An East Kootenays Road Trip
Modern mountain biking was born in the state of California when a gaggle of Marin County beatniks retrofitted old balloon-tire bikes to hoon down logging roads. Over a decade later, the sport levelled up in Vancouver, British Columbia when daredevils Brett Tippie and Wade Simmons rode their alloy steeds on purpose-built wooden stunts and hucked themselves off North Shore slopes. But it was the Kootenay region in B.C. that really helped launch the sport worldwide: Freeride Entertainment’s popular New World Disorder films were gorged on by eyeballs around the globe and local writers such as Mitchell Scott penned odes to local loam in the likes of Bike magazine.
This is another ode to the Kootenay mountain biking scene but one that also celebrates the apres by listing tasty eateries and unique accommodations in the eastern part of the region, specifically Golden, Invermere, Fernie, Kimberley and Cranbrook.
The appropriately named community of Golden is nestled between the Selkirk Mountains and the Rockies and offers a treasure trove of trails on the nearby slopes of both ranges. There are tons of cross-country offerings here, but it’s the downhill meccas of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Mount 7 that’ll shock more than your fork. The former provides gondola-accessed alpine riding on 50+ kilometres of trail and the latter boasts some of the most fun shuttle laps in the province. (Although the new 15-kilometre-long up-track Schacher is an excellent alternative to driving.) The Basecamp Lodge in town is a favourite accommodation with riders because it offers bike storage and it’s a five-minute pedal to the CBT Mainline Trails Network, which has a number of new machine-groomed adaptive trails including the super-fun Twisted Sister. Stop at Bacchus Books & Cafe before your ride to fuel up and peruse the latest bestsellers. In the evening, hit the Riverhouse Tavern or Whitetooth Brewing, both of which are located on the Kicking Horse River.
INVERMERE ON THE LAKE
Located between the shores of Lake Windermere and the Purcell Mountains, Invermere also offers lift-access and pedal-access shredding. Panorama Mountain Resort is 20 kilometres from downtown and has over 130 kilometres of singletrack including the national-level championship track Insanity. There are new cross-country trails at the resort as well but for some insane views of the surrounding peaks, jump on the Mile One Express Quad and ride up some more until you reach Hopeful, one of the best descents in the province. Post ride, relax in the outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs offered by various on-hill accommodations. Alternatively, stay in town or at the nearby hot spring resorts of Fairmont or Radium and ride the staggering number of trails at the Swansea Recreation Site on the east side of Highway 93. Be sure to hit Stolen Church for pre-ride mircobrew coffees and Ullr Bar for post-ride cocktails.
Tucked into the Elk Valley at the base of the Rockies, the city of Fernie has been hard at work these past few years making it easy for riders to access every one of their 350+ trails without climbing into a car. For example, the new Fernie Valley Pathway leads from town to the Mount Fernie Provincial Park where you’ll find 100 kilometres of rad singletrack. Eventually the pathway will extend all the way to Fernie Alpine Resort where the Elk Chair whisks you to the top of 32 runs. Other popular riding spots include Castle Mountain, Ridgemont, and Fernie Ridge, all of which can be accessed via bike from town. Stay at Snow Valley Lodging, which offers a variety of on-site accommodations including tiny homes, or at the Red Tree Lodge next door, where you’ll find bike storage and wash stations. And fuel your fun with Big Bang Bagels and pescado tacos from Nevados.
Although the quaint Bavarian-themed town of Kimberly doesn’t offer lift-accessed runs in the summertime, it does boast one of the best downtown cores in the Kootenays. The Platzl is a four-block-long car-free zone where you’ll find cool shops, cafés, and restaurants including the Pedal and Tap, home to a local delicacy called "Mucky Fries.” A five-minute walk away is The Larix, a recently refurbished and funky boutique hotel that offers on-site bike storage and easy access to most of the city’s trail networks including Lois Creek and the Nature Park. For the ski hill and nordic trails, including the new adaptive ones completed last year, ride up Gerry Sorenson Way, a three-kilometre-long paved bike path. Alternatively, choose from a variety of slope-side accommodation at Kimberley Alpine Resort and hit the trails right out your door.
The city of Cranbrook is an undiscovered gem in the East Kootenay riding scene, despite having the region’s longest season. People have been known to shred Eager Hill, part of the Cranbrook Community Forest Network, in early April. There you’ll find such classics as the amtb flow trail Padawan, Chewbacca Rocka, R2DTour, and other Star Wars-inspired rides. On the other side of the Crowsnest Highway are the bulk of the Community trails including new and refurbished singletrack directly behind the College of the Rockies campus. Alternatively, stay at the art deco Baker Hotel and book a heli-bike package with Glacier Helicopters that will fly you to your ultimate bike drop experience. Also, be sure to imbibe at the Fire Hall Kitchen and Tap after your ride for the best burger created since mountain biking was born.