The big runs in Valemount are growing
The big downhill runs in Valemount, B.C., are growing
High Roller is the Valemount bike park’s signature trail. It begins at the upper parking lot and descends through thick forest offering only small glimpses of the surrounding area until the trail enters an old cut block. From there, panoramic views across the Monashee, Cariboo and Rocky Mountains stretch to the horizon, but it’s the view down the trail that likely holds most riders’ attentions. “You can suddenly see the whole jump line open up below you, as it snakes down into the over/under feature on Turducken,” says Andrew Loughlin, a Jasper, Alta., resident who regularly makes the 90-minute drive to ride in Valemount, B.C. “It’s a pretty neat vantage point. On a busy day, you can look down and see a dozen people hitting jumps below you.” He was quick to point out that busy is a relative term. It’s never crowded, thanks largely to Valemount’s stunning, yet isolated, location amid some of Canada’s best scenery. Three mountain ranges surround the community. Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies, is just 30 km north. The closest major cities are Prince George and Kamloops, B.C., but both are more than a three-hour drive.
Like many small towns in rural British Columbia, Valemount depended on the forestry industry throughout the ’80s and ’90s before falling on hard economic times when the mill closed permanently in 2006. In recent years, the town has emerged as an outdoor recreation destination. In the winter, the nearby mountains receive significant snowfall, and both heli- and cat-skiing operations have opened. It’s also become a popular snowmobile destination,
as the many forest-service roads provide quick access into the backcountry. In the summer months, Kinbasket Lake provides canoe, boating and fishing opportunities, but the bike park is quickly becoming the community’s biggest draw.
“The community is supportive,” says Curtis Pawliuk, general manager of the Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association (varda). “The bike park is only a 10-minute pedal from downtown. We’ve already seen an economic impact. We have two new businesses – a shuttle company and rental shop – that have opened. And both the coffee shop and brewery are always busy.”
The Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (yora) developed a mountain bike network master plan for Valemount but didn’t have the capacity to take it on. In 2014, the project was handed over to varda. With funding through both the Columbia Basin Trust and Northern Development Initiative Trust, construction began shortly after.
“We’re already on Phase 4,” Pawliuk says, “but we hope we’re not done building. We’ll sit down this summer and plan future developments. We’re hoping to add two new trails this summer.”
The bike park, located on 5 Mile Hill and below Mount Mckirdy, is all built on Crown land. It’s within Valemount’s community forest and is recognized as a provincial recreation site, which means there won’t be long-term land rights
concerns. For the summer of 2018, there are 21 trails. While it is primarily a downhill flow park, the trails do include a few valley-bottom cross country trails and a dedicated 6-km up track that accesses all but two routes.
Shuttling remains the most common way to access these downhill-oriented trails. A local shuttle, operated by Peak Shuttles, runs most days throughout the summer. Rates are inexpensive. You can buy a punch card valid for multiple laps of mid-mountain or full descents. For a relatively small park, the trails are surprisingly diverse.
“I think we’re a perfect weekend destination,” Pawliuk says. “We have such a mix of trails. As you go higher up the mountains, the trails get a bit more challenging. Progression is certainly key to riding here.”
“I have three favourites,” Loughlin says. “Bacon is a machine-built trail with tabletops, smooth berms and a few larger features that are optional. It’s the kind of trail you can hit with a mixed skill group and everyone will have fun.”
His two other favourites are Moby Dick and cbt Munday Grind. The former is one of the newer trails with plenty of wood features, including a whale tail, wall ride and clean drops. Loughlin believes the latter, a 6-km up track, shows the park’s maturity beyond shuttle-only rides and gives riders the opportunity to earn their descents.
“I don’t think a better free-access park exists,” Loughlin says, “especially with this quality of features. Mix in a great local brewery and friendly locals and it seems like the perfect bike destination.”
“It’s the kind of trail you can hit with a mixed skill group and everyone will have fun.”
Details How to get there
Visiting Valemount requires a long road trip. The town is located 20.5 km south of the intersection of B.C. Highway 5 and the Yellowhead Highway. It’s 489 km west of Edmonton, 320 km north of Kamloops, B.C., and 292 km southeast of Prince George. Both the Kamloops (yka) and Prince George (yxs) airports have daily connections through Vancouver, while the Edmonton International Airport (yeg) has regular flights to all major Canadian cities.
Where to stay
The Best Western Plus Valemount Inn and Suites ( best westernvalemount.com) and the Canadas Best Value Inn ( cbvivalemount.com) are two popular brand-name hotels. Numerous bed and breakfasts are found between Valemount and Tête Jaune Cache, about 20 km north, too, including Cougar Mountain Lodge ( cougarmountainlodge.net). Canoe River Campground ( canoerivercampground.com), located just 8.5 km south of town along Highway 5, is the closest camping area. Tourism Valemount ( visitvalemount.ca) has complete hotel, campground and B&B listings.
Where to eat
The most popular spot for mountain bikers, undoubtedly, is Three Ranges Brewing Co. ( threeranges.com), but the brewery has a limited food menu in its tap room. For quick meals, try the Log and Rail Bar (1200 Main St., 250-5664363) or the Cranberry Lounge, located inside the Best Western hotel. The Caribou Grill ( caribougrill.com) is another popular local choice.
Where to shop
Bikes & Bites (1030 Main St., 250-5665169) is the only bike-related shop in town, specializing in bike repair and rentals. For larger needs, Jasper, Alta., is located 123 km east. In the national park town, visitors will find several retail shops, including two bikes shops: Jasper Source for Sports ( jaspersports.com) and Vicious Cycle Canada ( viciouscanada.com).