What didn’t fit : Nick IcePosted: 09/26/2013
I thought I knew what “mountain biking” was before I met Nick Ice, but boy was I wrong. Turns out, mountain biking, or downhill biking, or any kind of biking other than the road biking I was familiar with, means you’re a crazy person who hurls him or herself down hills and off jumps, teeters on balance beam-like rails, navigates rocky terrain, and lots, lots more—all on two wheels. Here, the computer programmer by day, adrenaline junkie by night/weekend talks about this “extreme” biking and the trails these guys and girls ride on.
Hey Nick! Tell us about you.
I started my schooling at Dunwoody College of Technology studying Architecture, but when I realized I loved building homes more that designing them, I lost the passion. Later, I took a Computer Programming class at the University of Minnesota and loved it, so I transferred to Brown College. I graduated from there in 2003.
How did you get into biking?
Growing up, I was always on my bike with my friends, building sketchy ramps or jumping stairs, destroying our “awesome” Wal-Mart bikes. I got my first real mountain bike at 13, and my friends and I spent a lot of time in Indian Heights in Rochester, MN, which featured rogue trails in the woods that seemed to change daily. There were a lot of good times had in those woods with friends, painful crashes and all. Then I got a car and started school, and kind of forgot about biking for many years.
In 2008 my friend Curt and I decided to go out mountain biking one day, but I realized my 1993 Giant Rincon was in non-working order. So I went to craigslist and found a nice Specialized Hard Rock, and we went out the next day, with no helmets, of course (I never ride without one now).
Since that day in 2008, I haven’t stopped biking. Today I have five bikes, and each serves a specific type of riding.
How did you get into trail building?
After I fell back in love with biking, I joined the bike club Minnesota Off Road Cyclist (MORC) and saw they did trail work every week on my local trail, Battle Creek. I thought, “What better way to meet some new people and help build trails?” Plus, I wanted to see more jumps and advanced trails, so instead of complaining about it I grabbed a shovel and worked with the trail crew to build new trails and features.
Last year the crew at Battle Creek asked me to be one of the Dirt Bosses since I was out there on non-organized trail days digging and building new stuff. It was kind of a, “We can’t control you, so we might as well promote you.” That, and it allows me to be out there with chainsaws and other equipment whenever they need me.
What goes into building a trail?
The first step is to scout an area you’d like to build a trail or add on to an existing trail. Then you work with the City to get approval, as the majority of trails in the Metro are in county or state parks. After that, you “flag the trail,” or walk the area and flag or tape it to show where you want it to be. Once flagged, it usually has to be looked at by the City/County/State for final approval. After approval you can start cutting the corridor, which is the process of clearing any brush, leaves, and trees (we never remove trees, unless absolutely necessary). The corridor is usually about 5–8 feet wide, depending on the type of trail you’re building. Most single track bike trails are built to about 24–36 inches and over time narrow to 12–18 inches once grass or shrubs grow back in.
Once there’s a corridor cut, you cut the actual trail tread. Depending on the terrain and the City/County you’re in, it’s either done by hand or by machine. The cut trail gets a final finishing, and then features are added.
Two of the best tools are another person’s opinions and eyes. Having multiple people flag and help with the design and features is key. You may miss a creative line, or an issue you don’t see right away. Plus, it’s fun to see others’ visions and learn from each other.
What kinds of trails are there?
There are a bunch of styles, but here are the typical ones:
• Single-track – The most common trails in the Twin Cities, these are used for mountain biking and range from easy to advanced. They’re usually one-ways and 18–24 inches wide.
• Multi-use – Trails used by bikers, hikers, trail runners, and sometimes horse riders. They’re a great use for small areas.
• Downhill (DH) – My favorite style of trail to ride and build. These go down the side of a hill/mountain and can include jumps, drops, rocky sections, doubles, berms, and skinnies.
• Dirt jumps – Jumps that a lot of times are doubles because only hand tools were available to build with, not machinery. They’re usually sculpted better than most people’s lawns. The builders take pride in nice looking jumps. I love it.
• Pump tracks – Usually 24 inches wide or so, and meant to be ridden around with no pedaling, mainly pumping through rollers and bermed corners (a roller is a mound of dirt in a half-oval shape you can pump to keep speed on a trail).
• Flow – Think of these as pump tracks that go downhill. Usually a beginner/intermediate trail with flowing berms, rollers, and smaller jumps. Beginners should be able to ride them, but they allow advanced riders to find creative lines and ride fast.
• 4X – Courses in which four people at a time race down a trail to cross the [finish] line first. We just built one in Cottage Grove, MN.
• Slopestyle – These vary a lot and usually consist of a combination of drops, jumps, hips, and berms. The best example is Crankworx.
What trails have you worked on?
I started at Battle Creek, but then I saw there were a bunch of guys building a downhill trail in Red Wing, MN, with plans to host races on it. I went to their first race, and after that I helped them anytime they headed down. Now there’s a flowy freeride trail at Memorial Park in Red Wing that has some really fun tables, step downs, doubles, and berms. (The best part about building that trail is now I have some of the best friends I could ask for, and I’ve taken lots of biking trips with them out West. We’ll be friends for life.)
