BEST OF 2020: Ashes to adrenaline: Part I
The bushfire crisis that engulfed much of Australia over the summer left communities reeling and decimated unprecedented areas of wilderness. But much like the regenerative properties of fire, the Talbingo MTB Club may just have a found a way forward amidst the chaos.
Plans to rapidly expand the club’s trails had been in the works long before the fires tore through the town for which the club is named. But rather than hanging their heads in sorrow, club members sprang into action, determined to pave a way forward for both trails and town.
A town on top of Australia
Chances are you’re familiar with the Snowy Mountains. One of the biggest and best MTB getaways can be found at Thredbo and in winter it turns into Australia’s capital of snow sports. You may not have heard of Talbingo however, located at the northern tip of the region just past the popular Yarrangobilly Caves.
John Doidge is the club secretary and a proud local of the small Snowy Mountain town. One of the first things he mentions is the sheer potential of the club and its location.
“I work for Snowy Hydro which has the biggest hydro generator in the country in the town,” Doidge explained.
“We’re surrounded by trees and dams so the place itself is incredibly picturesque and the reason why we started our mountain bike club was that we understood the potential.”
That potential didn’t just include some nice trails, rather an ambitious dream of creating the biggest downhill descent in Australia and a chance to differentiate themselves from other MTB destinations.
“We travel to Thredbo, Derby and all those other places but when we sit here and look up we’ve got the potential for over 1000m of downhill from our Big Talbingo Mountain, it basically overlooks the whole town. So we started progressing a bit of a plan for the area.
“Our business case was always this will be the biggest downhill descent in Australia with a town right there that was already based on tourism that suffers from that Autumn and Spring period, the best time to ride. Since the bushfires we’ve had businesses sending letters of support, we’ve got other clubs supporting us and donations, so it shows you the potential.”
But just as the club began to gain traction, disaster struck.
Last summer South-Eastern Australia saw unprecedented bushfire activity. Multiple fire fronts tore through the region including the Snowy Mountains and Talbingo.
Doidge said the experience was ‘horrific’.
“We got smashed by it unfortunately, it was pretty much all fires in all corners,” he recalled.
“Probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. We ended up getting out of it ok from that side of things [property loss]. There were some pretty horrific photos looking out from my place towards the town, 50 metre flame height....it was very, very intense.”
While the club had no ‘actual’ trails to speak of, the fire trails they had been using were suddenly off limits.
“[We use] mostly fire trails so we haven’t been able to ride anything because of all the trees down. Straight afterwards [fires] we had torrential rain so we had landslides galore that took out roads as well.”
But perhaps more devastating than the property and environmental loss was the destruction of the nearby Selwyn Snow Resort. Talbingo relies heavily on the winter tourists heading to the ski fields and after the bushfires left Selwyn completely destroyed the town turned to the MTB club.
“[During the fires] we had a number of days with no sleep then a number of weeks where we though I guess that’s on the backburner,” Doidge said.
“We lost Selwyn Snow Resort and the township relies quite heavily on the tourism side of things during winter. We lost all our summer visitation this season because of no access to the dam and normally the streets here go from about 200 people to about 8000 so we lost all of that.
“So, everybody’s been at me and our president who I started the club with to try and get this thing off the ground again.”
In fact, the support really ramped up with the local council and NSW Tourism lending their weight behind the concept.
“We've since had more donations and memberships even though we don’t have any tracks to ride,” Doidge explained.
“We’ve got over 100km worth of trail mapped out physically...essentially what we’ll have here is the biggest, longest descent in Australia.”