Bikes, beat­ers, beers, and bears

DIS­COVER AU­THEN­TIC MOUN­TAIN BIK­ING IN THE EAST KOOTE­NAYS, BRI­TISH COLUMBIA

Adventure - - Panorama Mountains Biking In Bc - STORY AND IM­AGES BY HAY­LEY WIL­SON

Imoved to the Columbia Val­ley in the East Koote­nay re­gion of Bri­tish Columbia in Septem­ber 2005. My part­ner and I were looking for a life out­doors – some­where we could ski, bike, hike, golf, and climb everyday. We sold our fur­ni­ture, said good­bye to city life and friends in Montreal, packed our four-door car to the brim, and headed for the un­fa­mil­iar town of In­ver­mere. My bike was shipped shortly af­ter, and within weeks, I got my first taste of moun­tain bik­ing in the Cana­dian Rock­ies.

Mount Swansea is a pop­u­lar rid­ing spot only min­utes from town, which ac­cesses the Koote­nay Rock­ies back­coun­try. Over the past 10 years, lo­cal rid­ers have “shut­tled” each other up and down an old log­ging road that switch­backs to the sum­mit, ac­cess­ing some of the best down­hill moun­tain bike trails in the re­gion. Equipped with full-face hel­mets, body ar­mour, shin guards, and skate shoes, my new friends were wait­ing for me at the base of the moun­tain with a brown “beater” truck. The box al­ready held five dual sus­pen­sion down­hill moun­tain bikes; care­fully placed over a rug on the tail­gate to pro­tect the paint job (on the bikes!) from chip­ping.

Hav­ing noth­ing but my cross-coun­try bike and an open-faced hel­met, I won­dered what the hell I’d got­ten my­self into as I loaded my bike into the back of the truck. I climbed into the cab with the driver and one other, while the re­main­ing three climbed into the box with the six bikes and a black Lab; a typ­i­cal scene in the Koote­nays. I can still re­mem­ber how fast my heart was beat­ing as we slowly climbed up the twist­ing sin­gle lane road, dan­ger­ously giv­ing way to trucks pass­ing the other way.

From the top, we biked down the main trail, hit­ting 549 me­tres of mod­er­ately pitched fall-line rid­ing with tight shal­low canyons and some man­made stunts. The first two thirds of the trail are steep and tech­ni­cal, re­quir­ing ad­vanced moun­tain bik­ing skills. The pitch lessens at the 2K mark, which is eas­ily ac­cessed from the road and of­fers more in­ter­me­di­ate op­tions.

Need­less to say, the trip down was much faster than the trip up. Reach­ing the base, I hob­bled back to the truck and of­fered to shut­tle the next lap, hop­ing to give my body a chance to re­cu­per­ate. Hav­ing lit­tle down­hill ex­pe­ri­ence and no disk brakes, I went over the han­dle bars and face-first into the bush more times than I care to re­mem­ber, but the thrill of the ride was well worth the bruises and sore mus­cles I awoke to the fol­low­ing day.

If you’re only in the val­ley for a few days or don’t have a ve­hi­cle to “shut­tle”, I’d rec­om­mend lift-ac­cessed down­hill moun­tain bik­ing, and I’ll get to that shortly, but be­fore the sum­mer sea­son starts in June and af­ter it ends in Septem­ber, adren­a­line-junkies looking for down­hill trails have a num­ber of op­tions be­sides Swansea. About 30 min­utes north, rid­ers can ac­cess a sys­tem of trails off the back­coun­try roads of Steam­boat Moun­tain. Con­tinue driv­ing to the town of Golden, and you’ll find Mount 7, an of­fi­cial sys­tem of down­hill moun­tain bike trails, which in­crease in dif­fi­culty as you climb up. Ei­ther way, stop for a re­lax­ing soak at the Ra­dium Hot Springs Re­sort on your way back to base camp.

Shut­tling trucks up and down old log­ging roads to ac­cess tech­ni­cal sin­gle track in the back­coun­try is only one bik­ing op­tion in the East Koote­nays. Dur­ing peak sum­mer months, a num­ber of ski re­sorts in the re­gion of­fer lif­tac­cessed moun­tain bik­ing for rid­ers of all abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing Panorama Moun­tain Vil­lage, Kick­ing Horse Moun­tain Re­sort, and Fernie Alpine Re­sort.

