48 Hours

Give the trails of Burns Lake, B.C., a shot

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Jeff Bartlett

It wasn’t quite 10 a.m. I was sur­prised when Dave Sands­mark, co-owner of Burnt Bikes, and Pat Dubé, a lo­cal teacher and cur­rent Burns Lake Moun­tain Bike As­so­ci­a­tion vice-pres­i­dent, handed me a shot glass. We were about halfway through our ride on Boer Moun­tain. I thought we’d pulled up to en­joy the view. North­ern Bri­tish Columbia’s bo­real for­est stretched i n ev­ery di­rec­tion, in­ter­rupted only by the re­gion’s many lakes.

When­ever a group of four – we counted Dubé’s dog – reach the whisky stash, it’s tra­di­tion to stop and toast the lo­cal moun­tain bike scene. Sands­mark had wan­dered into the for­est and re­turned with four shot glasses, a bot­tle of whisky and two sim­ple rules that I was asked to ad­here to. The first: noth­ing but whiskey goes in the glasses. The sec­ond: show, don’t tell, where the whisky stash lies.

A few min­utes later, we con­tin­ued our ride down some of B.C.’S best sin­gle­track. I couldn’t be­lieve we seemed to be the only group rid­ing on an Au­gust morn­ing.

“All these north­ern com­mu­ni­ties have great rid­ing,” Sands­mark said. “We’re just the most or­ga­nized. We started 16 years ago and we’re still work­ing hard to see how we can im­prove.”

Al­though Burns Lake, B.C., serves as the com­mer­cial cen­tre for many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and First Na­tions re­serves, it’s still a small town with a lit­tle more than 2,000 res­i­dents. “When we first opened,” Sands­mark said, “Burns Lake be­came the small­est town in North Amer­ica with a Spe­cial­ized dealer.”

The town is sur­rounded by B.C.’S Lakes District. The en­tire re­gional econ­omy is driven by its wilder­ness set­ting. Forestry re­mains the re­gion’s largest em­ployer; how­ever, min­ing and tourism con­tinue to grow. Boat­ing, snow­mo­bil­ing, hunt­ing and fish­ing are the cor­ner­stone ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the area, but the hard work of the

“My daugh­ter had the chance to name it. She called it Child Labour. The sign is great, too, be­cause it shows cry­ing kids hold­ing Pu­laskis.”

Burns Lake Moun­tain Bike As­so­ci­a­tion (blmba) helped the com­mu­nity be­come the first imba Ride Cen­tre in Canada. “We’ve had more than $1.5 mil­lion in fund­ing over the past decade,” Sands­mark said. “Our bud­get has never dried up, so we’ve kept our trail builder, Shawn O’meara, busy with end­less projects but it’s re­ally been a story of com­mu­nity-wide buy-in.”

The com­mu­nity is re­flected in the trail names. Shawn’s Flow is named for the builder. Yipee-ia is ded­i­cated to the lo­cal BC Wild­fire Ser­vice ini­tial at­tack crew who helps main­tain the trails when it’s not on active fire duty. Both PT Cruiser and Tun­nel Vi­sion are named by lo­cal stu­dents who par­tic­i­pate in the high school’s Project Trails pro­gram. “Typ­i­cally, we have stu­dents build a wood struc­ture, a hand-built sec­tion and a ma­chine-built trail,” said Pat Dubé. “I have to laugh be­cause the kids didn’t like the amount of work on a hand-built sec­tion and my daugh­ter had the chance to name it. She called it Child Labour. The sign is great, too, be­cause it shows cry­ing kids hold­ing Pu­laskis.”

The blmba has 15 board po­si­tions and more than 200 active mem­bers who help with main­tain­ing the lo­cal trails dur­ing main­te­nance nights. “On Wed­nes­day nights, from snow to snow, we run a work-bee ride,” Sands­mark said of the sum­mer ac­tiv­ity. “We work for an hour or more be­fore do­ing a sin­gle shut­tle lap. The van is al­ways full.”

The shut­tle runs Fri­day evening, Satur­days and most Sun­days, too, for vis­i­tors keen to skip the long climb up the Boer Moun­tain Road. Over­all, there is a healthy mix of cross coun­try and down­hill trails, but the num­bers hint that

Burns Lake leans slightly to­ward the grav­ity-fo­cused rider. Of 41 to­tal trails that mea­sure 65.9 km, an im­pres­sive 34.6 km are down­hill sin­gle­track. The sig­na­ture trail, When Pigs Fly, packs 100 ma­chine-built berms, table­tops, and wooden fea­tures into its 5.5-km length.

The blmba has two land-use agree­ments that in­clude more than 800 acres around the pro­vin­cial re­cre­ation site at Kager Lake. Look­ing at the gi­ant trail map posted in the park­ing lot, it’s easy to see why the free lake­side camp­site is over­flow­ing with moun­tain bikes. All the cross coun­try trails be­gin right on the edge of the camp­ground and stretch off in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Signs clearly mark 20-, 30-, and 50-km loops. The down­hill trails are all ac­cessed by Boer Moun­tain Road.

Sands­mark and Dubé had gen­er­ously of­fered to show me around, so we loaded our bikes onto the shut­tle and headed up the ac­cess road. They had an epic de­scent in mind, hop­ing to show off as many high­lights in a sin­gle lap as pos­si­ble.

We started down Ra­zor­back, a black-rated trail that shows off the stun­ning scenery sur­round­ing Boer Moun­tain. Bo­real for­est and nu­mer­ous lakes stretch to­ward the hori­zon. They dis­tracted me as I tried to keep pace with two guys who truly know the trails. We hung a right onto nkdf. Al­though it’s marked on Trail Forks as a blue trail, this is where we re­ally picked up speed. A few tech­ni­cal sec­tions de­manded con­cen­tra­tion, but I’ll re­mem­ber it for the full-throt­tle jumps that had lit­tle con­se­quence. We ped­alled onto Swoopy Hol­low. As the name sug­gests, it was a ma­chine­groomed trail fea­tur­ing mas­sive berms, dirt jumps and lit­tle rea­son to touch the brakes. How to get there Burns Lake isn’t quite in the mid­dle of nowhere; how­ever, it is in north­ern B.C., along the Yel­low­head High­way. It’s 228 km west of Prince Ge­orge and 490 km east of Prince Ru­pert. The clos­est re­gional air­ports are i n Smithers (150 km west) and Prince Ge­orge. Both of­fer daily flights to Van­cou­ver, Vic­to­ria, Kelowna and other smaller B.C. des­ti­na­tions. Via Rail’s Jasper– Prince Ru­pert train also makes three re­turn trips, weekly, and in­cludes a stop in Burns Lake.

Where to stay The free Kager Lake camp­ground (on Boer Moun­tain Road) is, un­doubt­edly, the most pop­u­lar spot for vis­it­ing moun­tain bik­ers be­cause all the trails be­gin from its en­trance. For ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tions, the Key-oh Lodge ( key­ohlodge.com) is just a cou­ple min­utes out­side of town.

Where to eat As Burns Lake is a small com­mu­nity, din­ing op­tions aren’t plen­ti­ful, but both the Boer Moun­tain Cof­fee House (353 High­way 16) and Al­ter­na­tive Grounds ( al­ter­na­tive grounds-burnslake.com) of­fer cy­clists a qual­ity place to re­fuel.

Where to shop Burnt Bikes (250-692-0033) is a fullser­vice shop with a qual­ity in­ven­tory for such a small town. It runs the $5 moun­tain bike shut­tle on Fri­days, Satur­days and Sun­days, so it’s a go-to for the down­hill crowd.


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