If you were new to mountainboarding, or new to freeriding, or just bored of riding the same old places, you might be looking for somewhere to ride. You might look on the internet and you might find ESM , the Extreme Sports Map, which calls itself, “The definitive visual guide to Skateparks, Skateboarding Spots, Surf Breaks, Dirt Jumps, Mountain Bike Trails and almost every extreme sport spot you could shake a stick at.” Well, except mountainboarding…
But mountainboarding is lucky. It doesn’t need ESM. Whilst some of us may be content to haunt the same old runs and rest on our laurels (whatever they are), there are some mountainboarders who go out looking for something different. They explore new terrain, go places no mountainboarder has been before, and return with reports of new runs both awesome and lame. Why do they do it? Are some people just plain curious? What drives them? Is it just the urge to explore?
With the NoSno boys & more having gone before, let’s meet a few of the latest wave of mountainboard explorers, documenting their journeys in various new media dimensions…
Ade McCordick loves maps. “Maps are great!”, he says in his post ‘The Joy of Maps‘ on his Dirt Box blog, “Plan your route, see where you’ve been, look for those tightly packed contours that mean slopes!”
Recently Bing implemented OS Maps at 1:125,000 scale, which Ade uses in what he calls ‘desktop trail hunting’ across Derbyshire. “From using the OS maps to find a suitable slope, it is a breeze to switch to the birds eye view to see whether that route goes straight through a field, wood, or trading estate.” he says.
And having found new runs, and having got GPS installed on his phone, he goes out to conquer the new runs. “Of course, there’s still the possibility of getting to the site and finding that the trail is totally un-rideable, or densely packed with cattle, or just plain rubbish.” Ade says, as a warning about relying on maps. At the end of the day, exploring is really all about getting out there and checking it out on foot and on wheels.
Joe Gatley has been exploring the Welsh countryside since 2003 looking for his perfect run. He has always looked for different rides and new challenges. Using Google Earth, he checks out firetracks at places like Rhehola up the Neath Valley, and then goes out to give them a ride to see how they run. “It’s a great way to explore new areas and improve your riding.” Joe says.
When I asked Joe how many runs he thinks he’s found in all those years, he replied, “Too many to recall.” His intrepid reconnaissance missions have given us Pontrhydyfen; a two and a half mile firetrack in the Afan Valley, Dave; a busy 1.8 miler with some tight corners, and the Pub Run; which starts on top of Llanmadoc Hill and finishes when you make it through the door of The Brit.
Joe is particularly focused in his searching, he knows what he wants and he only looks for those kinds of runs, but he is in the perfect place for that kind of riding, South and Mid Wales has an abundance of firetracks. His favourite place is Halfway Forest, “It’s quite a chilled place to ride, there’s a few different runs and lots more to find and explore in the area.” And when I asked him if he’ll ever get tired of exploring, he answered, “No” with certainity and with a smile
North West London and the Chilterns
Evil C and Spud have been traipsing all over the Chiltern Hills and surrounding valleys with a MemoryMap-loaded and GPS-enabled phone in one hand and mountainboard in the other for quite some time now. Having exploited every decent hill within the M25 by tube, train and bus, they needed to broaden their territory.
“We pull up Memory Map on the PC at home, and look for promising blocks of green with tightly bunched contours and ideally with paths going through them. Sometimes changing to 3D mode helps get an idea of the lay of the land, but even with 3D it can be hard to tell if it will be steep enough”,explained Evil C. “Then we rely on good old gut instinct”, added Spud. “We put flags down in locations that look interesting, then on a scouting day we will pick an area and try and tick off as many of the flags as possible in a day”, continued Evil C. And, “When we get home, we upload the changes from the phone and keep a record on a master map on my PC.”
It’s interesting to see how technology is changing the way we explore. Things such as the new iphone app that will track your route and upload it to googlemaps for you are making exploring easier (well, if you understand all that kind of stuff), but Evil C has plans in that direction. His idea is to develop a “collaborative online mapping site and mix in elements of social networking – the result is something akin to a mix of Facebook and Twitter, only for places as well as people. The site is called “Placebook” and will hopefully be online sometime within the next year or so at Placebook.tv, with a possible mobile version at Placebook.mobi.”
