Throughout the winter months, hard-core mountain bikers pose one question: Is it summer yet?
Thankfully, the time has come to load your freeride steeds onto the trailer or roof rack and hit the road in British Columbia. Whether you’re a hard-core dirt jumper or laid-back, cross-country cruiser, you’ll find awesome riding in virtually every community in the province.
No matter how you travel, there’s a mountain biking safari that is well within your price range. Accommodations vary from Forest Service backcountry sites, to full-service provincial parks and commercial campgrounds, as well as beds galore at ski and snowboard areas. Towns and cities abound with hotels, motels, and guest lodges which range from budget to five-star. And fortunately, you’re never far from a hot shower and a home-cooked meal.
Sifting through the vast number of maps, guidebooks, websites, and other tourist information is likely to be the most daunting part of the task. Virtually every town in BC has a “core” mountain bike shop, and a nearby Visitor Info Centre. That said, there’s no “localism” here: you’ll find the resident riders friendly and willing to share information about their favourite rides.
For 2005, the newest trend to emerge in BC is without doubt the plethora of mountain biking camps specifically geared toward novices and cross-country riders wishing to learn freeride skills. Whistler and Panorama are leading the way with lessons taught right at the resort (full-face helmets, dual-suspension bikes, and body armour are all available for rent), while mountain bike camps can be found on Vancouver’s North Shore, and the roving Sugoi Dirt Camp brings freeride clinics to various resorts around BC.
While terrain parks seem all the rage, there are trails in every part of the province that are suitable even for hard-tail cross-country bikes. Yes, BC pioneered the freeride revolution, but if you’re not on board with that program, there are still thousands of kilometres of single track just ripe for exploration.
The image of BC mountain biking resides in the misty rainforest of the North Shore mountains of Vancouver. The Vancouver Coast and Mountains region is where you’ve seen those moody black and white pictures of shadowy riders zigzagging along “skinnies” high above the rainforest canopy, launching from mossy boulders before landing in super-smooth “trannys”, and balancing precariously on “teeter-totter” log ramps.
If the North Shore pioneered freeride rainforest riding, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park has taken the sport to the next level, in much the same way that this world-class resort re-defined skiing and snowboarding. But here’s a secret – Whistler is an awesome place to learn those freeriding skills if you’re new to the game. Nearby Squamish also holds it own, with a vast array of trails to tackle (it’s also home to one of the most popular races in the province – the annual 67-kilometre Test of Metal held in June).
East of Whistler and the Lower Mainland, the rugged peaks of the Coast Range give way to the rolling ranchland, sweet-scented Ponderosa forests, and sparkling lakes of the Thompson Okanagan region. Long, sunny days and clear, cool evenings and mornings (the perfect times to ride) are the norm in the riding areas near Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, and Penticton.
Kamloops bills itself as the “birthplace of freeriding” – that gnarly “Kranked” video footage of local riders surfing down the banks of the Thompson River re-defined mountain biking – and the city offers fantastic riding both right inside the city limits and up at the Sun Peaks Resort. Silver Star Mountain Resort has long been one of BC’s favourite mountain biking spots, and it will get even better this summer once the new bike park and Comet Six-Pack Express lift open to the public on July 1. The Six-Pack will give access to over 1,800 vertical feet of freeriding frenzy, with full suspension bike rentals available right at the village.
Whether you freeride or cross-country, you have the best of both worlds in Kelowna. The latter will gravitate toward trails in the newly-re-opened Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park – which boasts superb trails and expansive views of the lush valley and lake. Freeriders will shuttle the Gillard Forest Service Road, and test their mettle on a wide variety of stunt trails geared to more advanced riders. Nearby Knox Mountain Park (minutes from downtown Kelowna) also boasts some memorable cross-country and freeriding trails. Over in Westbank, superb riding can be found on Smith Creek, McDougall Rim, and the Rose Valley loop (check out local shops for maps aimed at guiding your two wheels through the best trails). Even more superb single track can be found near Summerland, Penticton, and Naramata. The KVR trail from downtown Penticton out towards Naramata is a great ride for kids. Check out the trails near the Apex Mountain ski resort, too.
Perhaps the most unique mountain bike experience in the province can be found in Blue River – located 210 kilometers north of Kamloops, nestled within the Cariboo and Monashee Mountains. Here, in this adventure-seekers playground, guests staying at the Mike Wiegele Helicopter-Skiing resort can explore a vast network of single or double tracks and even a handful of logging roads. Throughout the month of September, guests can even arrange a shuttle flight into the alpine for the ultimate downhill descent.
On Vancouver Island, you'll find the Hartland Mountain Bike Park in Central Saanich (about a half-hour north of Victoria), with both Old-School cross-country rides, and more technically advanced trails twisting through this spacious park. You might even run across members of Canada's national cross-country mountain bike team training here - Victoria is their official headquarters. Mellow, family-oriented riding can be found on the Galloping Goose Trail, which meanders throughout the Capital District.
Nanaimo, Parksville, and Courtenay/Comox all offer fabulous riding (including chairlift-assisted terrain at the Mount Washington ski area), however, if you want the very best combination of trails coupled with Vancouver Island's unique organic vibe, take the two-ferry ride over to Hornby Island, in the Gulf of Georgia. One of the best trails on the island takes you along a bluff where bald eagles soar mere metres away.
The Kootenay Rockies region is home to some of BC's oldest, most revered trails (especially around Rossland), and some of its most challenging (huge, shuttle-supported downhill descents above the towns of Kaslo and Nakusp) terrain. New this summer, Rossland is offering 'Summer at Red' with chairlift accessed trails from the Silverlode Chair at Red Resort. In many mountain biking circles, Nelson is seen as a worthy rival to Whistler and Kamloops. Farther east, the Purcell Mountain Bike School at Panorama Resort is offering lessons in its new trails park, aimed primarily at beginner riders. Fernie Alpine Resort is another mountain biking hot spot. In both Golden and Revelstoke (right off the Trans-Canada Highway), local clubs have built an abundance of trails. In conjunction with the local mountain biking club, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden has a superb trail network in a stunning natural setting and the longest lift-accessed descents in North America.
You might say that Northern British Columbia has put the “mountain” in mountain biking. Two of the best alpine mountain bike trails in the entire province can be found in the Smithers area. Telkwa Pass and Babine Mountains Provincial Park feature trails that will put you on top of the world. The freeriding frenzy that has taken over ski resorts in the south has even come north to Tabor Mountain outside of Prince George. The great North is where “local knowledge” is of prime importance. Watch for wildlife on the trails – caribou, moose, deer, bears (both black and grizzly), and elk roam free in this vast wilderness, that extends from the Yellowhead Highway all the way to the Alaskan border. At Hayes Mountain above Prince Rupert, you can literally ride into the sunset, with outstanding panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean. For riders into backcountry multi-day touring, the colossal network of old mining, logging, and pioneer trails in this vast region will prove the ultimate discovery.