After that there was an opportunity to build and hold races at Giants Ridge Ski Resort in Biwabik, MN. We spent many weekends up there laying out and building a new downhill trail. It had the best terrain for this type of trail: It was very rocky and offered lots of natural technical sections. After a ton of hours, we had a legitimate downhill trail that was excellent for hosting downhill races on.
Next, we rebuilt the old dirt jumps and pump track in Eagan, MN, at Lexington. With the help of a mini excavator and skid steer, plus countless hours of shaping, we completed three new pump tracks and a line of dirt jumps. The next summer we came back and modified some of the pump tracks, worked on drainage, and continued to add more jumps.
Last year, downhill bikers in Minnesota got the best news we could hope for: Spirit Mountain in Duluth was going to build downhill trails and run the lifts. Lucky me, MORC was sending a group of Dirt Bosses up there to take part in a Flow Trail school taught by Trail Solutions. I got to spend two days working with professional trail builders, learning how to design and lay out flow trail. It was a great experience, and after the class I went to Duluth multiple times to help the guys finish building the flow trail. As it stands, Spirit Mountain has four trails and runs the lifts Thursday through Sunday. The plan is to have 10–12 trails there. I’m hoping to help build more.
This summer there was an International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) trail day held at Salem Hills bike trail in Inver Grove Heights, MN. Trail days are for people who are interested in learning what goes into building/maintaining bike trails. We showed about 100 people how to fix erosion issues, and the proper ways to build trails.
The latest project is in Cottage Grove, MN. Our friend Chance worked with the City and got the OK to build a bike park there. It includes a 4X course, dirt jumps, and pump tracks. For this project, shovels weren’t going to cut it, so we brought in the big guns: bulldozers, excavators, and skid steers. The 4X course consists of jumps, drops, massive berms, rollers, and space for four racers on the track at a time. In five weeks or so, the course was completed, and there was a party/fundraiser earlier this month to raise money to complete the park. You can look for some additions in the next week or two.
Where do you get ideas for trails?
A lot of times the terrain will give you ideas on how it wants to be sculpted. You may also be riding a trail and like a feature or section of trail, and realize you have an area that would allow you to build something like it, or it at least inspires you for a section. Your fellow trail builders are a great place to get ideas. Like I mentioned before, a group of riders can often make a great piece of trail.
Where are some of your favorites to ride?
Here comes the cliché answer of Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia. But it truly is the mecca for DH riding. It consists of more than 50 lift-assisted trails with enough variety in terrain and features that you never get bored. It will eat your bike, but man is it worth it. I’ve been lucky to spend nine days there with a great group, and had as much fun as possible on two wheels. I will be back.
Locally, my favorite trail is Battle Creek, partly because it’s my home trail and I dig there, but I feel it has some of the best terrain in the Twin Cities. It’s a great mix of old- and new-style trails. You have the fun, flowy sections, then there are the rutted, rooty, eroded sections that you just don’t see anymore.
My new love has been Spirit Mountain. They’ve gotten off to a great start up there, and with the master plan, plus a Mayor and community behind them, I see it developing into a great bike destination.
What are your future trail building plans?
There have been talks to work at Battle Creek on a couple sections with some machinery, and I would love to get back up to Spirit and help them out.
I’m also taking part in a class with IMBA this weekend on building pump tracks. We’re going to be building a pump track at the Cottage Grove bike park.
Where would you love to build a trail?
I’d like to build a true double black diamond DH trail at Spirit that could be used for hosting races. The nice thing about race courses is you have to change them slightly every year to make them new and fresh. It’s a fun challenge to see how you can change or add to a trail without killing the flow.
What do you wish more people knew about biking?
Lately while commuting to work I’ve noticed how many people are not properly fitted for their bike. I [wish everyone would] at least get their seat elevated to a proper height. I suggest popping into your local bike shop and asking them about getting fitted. Your legs and back will thank you.
Also, I’ve found a lot of people think bike trails are built and maintained by the City, but that isn’t the case. Most of the time—if not all the time—the work is done by the volunteers of the local bike clubs. One thing I’m not a fan of is armchair trail builders. They think they know more and complain about the trails, but they’ve never once picked up a shovel or come out to a [volunteer] trail day. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting constructive criticism and ideas for trails. It’s how we learn. But trail builders get involved because we want to build trails we want to ride. So if you have an idea or concern, please let us know, but try to do so in a way in which we’ll actually want to listen.
How can people get involved?
The easiest is come out and help us dig. Each trail in the Metro has a specific build day each week (they can be found here). No experience is needed. We supply all the tools, teach the proper techniques, and answer questions.
Another option is to donate to MORC via IMBA. This money goes to buying tools, fixing tools, and renting machines. It also helps pay for permits, fees, and insurance as needed. If you’re out biking, hiking, and trail running, and see a trail crew out working, a “Thanks” or high five is always appreciated.
Can we see video of you riding?
Here are links to some videos I’ve taken over the years of the trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
• Happy Camper Trail
• Blaster to Smorgasbord Trails
• Upper section of Candy Land Trail
–Red Wing (I’m in the striped shirt)
–Mont Du Lac, WI (Brad Miller is building fun trails here as we speak)
What is your favorite pair of shoes?
It has to be my nasty, stinky FiveTenn Karver DH shoes. When I have these on, I know it’s gonna be a good day riding my bike with the crew.
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