Along with world-renowned WhistlerBl­ack­comb, Panorama Moun­tain Vil­lage is joined with some of the world’s best parks as part of the Bike Parks of B.C. Set amongst the rugged moun­tain scenery of the Pur­cell Moun­tains, Panorama has a small vil­lage that of­fers a va­ri­ety of lodg­ing op­tions with ac­cess to pools and hot tubs, restau­rants, re­tail shops, and nu­mer­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, such as all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle tours, white wa­ter raft­ing, fly-fish­ing, hik­ing, and golf­ing. It’s also cen­trally lo­cated in

the Columbia Val­ley, so it’s the per­fect base camp for ex­plor­ing ev­ery­thing the re­gion has to of­fer. If you’re not too fussy and don’t mind eat­ing out, the cheapest ac­com­mo­da­tion is the Pine Inn. It’s ba­sic ac­com­mo­da­tion with two beds and a cof­fee maker, but more im­por­tantly, it’s only steps from the chair­lift! When trav­el­ling, I pre­fer to spend a cou­ple of ex­tra bucks on ac­com­mo­da­tion for the lux­ury of fully-equipped con­do­mini­ums, and Panorama has plenty. Not only do I save money by cook­ing my own meals, but af­ter a long day of rid­ing, I do en­joy a comfy couch, a cold glass of beer, and a re­mote to surf the TV chan­nels. But now to the rid­ing…

I’ve tried all but one bike park in B.C., but Panorama is where I call home. It’s my moun­tain. It’s where I first learnt to ride and where I now pre­fer to ride. The bike park has 380 vertical me­tres of au­then­tic moun­tain bike trails with nat­u­ral fea­tures for all abil­i­ties. No­to­ri­ous for its tech­ni­cal sin­gle track, the park also has wide cruis­ers for those new to the sport and var­ied in­ter­me­di­ate ter­rain to boost con­fi­dence on steeps and stunts. With high-speed chair­lift ac­cess, trails for all abil­i­ties, a drop park, a dirt jump park, a tri­als park, and a 4X, there’s plenty to keep any rider happy for days.

Af­ter meet­ing up with friends and throw­ing on my gear, I start with a warm-up run on the eas­ier trails. The gen­tler grades and wide width of Let It Ride were de­signed with those “new to down­hill” in mind, mak­ing it per­fect for get­ting a feel for your bike. Turn it up a notch on Rock­ing Horse, a be­gin­ner­friendly trail that switch­backs down the moun­tain. It fea­tures a com­bi­na­tion of “in the woods” tech­ni­cal rid­ing and “out in the open” bermed cor­ners with gen­tle down­grades and some mi­nor up hills.

When I’ve warmed up, I spend most of my day on tech­ni­cal sin­gle track runs, in­clud­ing my per­sonal favourite: Look­out. It’s the per­fect trail for pro­gress­ing from eas­ier to in­ter­me­di­ate runs. The top half has some tight tech­ni­cal sec­tions, which re­quire pre­cise ma­noeu­vrings over rocks and roots. But af­ter mak­ing your way over a gen­tly slop­ing bridge, you’ll find the bot­tom half of the trail is much kinder. More tech­ni­cal sin­gle track can be found down Bazooka Joe and Quadzilla, along with var­i­ous wood fea­tures and bridges that re­quire a bit more com­mit­ment. For a fast and flowy ride around bermed cor­ners and over small dirt jumps, try Stiffy and Mercy Me, two of the bike park’s newer trails. When you’ve mas­tered th­ese runs, don’t miss the Hell’s Bells dirt jump trail that fea­tures ta­ble tops per­fect for pro­gres­sive im­prove­ment in jump­ing skills.

If I’m hav­ing a good day, I head for the ad­vanced and ex­pert trails. My new­est achieve­ment is In­san­ity, a fall-line trail that fea­tures in­tim­i­dat­ing tech­ni­cal steeps and a sub­stan­tial rock gar­den. For years, this fast and tech­ni­cal trail was home to one of Bri­tish Columbia’s Down­hill Cup Races, un­til a few too many in­juries forced the or­ga­niz­ers to switch trails.

Ex­pert rid­ers looking for steeps can fol­low In­san­ity down to Pu­n­isher. This tech­ni­cal sin­gle track starts by coast­ing along the top of a ridge, of­fer­ing beau­ti­ful views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains and Greywolf Golf Course. But don’t be fooled! You’ll soon en­ter the for­est, and from there on in, it’s all down­hill! At the bot­tom of Pu­n­isher, head back onto Quadzilla or choose Cliffs of In­san­ity; about 10 me­tres of jagged rock with a drop to fin­ish it off.

If man-made fea­tures are your thing, check out the al­most 500 feet of skin­nies on Dog­town, or try Crazy­train, Panorama’s sig­na­ture fall-line run with ad­vanced bridge­work.

For more down­hill action, visit nearby Kick­ing Horse Moun­tain Re­sort. But check your brakes be­fore you go; 1158 vertical me­ters is a long way down.

When you’re hun­gry, check out the Ea­gles Eye Restau­rant. Lo­cated at 2,350 me­ters, it’s the high­est el­e­vated restau­rant in Canada. So treat your­self to a lunch with a view, as far as the eye can see. About 2 ½ hours south­east, Fernie Alpine re­sort has over forty trails, in­clud­ing cross coun­try, down­hill,

sin­gle­track, and dual slalom trails with and without chair­lift ac­cess. They of­fer wide ma­chine-made flow­ing trails for begin­ner & in­ter­me­di­ate rid­ers or chal­leng­ing steep and tech­ni­cal sin­gle track trails for ad­vanced & ex­pert rid­ers, all of which flow through dense forests of tall pine trees.

