Q&A with Terraflow Trails' Pete Costain

Written by Anna Husted on  at

Lift-access mountain biking opens this week at Big Sky Resort. Summer in Big Sky means getting on the trail, in some fashion: on a bike, foot or by horse. There is some exciting new trail to talk about so I sat down with head of Terraflow Trails, Pete Costain, to chat about the latest work being done on trails at Big Sky Resort and in the community at large.

The new beginner trail off of Explorer recently opened. It's called Easy Rider.

That new beginner trail serves its purpose because it stands in antithesis to everything else that is here. It is easy, but it is a little rough because it had some weather damage over the winter. A beginner trail touches on the aspects of a freeride trail: You have subtle little rollers; you can feel your bike going up and down, really low angle, so it's a great start. Trail crew will continue maintenance throughout the summer.

What other trail work will be done in Big Sky?

We are working with BSCC to have them help complete a meadow to mountain trail. Essentially it's Middle Fork up to Flat Iron. We've rearranged its course it a little bit and it is a beautiful route. It'll still be about two miles of road and two miles of trail, but in the most scenic part of Andesite Mountain. You'll have panoramic views out over the valley, ride across Elk Park Ridge, and so many awesome views in both directions including views of the Spanish Peaks Golf Course. By the end of the summer we should have a trail from the meadow to the mountain. The new connector trail will be about 400 vertical feet of and about six miles round trip.

What are you working on right now?

The Big Sky Resort/Moonlight connector Otter Way. It will be an intermediate connector because we haven't engineered any airs into it, we've banked all the corners, everything bermed in a friendly way, and it's a 100 percent single-track-in-the-woods experience. You cross one ski run and one dirt road, but the rest puts you in the woods.

What is the vertical?

The vertical between the two is about 280. It's cross-country in a fun way. It's two miles with ups and downs in both directions, though mostly down when coming to the Big Sky side from Moonlight Lodge, and up on the way to the Moonlight side from Mountain Village.

So if you're going both directions and its single track how will bikers or hikers deal with that?

We also have approval or a bikes-only trail from Moonlight to Big Sky. Essentially you have an up-route, which is fun to ride, and then you'll also have a down-route, which is for bikes only. But we have not started that trail yet. It will also spit you out at the far end of Freeskier Parking lot and we'll build a corridor from there to bring you back to the base area. Both trails will be incredibly fun to ride down and up.

Fill me in on a few more details for the connector trail.

We do a lot of line-of-sight forestry. Even though the connector is a somewhat narrow trail, you've got line-of-sight. I'm really excited about eventually creating a European-style riding experience. You have places to eat in distinct geographical areas, and we just need to tie those together in a fun and functional way.

What are the most important factors you have to keep in mind when trail building?
Water drainage. Integrating fun and flow with drainage, and done right they are one and the same, is the most important. You even engineer constant drainage just by rolling your bike up and over the trails.

Dealing with rocks has been an eye-opener, but they're manageable. It takes that much more attentiveness on excavating, and a learning of technique to navigate the rocks when building trail. At first it seems overwhelming, but then it's manageable. 

Other challenges include route selection. We don't want to put things in that are going to be torn out so we're looking for geographic and technical longevity. Brian Wheeler with Big Sky Resort and Civil Engineer Eric Butts have been awesome in helping us with that.

Tell us about the crew you're working with up here.

We started with me just building trail and having the local crew watch. I've also been laying the flags out accurately and then letting them build and then coming back and critiquing, but sometimes when something really doesn't go right we just go back and rebuild it. The cool thing is this crew is super receptive.

Are there plans for more downhill trails?

In my mind, yes. My pipe dream for Big Sky would be mountain biking off Southern Comfort. Southern Comfort is off the hook for mountain biking. It's not steep, it's got perfect rolling pitches and gullies. Ohhh, it's inspiring. I could see Swift Current as remaining great gnarly expert terrain, and Southern Comfort and Ramcharger becoming the everyman big flow trail. Of course we're talking in my dream world, but it could be three-tiered lift-access mountain biking with complete connectivity.

What are some of the tools you use to build trails?

A Mini Excavator. That is what Terraflow builds with. In this terrain with rocks and trying to save as many trees as we can, a trail dozer is too much. Mini Excavators allow us to be subtle. If you've been on the Moonlight trails they're fairly wide. We're building a section from the bottom of Pony Express up to Moonlight Lodge right now with a bigger machine so it will be a six-foot wide trail, but we usually don't want more than four feet.

How did you start Terraflow Trails?

We're about seven years old. We built Whitefish Mountain Resort's original trail, Runaway Train. When Whitefish Legacy Partners was talking about building a trail system around Whitefish no one was stepping up to the plate to build it.

As a mountain biker I had built trails my whole life, but often not sanctioned and I just did it for fun. So I saw this huge opportunity and rolled with it. On top of Whitefish trails I've done a lot of forest service work and I got a little mention in Bob Allen's Bike Magazine story on the Butte biking community. So that was really cool.

Inadvertently, Whitefish is the template for what I'm doing at Big Sky because I want athletic beginners to be able to do this connector trail, but experts to also enjoy it.

Any other thoughts on the future of mountain biking at Big Sky Resort?

We're in talks to build a Pump Track down in the Meadow.

What's a Pump Track?

A Pump Track is a little bit of a complement to a skate park. It's a fairly easy BMX track for Mountain bikes or BMX bikes. You should never have to pedal, but it's an incredible workout. It's also a complement to the modern flow trail because if you're a beginner, a berm or up and over things is a little weird, but the minute you get the rhythm it's incredibly fun. So a Pump Track is a 50x80 microcosm of a flow trail. Overall, I want to work with the whole community and make Big Sky a great trail destination.

Otter Way
A mini-excavator working on Otter Way. 

New bike carriers on Swift Current.