Case Study: Laggan Forest Trust / Wolftrax
Cristian Pizarro is the Business Development Officer for Laggan Wolftrax, a trail centre located midway between Fort William and Aviemore. Employed by the trading arm of Laggan Forest Trust, Cristian’s remit is to make the visitor centre and cafe self-sustaining.
Originally an engineer and aquaculture specialist, Cristian became a ‘mountain guy’ while at university, making the move into full-time guiding via a stint as a coffee shop owner in London. His role with Laggan Forest Trust was advertised only days after Cristian and his wife chose to make the Scottish Highlands their home, and his diverse background and skills make him the perfect fit for the job.
(Header Image Credit - Pete Scullion)
Making Laggan more appealing to a wider demographic
When Cristian took the job at Laggan Wolftrax, he was presented with a trail centre that had a “very basic green trail, two reds, a black, an orange jump line and lots of natural trails nearby.
It mainly appealed to people who were already into mountain biking. To Cristian, the obvious missing piece of the puzzle was a blue trail.
“Creating a blue has been our biggest dream since I started the job.”
The people that use blue trails – the family market – also tend to be the people who spend more money,” Cristian explains. “This is not just my opinion; there has been research done. Creating a blue has been our biggest dream since I started the job.
And now his dream has come true. In October 2023, Laggan opened its new trails to the public – a new blue climb, blue downhill, red downhill, trail hub viewpoint, skills features. The landowners, Forestry and Land Scotland, also contributed to costs of the contractor carrying out work on several sections of the existing trail network to help bring over trails up to a higher standard. Then Badanoch and Strathspey Trail Association, a volunteer trail maintenance group, have also contributed funding for the build and volunteer time in helping build and maintain the trails, strengthening Laggan’s value to the community.
Cristian explains that having the plan to make a blue trail was one thing, but knowing how to go about it is another. He says that DMBinS were able to offer invaluable technical assistance, helping him understand the technicalities and consider things like the provision of trail-side coaching spaces.
“It would not have happened without DMBinS”
According to Cristian, the entire project to upgrade Laggan has been helped significantly by DMBinS. He explains that Graeme McLean, Head of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, collaborated closely with Laggan Wolftrax while developing the Highland Cluster Project and Master Plan, and it was this work that made the case for the all-important blue trail at Laggan.
“The Masterplan showed quite clearly that we needed a blue trail at Laggan Wolftrax. For us as a tiny organisation, putting that piece of work together would have been very difficult,” he says.
Cristian believes that having DMBinS on board and supporting with evidence-based research added clout to the case for building a blue trail, particularly when it came to persuading the various stakeholders.
Encouraging participation in cycling As well as encouraging more visitors to come and enjoy the Laggan biking experience and boosting the visitor centre’s income, Cristian is keen that his work increases participation in cycling.
“At WolfTrax, we get around 70% of our visitors from the central belt and 7% from the local area,” he says. “One of the barriers is that there’s not a clear route to progression in the sport. Plus, parents can think that mountain biking is a bit dangerous, and that their kids will hurt themselves."
To tackle this perception, Cristian has been working with local cycling groups and schools, running courses at zero cost to the participant.
“We provide the bikes so that everyone is on a level playing field and there’s no discrimination,” he states.
He employs professional coaches to run these coaching sessions, so they can help identify talent and help the whole group progress. Cristian thinks Laggan is the perfect place to introduce children to cycling, whether or not they’re into mountain biking:
“The way I see it, if you want to safely develop your basic cycling skills, you cannot be on the roads. Here we’ve got tonnes of safe forest roads where kids can feel comfortable practising, and they will probably realise that it’s fun at the same time. They will go home and tell their parents, and maybe the whole family will come to ride the green or blue trail at the weekend"
Doing It The Ride Way Workshops
Cristian participated in DMBinS’ Doing It The Ride Way workshops in 2022, which he enjoyed - particularly when the sessions were in person.
“It was so good to get to talk to other people in the industry. Everyone is really willing to have an open conversation. There’s no sense of competition or keeping information to yourself. These conversations wouldn’t happen without the workshops that DMBinS ran.”
During the workshops, Cristian particularly enjoyed discussing the different perspectives that mountain bikers can have. He had previously assumed – wrongly – that most people come to the sport in a similar way to him, with previous mountain experience.“
We were signposted to some great visual resources that we can share with visitors to help highlight the things they should think about before heading out on their bike,” he says.
He also found the advice on making social media reels helpful and frequently uses this new skill to help promote the Laggan trails.
Collaborating for long-term success
Cristian thinks cycling is “having a moment in Scotland”, thanks to the country hosting the 2023 World Championships. To make the most of that impetus and the additional funding that’s become available thanks to the competition, he’s collaborating with local groups, including Cycle Friendly Kingussie and Laggan Community Council. On top of that, a big part of Cristian’s role is developing relationships with all of the Laggan Forest stakeholders, like Forestry and Land Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and, of course, DMBinS.
He ends by saying, “I think DMBinS is an amazing organisation. There are so many things that wouldn’t have happened without their support. I only have good things to say about them.”
Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) is working to help plan and develop sustainable mountain biking in the Highlands – working closely with the mountain bike community and land managers to improve riding experiences, and with local businesses to help build the benefits that can be gained from cycle tourism.
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