Down­hill moun­tain bik­ing is not just for twenty some­thing boys. It’s a grow­ing sport that is now prac­ticed by women, younger kids, and en­tire fam­i­lies. I still re­call rid­ing on Van­cou­ver Is­land last sum­mer, where I got my ass kicked by a fifty year-old woman that ripped down the trails like no­body’s busi­ness.

But if adrenalin-packed down­hill moun­tain bik­ing isn’t for you, the Columbia Val­ley has nu­mer­ous crosscoun­try trails to ex­plore from easy dou­ble-track dirt roads and lake­side loops to tech­ni­cal canyon-side sin­gle track and steep moun­tain climbs. Nearby Panorama Moun­tain Vil­lage, look up Bear Moun­tain, the Ju­niper Heights Trails, Lake Enid, and the Canyon Trails.

For a nice day-trip, try Bap­tiste Lake in Edge­wa­ter, Columbia Lake in Fair­mont, or the in­tri­cate trail sys­tems at ei­ther Nipika Moun­tain Re­sort or Blue Lake Cen­tre.

An of­fi­cial map and clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the Columbia Val­ley trail sys­tem does not yet ex­ist as it was hap­haz­ardly built by lo­cal rid­ers on crown land and pri­vate prop­erty. It’s pretty much all word of mouth around here, so when de­cid­ing where to go, si­dle up to a lo­cal on the chair­lift or at the bar and ask for some friendly ad­vice and di­rec­tions. Wher­ever you head, don’t for­get wa­ter, food, a cam­era, some bear spray, and a friend. You’re head­ing into Bri­tish Columbia’s wilder­ness, where the moun­tains are big, the for­est is thick, and the wildlife is abun­dant.

For a good work­out, my friends and I usu­ally opt for a 2-hour loop called Along the Sch­long. The trail­head is sit­u­ated across from Lake Lil­lian, mak­ing it the per­fect spot on hot sum­mer days. The sin­gle track starts with a mix of shorts climbs and down­hill sec­tions up and over ridges in the for­est. The land is some­times used by lo­cal farm­ers as pas­ture, so we’re of­ten sur­prised by the ap­pear­ance of cat­tle (or ev­i­dence of cat­tle). There are a cou­ple of killer up­hill hauls, but the trail quickly awards our tired limbs with fast and flowy down­hill sec­tions that head to the canyon. The next seg­ment of the ride is the high­light of the loop, as the trail weaves along the edge of the Toby Creek Canyon, some­times edg­ing sur­pris­ingly close to a 20 me­ter drop be­low.

The trail even­tu­ally hits a dead end, of­fer­ing spec­tac­u­lar views of the neigh­bour­ing farm­lands and im­pres­sive Cana­dian Rock­ies. From here, it turns on it­self and heads back along the canyon. By this point, our legs are usu­ally tired to the point of ex­haus­tion. Each small climb be­comes a moun­tain, but when the trail fi­nally turns away from the canyon, we know it’s an easy fif­teen minute ride back to the park­ing lot and the beer that awaits. Af­ter a quick dip, we rem­i­nisce about the ride and en­joy a cool can of Koka­nee, one of our lo­cally brewed lagers. Ah, the prom­ise of a cold beer… Isn’t that what moun­tain bik­ing is re­ally about?

When I moved to the Columbia Val­ley in 2005, I quickly re­al­ized that pickup trucks are the norm and it is not un­com­mon for peo­ple to spend more on their bikes than they do on their ride.

Over the past three years, my part­ner and I have spent all our pocket money buy­ing gear to en­joy ev­ery­thing the out­doors has to of­fer. We now have four pairs of skis, back­coun­try tour­ing equip­ment, a snow­mo­bile, climb­ing gear, a dirt bike, camp­ing gear, two cross-coun­try bikes, two down­hill bikes, and our Golden Re­triever, McKin­ley.

We’ve fi­nally ex­changed the city car for a two and a half ton 1995 Chevy Sil­ver­ado with a 3-inch lift and we spend our week­ends ex­plor­ing our back­yard. Life sure is sweet in the Koote­nays!

(ABOVE) PRO-RIDER, MIKE HOP­KINS, RACES DOWN THE 4X AT PANORAMA MOUN­TAIN VIL­LAGE, MAK­ING IT LOOK EASY. FOR­TU­NATELY FOR THE REST OF US, THE BIKE PARK HAS TRAILS FOR ALL ABIL­I­TIES. PHOTO BY: PETER MOYNES

(ABOVE) AF­TER A FEW LAPS, YOU’LL BE HAPPY TO TAKE A TURN DRIV­ING. HOME TO PSY­CHOSIS, “THE WORLD’S MOST DE­MENTED DOWN­HILL MOUN­TAIN BIKE RACE”, MOUNT SEVEN WILL TAKE ITS TOLL ON YOUR BODY, I GUAR­AN­TEE!

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