A Squamish legend is leaving town after 33 years of good times and selfless work on mountain biking trails. Cliff Miller is saying his goodbyes as he moves to Powell River, joining a growing list of Squamish old-timers leaving town for quieter pastures.
“We just needed a change and a fresh start, and Squamish has changed so much, it’s just no longer the same,” Miller says.
A name synonymous with Squamish mountain biking, Miller was instrumental in starting the Squamish Off-road Cycling Association (SORCA) and later Test of Metal, a bike race that felt more like a community carnival than a sporting event.
Wearing trippy clothes and high-on-life demeanour, Miller presided and loomed large over Test of Metal, an event which brought hundreds to town and put Squamish firmly on the mountain biking map of BC.
Cliff Miller came to Squamish from Philadelphia 33 years ago to manage the PacWest shop, one of the nine branches his parents owned. Squamish was a totally random choice, but the town grew on him. “I had no idea why I picked Squamish but I loved it. It was a blue-collar, working class, rough and tumble place, and in many ways it reminded me of Philly,” he says.
Miller bought a home in Garibaldi Estates on a whim, and started exploring the few local mountain biking trails on the bike he had brought from Philly — a souvenir from the past he still has. A few years later he found himself sitting in Quinns Café, now Sushi Goemon across from RBC, along with relative strangers discussing mountain biking and the formation of SORCA.
The event was advertised as a meet-up of people interested in mountain biking and it was attended by Miller, John French, Dave Heisler, Jim Bowes, and Paul Kindree, who had been encouraging Cliff to start SORCA.
This was 1992, and the group started building trails such as the S&M connector and Lost Loop in Valleycliffe.
“We went with a hand saw and a machete and a shovel, we just kind of hacked the trail through the woods and rode out bikes on it,” Cliff recalls, smiling. “We worked to create the S&M, the Lost Loop, and Meet Your Maker. Every day we would put some hours and complete few yards and just build the trails.”
Later, Paul Kindree, Dave Heisler (former owner of Corsa Cycles) and Al Ross (owner of Tantalus Bike Shop) started the toonie races, which Miller says was an excuse to meet other mountain bikers. “Our intention was not to lobby anyone but to just to get together and have fun, to build trails, drink beer and just have fun,” he says.
In September 1995, Miller met local author and climber Kevin McLane, who suggested Squamish needed an epic bike race. They essentially drew on paper the course for what was to be Test of Metal.
“It worked out on paper but there was actually no trail,” laughs Miller. Many of the trails on the 67-kilometre loop were built within a year of the first Test of Metal which was held in 1996.
“The Ring Creek Rip, the Power House Plunge, the Far Side, and the Carpenter’s Son Bridge, they just didn’t exist in 1995. In fact, Carpenter’s Son Bridge was only finished four days before the race by Ray Peters,” Miller recalls.
But once Test of Metal started, there was no looking back. The race slowly grew to be a major event and pulled in mountain bikers from all over the Province and beyond. With more than 300 volunteers involved, it instilled in locals a sense of pride and community that many feel is on the wane as the town changes at a frenetic pace. Until its last run in 2016, it had spawned a number of other races such as Orecrusher, Gearjammer and Just Another Bike Race (JABR). The last race was won by a local kid named Quinn Moberg who grew up doing the toonie races that SORCA had created under Cliff’s guidance.
Miller says Kevin McLane, Ray Peters, Al Ross, Dave Heisler, John French, Brad Walkye, Dick Parker, and Stewart Kerr and many other volunteers ensured the race became the massive success it was.
As he prepares to leave town, Miller recalls how he and Ron Enns placed the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada banner in Britannia Beach on an Easter long weekend, knowing the District would be closed for four days.
Miller says the District had trademarked Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada but did nothing with it. On Thursday night before the Easter weekend in 2002, Ron and Miller took matters into their own hands and put up a reflecting sign on the existing Squamish sign in Britannia Beach.
“We knew it would be up for four days as Good Friday and Easter Monday were holidays and no one from the DOS would be around to make a decision to take it down, and we had a letter to the editor ready in case it got taken down,” he says with a chuckle. “It remained in place for years until they came up with the new stupid hard-wired for whatever”.
Miller was also the president of SORCA for 15 years, where he says he strived every day to make Squamish the best place for mountain biking. For his dedication and commitment, Miller was honoured by the Squamish Chamber of Commerce as Citizen of the Year in 2002, and was inducted into BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, a recognition for his decades of selfless work.
Though Miller is likely to get busy on renovating his Powell River home, he promises he will keep coming back to Squamish to meet his many friends and well-wishers, a list that has only grown in the last three decades.
“We have a lot of friends here, and we will always keep coming back, but I want to say ‘Goodbye and Thank You’ for all the 33 years of good times and beautiful memories.”