A Report from the 2019 Sustainable Trails Conference

MBT Trail Coordinator Chris Brule – It’s midnight, I pull up to the motel I booked for the next three nights. After witnessing uncomfortable interactions in front of my door, I proceed into my non-smoking room, repulsed by smells of cigarettes, dirty laundry and mildew. Skeptical, to say the least, I quickly found another hotel. Lesson one learned on my trip to Grand Junction, CO: if you’re going to the desert, just sleep in your dang truck.

Looking forward to a weekend in the desert, the following days were filled with engaging, educational sessions presented by renowned trail professionals. Oh, and world-class riding of course. Just as valuable were the opportunities to network, ride, and drink beer with other builders and designers after each day.

Chris Brule at the Lunch Loops in Grand Junction, CO.

Reflecting on several pages of notes from the conference, each day was filled with new, valuable information that will be applied to our trails plan right here in Teton Valley. While there is always room for improvement, the hard and fast numbers validate and reinforce our current MBT Crew building and design techniques, which include utilizing grade reversals*, contouring *and reducing average trail grades. Back at home, in reflecting, I’m now more confident that our trail crew will be able to continue to stay current on the most sustainable building techniques and strive to improve our planning, design and build process.

A few thoughts: Ideally, sustainable trails conform to the terrain and environment without causing serious degradation and they ultimately require minimal maintenance. Each trail, technically sustainable or not, falls somewhere on a continuum. It’s our responsibility, both as a mountain bike and trails advocacy organization and as a community, to create and manage trails that are on the higher end of this continuum while embracing all the present environmental and social aspects. From these ideals, we’ve established our first MBT Trail Crew Mission Statement:

“The MBT Trail Crew will strive to retain character within existing trails, design trails for success and create trails with intent. We will build on the higher end of the continuum of sustainability to achieve long-lasting, fun and aesthetically pleasing trails in our region.”

To give a glimpse into the conference, topics included: Success for the 80%, Top 10 Trail Fails, Sustainable Trails 101, Pumptrack 2.0, Clino* over Ego and Tools for Trails. Each of these course topics are incredibly relevant to our work and even after just a few days, we’ve added some extra valuable resources to our bag.

I am grateful for the opportunity provided by your year-end donations to attend this year (dingy motel room or not) and really appreciate all those who support our trails!


Grade – The grade (also called slope, incline, or gradient) of a feature is the vertical distance of ascent or decent of the trail expressed as a percentage of the horizontal distance.

Contouring– Following imaginary contour lines around a mountain or canyon to get from point A to point B, rather than going up and down on a direct path.

Clino (Clinometer) – A instrument used to measure slope angles. Crucial to trail design and planning.