So how would it work? Evil C told us, “Online sites where you store places have been done before, but are often quite narrow in the market they aim for. In Placebook, each place has its own page like a person does in Facebook. It has a ‘Wall’ that people can write on and subscribe to, a way for people who go to that place to communicate. People can then give locations tags to signify activities or groups affiliated with that location – but anyone can tag any location – so some bikers may find a location and tag it with mountain biking and their group tag, then some mountain boarders see the spot and think it may be good for them too. They can post on the location’s wall or contact the bikers via their group tag and ask if it’s OK to come down. The boarders get the thumbs up, visit the spot and like it, so they add a mountain boarding tag and their group tag to the spot also.” It sounds like a great way for explorers to share what they find with other mountainboarders.
Ian Hufton, another explorer, this time of the hills of Kent, not only spends his time tracking down new trails, he also does a pretty mean panorama of the spots he finds.
Ian has always loved the outdoors and came to mountainboarding from bouldering. “The now defunct website kentatb.co.uk gave us an initial starting place for a few spots to go riding”, he told us. “This provided me with the inspiration to reset up the website as www.kentatb.com“. He went on to say, “The Website is less than a year old, but is gaining strength slowly. It is never going to reach out to the masses, but that is not the purpose. We are focused on the county of Kent, which is a really small area. I just like the idea of putting a little back into the sport, and maybe giving other new riders the start that I had.” He is certainly doing that with his dedication to finding new places to ride and accurately mapping where the run goes using GPS.
Ian says he likes to “have days where I go out and ride new stuff cautiously”, and days of “riding as much as possible, in as many different spots as possible, with as many different people as possible”. It’s a good attitude to have.
And then there’s me. I’ve always been interested in exploring and when I got into mountainboarding that interest found a new focus. I started by collecting and collating maps of places to ride, and ended up with loads of maps, route plans, and notes, but I wanted to make it more available to other riders. I looked into lots of different ways of doing it but finally settled on using googlemaps. It has it’s limitations and it’s problems, but it is easy to share with others and it’s well known.
Phase One of the Mountainboard Ride Guide was all about getting all the locations I knew on one map. After reaching three hundred locations I realised that it could carry on growing forever and may never be finished. I went on to Phase Two, which included adding a purpose-made Icon to make the whole thing more mountainboardy, and then set out to walk all the runs at each location with a GPS and a camera. I’d then transfer the route, length, description and pictures of each run to the map to create a huge directory of places to go mountainboarding.
As I added runs it became clear that it needed a way of rating the runs. Some were easy grass slopes and some were difficult mountain descents, but how to tell them apart on a map? I started with the obvious; I looked at ski runs. The ski run rating of green, blue, red, and black is pretty much considered standard across Europe if not other parts of the world too. The problem with it is that there is no agreed upon criteria for judging the run. It’s up to each resort to decide which of their runs are Green and which are Black. So I needed a method of quantifying and measuring the runs that didn’t rely on how the rider doing the judging felt about it.
I came up with the S.O.R.T. system to score each run out of four on its Speed, Obstacles, Remoteness, and Terrain. So, as an example, if a track generally runs at less then 10mph, it’ll get a Speed score of 1. A 10-20mph track would get a score of 2, 20-30mph gets a 3, and 30mph+ is a 4. The other three criteria are scored in similar ways and then added up to provide a total rating. A total rating of 4 means it’s a Beginners slope and is green on the map, 5 to 8 is Intermediate which is blue, 9 to 12 is Advanced and red, and 13 to 16 is Elite, which is black on the map. This system, although not perfect and still under development, gives me a way to grade the runs on the Mountainboard Ride Guide, and gives riders a way of judging the level of each run. It also means that an intermediate rider who wants to push their ability to ride at higher speeds can look for runs that score high on the speed rating but low in obstacles, remoteness, and terrain.
So, there are people out there making the most of new technologies and good old fashioned leg work to explore unknown and unridden areas. Different areas, different methods, different reasons.
Exploration is about searching or traveling a terrain for the purpose of discovery. It’s all about getting out there, finding and meeting personal challenges, sharing what you find with other riders, and enjoying yourself. Become an explorer, check out your area and find somewhere new to ride.
Here’s some advice for new explorers:
Plan ahead, check out maps (below) and look for areas with lots of contour lines.
Designate a scouting day, and aim to cover as big an area as possible.
Travel light, leave the video camera at home and all of your spares in the car except maybe a pump.
Bring lots of fluids, ideally a hydration pack.
Don’t tire yourself out walking up and down the same hill. Once you’ve found a run, move on. It’ll be there when you come back.
Take a leash, it’ll make dragging your board up easier.
And some online maps to have a look at and utilise:
Have fun, ride free, explore your country, and don’t forget to send Remolition your stories!
Words by Roger Swannell, photos by Roger S & Ian Hufton, Illustration by Decreate