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Dangerous Dan builds a gnarly trail on Bowen Island, Vancouver

Originally used as summering grounds by the native Squamish Nation, Bowen Island has become home to affluent home owners who relish the beauty, peace and tranquility of this beautiful forested island. Just a 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver, this quiet island of 52 sq km/20 sq mi lives up to its slogan of “Within Reach. Beyond Comparison.”

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Typically visitors go to this island for a quiet, relaxing experience, but it is also well known for its kayaking around the islands sheltered bays, swimming and hiking, and it is also loved for its fun and challenging mountain bike trails which criss-cross the island on a variety of maintained and backwoods trails. Everything is on offer, from a pleasant day cycle to serious thigh-burning mountain climbs.

There is also the Bowen Island Bike and Skills Park which was originally planned and constructed in 2006. The Park has an array of wooden ramps, bridges, and teeter-totters with something for every level of skill.

And then ‘Dangerous Dan’ came along and built an unbelievably sick trail which is a ‘must do’ for many…

Dangerous Dan, formerly plain Dan Cowan, began mountain biking at North Shore, Vancouver, back in 1991. The trails there were first designed and built by Ross Kirkwood in 1981 and then Todd ‘Digger’ Fiander, a concrete mason by trade. Kirkwood’s trail-building philosophy was “a modified two-directional Mad Mouse ride,” which means lots of  tight corners, switchbacks and steep drops. He describes his eco-friendly trails, always built on the ground, as “kinetically pleasurable,” and “totally inclusive,” meaning that they appealed to riders of all different skill sets.

Fiander built his first trail called ‘Crosscut’ in 1982 on Hollyburn Ridge. “It was old-school,” said Fiander, “no stunts, just up and down.” In 1984, Fiander’s next creation, ‘Big Eye’ included the first-ever mountain bike trail bridge in these parts — built two feet off the ground, it spanned eight feet and was about six inches wide. “It was the scariest thing,” said Fiander. “I just started building bridges to get over sensitive areas.”

But it soon became his trademark… “I was always trying to put a different type of bridge on my trails each time, something different … a concrete bridge, a ladder bridge, a teeter-totter bridge. It had to be different. Now it’s roller-coasters.”

Dan Cowan loved riding ‘The Big Eye’ but felt it ended too soon so he extended a line that came to include one of the first-ever North Shore ‘log rides’. Cowan’s debut trail later became known as ‘The Fleshy Wound’.

Cowan and Digger hooked up, along with another trail blazer – Mountain Bike Mike, and began riding together, Dan being the most extreme of the three. After their first time out, Digger’s comment was “I thought that guy’s dangerous. That’s how he got his name. He was the extreme guy.”

Dangerous Dan became a compulsive trail builder. In 1993, he built ‘The Reaper’ on Cypress Mountain. The epic trail, which greeted riders ominously with a cracked bike helmet dangling from a tree at the start of a steep log descent, set a precedent of gnarl on the Shore. He later built a prequel to the trail, “The Pre-Reap.” Municipal authorities have since destroyed ‘The Reaper’.

With all this activity, North Shore became known for its radical trail building tradition and history continued to be made with ever more gnarly trails suitable for hardcore riders. Subsequently, some of Dan’s more epic trails have been dismantled, deemed too dangerous by the powers that be. “It was just too gnarly,” Cowan said when ‘Swollen Uvula’ was taken down. “What people don’t understand they don’t know what to do with,” he said.

But Bowen Island is testament to the fact that his creative skill is still active and that there are people and places who want to see another Dangerous Dan trail. So, if  you want to try a seriously gnarly trail – head to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay, west Vancouver for a guaranteed adrenaline-packed day!

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