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Trailblazing in Norway: Interview with Knut Lønnqvist
15 December 2023
Norway has witnessed a remarkable mountain biking revolution in the past decade, setting the stage for the growth of a resilient trail building industry. This industry has played a pivotal role in shaping extraordinary projects across the country.
Among these, “Hallingspranget” stands out as one of Europe’s longest flow trails, nestled in the picturesque village of Nesbyen. Stretching over 17 kilometers (!), this flow trail gracefully winds its way from 1,100 meters above sea level down to the valley floor at 100 meters above sea level.
For Knut Lønnqvist and Ove Roen-Grøndal, both locals with a passion for mountain biking, this trail was a long-held dream, envisioned even before they entered the trail building industry. Now, as founders of Trailhead Nesbyen, they’ve brought that dream to life, creating a masterpiece that has left its mark on their hometown.
In this interview, we sit down with Knut Lønnqvist, one half of this dynamic duo, to gain insights into the thriving trail building scene in Norway and delve into the intricacies of the “impossible” Hallingspranget project.
Interview with Knut Lønnqvist
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your journey into trail building?
I began my mountain biking journey in 1990 and got my first DH rig in 1999. From the very start, riding and trail building have been inseparable for me. In 2013, I took part in an IMBA Europe volunteer trail building course, marking the beginning of my transformation from a volunteer enthusiast to a trail building professional. Fast forward to 2017, Ove and I both worked full time in our own company, Trailhead Nesbyen. Today, we are involved in trail building projects not only in Norway but also on an international scale.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a trail builder?
I relish being outdoors and having an active job, especially because our efforts manifest physically and are appreciated by others. The administrative and formal aspects, however, are by far the ones I enjoy the least.
Which projects are you most proud of, and why?
While Hallingspranget is undoubtedly a significant achievement, I take immense pride in trails that exude a natural singletrack vibe, complete with variations and “imperfections.” Trails like “Woody Woodpecker” in Nesbyen, which can be ridden in both directions, offer great speed and flow while remaining accessible for shared use. For pure gravity thrills, I’d nominate “Bråtabakkjin” in Ål. It maintains a natural feel but is loaded with berms and jump opportunities.
What positive impacts have trail building had in your region, and what are some common challenges or drawbacks?
Trail building has been a focal point in our hometown of Nesbyen and the wider Hallingdal region for the past 7-8 years. We’ve witnessed trails and mountain biking boosting tourism and enhancing the appeal of the area. Nevertheless, challenges include securing land access and agreements with land managers, as well as difficulties in allocating funds for essential trail maintenance and upkeep.
Three things that you believe would benefit the future of trail building…
Establishment of a robust national organization to facilitate more projects and investments, akin to what the Norwegian Skiing Association and the Norwegian Hiking Association are accomplishing in cross-country skiing and hiking.
Enhanced trail building education: As a company owner, it’s often a challenge to find the right expertise and determine the candidate’s level of competence when hiring.
Public administration should develop a better understanding of trail building and recognize the unique nature of trail building projects, rather than categorizing them alongside roads and buildings.
You recently completed one of Europe’s longest purpose-built mountain bike trails. How did the construction process differ from your previous and subsequent projects?
The sheer length of the trail presented a novel and substantial challenge. Roughly 12 of the 17 kilometers had no access other than the trail itself. Since this trail involved importing topsoil, we had to utilize helicopters to transport substantial quantities of material. While this approach may be commonplace in the Alps, it’s exceptionally rare in Norway and was an entirely new experience for us.
What advice would you offer to other trail builders planning similar ambitious projects in the future?
Ensure you have adequate funding in place – and just do it!
Follow Knut Lønnqvist and Ove Roen-Grøndal at @trailheadnesbyen
Portraits: Brynjar Tvedt Ride shots: Lars Storheim Knut Lønnqvist riding: Paul A. Lockhart
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