more volunteers, though; we only just get by every event, which can be quite stressful. If you want to lend a hand, please get in touch with the club.
I believe racing is important to grow a local scene, now moreso than ever, with the number of groms we have coming through. We have to give them the stepping stones if we want to see the next Brook MacDonald or Sam Blenkinsop.
As the locally-owned bike shop, I believe it’s important for us to put on events and give back to the riding community for supporting us all these years. It’s hard work and I give up lots of my spare time to make them happen, but it’s very rewarding—plus I have racing in my blood, so I do it to keep my skills sharp between the tape.
Despite the forecast lack of international tourism any time soon, are you optimistic for the 2020-21 season?
It’s very hard to know what to think. I’m ever the optimist and believe we’ll still get plenty of domestic tourists coming here to ride. I mean, why wouldn’t you? Town is going to be quieter than ever and we have more new trails cropping up every year. There’ll be a few new ones this year, actually—did anyone say upper and lower Rude Rock?
During my day-to-day job turning spanners at Vertigo Bikes, I’m forever questioned by jet-lagged but enthusiastic visitors wanting directions to Rude Rock and Salmon Run. Sharing in mountain biking anecdotes only fuels an excitement synonymous with Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world.
It makes people forget they probably haven’t slept properly for 48 hours, as they pull up kneepads back-to-front and upside-down before assembling bikes in a frantic calm. This year though, things will be different; winter has been a slow-cooker on a five-month simmer of anticipation, and summer is smelling good. There’s a place at the Queenstown table for everyone fortunate enough to be ‘stuck’ in New Zealand, so come over, pull up a pew and tuck in.