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