Built By Hand

While the trail might be named “Slab City,” there are plenty of tire-hungry rock gardens between the massive hunks of granite. As the visionary behind Slab City, Nicolas Sauvé knows every inch of the trail, along with the lines that sneak through the rock gauntlets. NIKON, 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600

Built By Hand Tireless Dedication at Sentiers du Moulin

Having grown up during the formative years of Quebec’s mountain bike scene, Les Sentiers du Moulin (SDM) holds a special place in my heart.

Some of my fondest memories are of people dedicating their time to develop mountain biking in this beautiful place, and its story is representative of Quebec’s overall growth into one of the world’s major mountain bike destinations.

My mother used to drive me to the local riding club’s weekly training evenings at SDM, and it was the site of my first-ever cross-country race in 2006, when I was 13 years old. Since those days, I’ve seen the local trail network blossom into a thriving hub of mountain bike culture, thanks to years of tireless volunteer work in the forms of trailbuilding, coaching and race organization.

Pedaling is optional on SuperG, as the trail has a gradient and flow that deliver perfect speed throughout. Alexe Lacroix leads Geneviève Berthiaume over a rock roll and into the berms. NIKON, 1/1000 sec, f/1.6, ISO 1250
Packing a plethora of features into a half mile of singletrack makes for an action-packed trail that keeps every rider on their toes. Caroline Roy sails through one of the few mellow corners before dropping into the next section of chunder. NIKON, 1/640 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500
Fruit of the trail. Nothing provides mid-ride sustenance like a handful of fresh berries. NIKON, 1/100 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1000

What started as a Nordic skiing center in 1989 began to morph into a bastion of mountain biking some 15 years ago, as area riders realized the enormous potential the once-private land offered during the warmer months. These early pioneers, members of a cross-country-development club supported by local bike shop Mathieu Performance, were organizing a regional XC race in 2006 and reached out to one of their hardworking members, Érick Gagnon. Already deep into the development of a trail complex around nearby Lake Beauport, Gagnon recognized the promise of SDM and began building trails with a dedicated crew of local volunteers in 2007.

About 40 people showed up for the initial dig days, toiling in the rocky terrain with basic tools. Despite the daunting nature of this work, they completed their first trail, the aptly named La Poulaski, the same year. Even in the absence of government grants that could have helped purchase heavier equipment, the volunteers forged into the following year with some 20 new workers joining their ranks.

From rocks to woodwork to more rocks, the lines of Slab City mandate precision and finesse. Done right though, the trail flows like one giant piece of granite—just like Nicolas Sauvé designed it to. NIKON, 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800
Even through off-camber sections, the granite of Slab City grips like nothing else—just be careful if it’s wet. NIKON, 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400
As operations manager at Sentiers du Moulin, Nicolas Sauvé’s office is often the woods, and daily tasks sometimes involve testing—or airing into—new lines. NIKON, 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 250
Despite being mostly rock, Slab City doesn’t fail to deliver a couple of high-speed berms. Nicolas Sauvé enjoying the change of pace. NIKON, 1/30 sec, f/4, ISO 250

In 2012, the local municipality bought the land, paving the way for the full-scale development of SDM into a bona fide trail center. By 2014, the team had put together a cohesive development plan and presented it during a city council meeting devoted to using mountain biking as an avenue for tourism growth in the greater Quebec City region. Until that point, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Vallée-Bras-du-Nord had been the province’s primary focal points, but the raw potential of SDM was clear and it became the latest beneficiary of government trailbuilding grants.

Thanks to more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work, the backbone of the SDM network was formed, and to this day the Mathieu Performance-backed development club still puts in at least 200 hours of volunteer work each summer.

By 2015, due to the growing desire of local riders for more purpose-built features on their trails, efforts were underway to add more technically demanding tracks to help meet the needs of enduro racing and more gravity-oriented types of riding. Local riding and trailbuilding group LB Cycle, formed in 2014 with the purpose of promoting gravity-driven pursuits, joined forces with the existing volunteer groups to begin adding some vertical spice to the network. The addition of LB Cycle to the fold helped to solidify the enduro-style influence on SDM, and new trails with a distinctly aggressive personality began popping up on the hill.

Speed isn’t always friendly toward slick bridges, but Nick Dignard disregards the physics and trusts his tires while airing onto Wolverine’s signature woodwork. The trail weaves together natural slab features and purposeful tech in beautiful fashion. NIKON, 1/1250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 500
At times, Wolverine narrows to a line of granite weaving through the woods, a beautiful contrast to the technical sections. NIKON, 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500
There’s no way to escape Wolverine without blasting through a few puddles. Nick Dignard wets the toes. NIKON, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800
Inspired by trails like Whistler’s Rockwork Orange, the builders behind Wolverine sought to connect some of the most technical sections of granite they could find. The result: a trail unlike anything else at Sentiers du Moulin, and an incredibly fun ride for locals (like Nick Dignard) and visitors alike. NIKON, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1250

After 10 years of tireless volunteer work, Gagnon’s efforts were recognized when his job was turned into a paid position in 2016. Now SDM’s director of operations for the summer season, Gagnon is overseeing a forward-thinking team of trailbuilders with ambitious expansion plans for the network.

Within the next two years, some 13 miles of new trail are to be added, bringing the total amount to more than 37 miles. About nine of the new trail miles will be added to the Tourbillon sector, home to the sweet slabs of the burly Wolverine trail. Under the direction of Nic Sauvé, who joined the team in 2018, rowdy new trails such as Gold City and Slab City are being built in this zone for advanced riders.

In addition to the new trails, a building with showers and a food concession is being planned in partnership with a local microbrewery. What’s more, the Lake Beauport bike shop, Genetik, plans to open a small shop at the trail center’s entrance. Even lodging options are in the works, with cabins being built in the Tourbillon sector. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the trail crews and community businesses, SDM looks poised to be a destination for multiday riding vacations