For my first review, I am going to share my thoughts on what has quickly become my favorite trail in Edmonton. For the last month, most of my riding has been at Terwillegar and the new trail called Breathless.
Breathless is an out-and-back trail which is much more technical than most other trails in the city. Some of the technical highlights include a few steep switchbacks, a couple short drops, lots of roots and endless power climbs. The most memorable piece of the trail would be the bench that was cut into the steep river bank. The bench is only a couple feet wide and probably over 50 feet above the valley floor at it's highest elevation. There is a severe penalty for failure so needless to say, if you have a fear of heights or have doubts about your skills, this is not a trail for you.
Breathless is a new trail and it shows in certain areas. The soil conditions change frequently throughout the trail, ranging from grassy to sandy to loamy to hard pack. The sandy and loamy sections are still quite loose and it will take some moisture and a lot of traffic to really pack these areas in. Another condition to be aware of is that there are plenty of sharp, rooty stumps from the bushes that were cleared in a few concentrated areas. You will get a lot of tire 'pop' off of these stumps as your wheels deflect off of them. I am running light XC race tires and have not had a puncture from these so you don't need to be too concerned about flatting. Also of note, work on the trail is not complete as the trail flows nicely then comes to an abrupt end, but don't let that stop you from checking it out. The work that has been done is amazing and everyone that I have ridden with on the trail has been impressed by how well the existing terrain has been utilized. Kudos to those who have spent countless hours building so the rest of us can reap the benefits.
Some of the steeper sections of Breathless are only rideable one direction. For me, there are four sections that I can not pedal up and I consider hike-a-bike sections. On the way out, there are three sections that you are required to push and they are lumped quite close together: the climb just before the bench, going up the switchback just after the bench, and the last climb before the meadow. On the way back, the only section I would consider a requirement to push would be going up the switchbacks before the climb back to the meadow. With how steep many of the sections of this trail are, I would not recommend trying to ride it if conditions are not dry or tacky. You definitely require maximum traction and if conditions are muddy or snowy I don't think this trail can be safely navigated.
If you are a fan of gravity, the hike-a-bike sections I mentioned are most appealing when pointing your front wheel down. All 4 of those sections all have at least one tight turn in them so be sure to keep your speed in check. If you are the kind of rider who enjoys cranking up the speed and maintaining a fast pace, you may not enjoy this trail. There are very few places where you can pick up much speed, and nowhere that you can maintain momentum. The trail is full of twists and turns with short power climbs lurking around every corner. This trail really works on your low speed bike handling skills as well as your anaerobic climbing. If you aren't used to doing lots of power climbs in your ride, by the time you make your way out-and-back you will know why it was named Breathless.