British Columbia is filthy-rich with mountain bike destinations. One day over lunch I asked our guides, Ryan and Johanna, to tell me what they thought the best under-the-radar mountain bike destinations in BC were. As they started naming off towns left and right, they quickly reached a list of about a dozen spots that were well-worth visiting… and they didn’t even name Whistler, Squamish, Kamloops, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Revelstoke, Golden, Kelowna, Pemberton, and others. Because, you know… those destinations are too well-known and overcrowded already.
One destination that falls squarely in British Columbia’s first-tier destinations list that didn’t need to be mentioned either, because we’d just spent three days sampling the goods on our Sacred Rides Rocky Mountain Bring Your Partner Adventure, is the town of Fernie.
Fernie is a small mountain town not dissimilar from my hometown of Salida: 5,000 people call Fernie home, but many of the houses in town are owned by second home owners. Calgarians flood into town every weekend, bringing with them both mountain bikes and tourism dollars.
Yet there are key differences, too: a ski resort towers high above the town of Fernie, and despite being home to over 100 named mountain bike trails in the summer and world-renowned powder skiing in the winter, tourism is only the third-largest economic driver. The first is an open pit coal mine nearby. The second? Logging.
Despite visionaries in the mountain biking and skiing industries pushing for tourism as a sustainable, long term source of income, resource extraction-based industries are still dominant in Canada… much to the chagrin of some environmentally-minded locals. But despite that dissonance, mountain biking and logging continue to coexist, with trails being quickly cleared of downed trees after clear cutting is finished.
The web of singletrack running up and down the mountains and literally ringing the valley only continues to expand.
A Fernie Mountain Biking Sampler
Fernie is home to some absolutely gnarly mountain bike trails, such as Dirt Diggler, Big Money, and Slunt (look that one up in Urban Dictionary). Yet we didn’t get to ride any of those trails on the Bring Your Partner trip. According to Ride Director and Lead Guide for Sacred Rides BC, Ryan Kikauka, the type of highly-technical trails that I prefer to ride are not suitable for Sacred Rides clients.
At first, I was a bit disappointed by that answer… but then I watched the video of Nate Hills and his friends riding Dirt Diggler, and after observing how sketchy and loose they got on that descent–with several crashes mixed in–I’m pretty confident that trying to ride that trail would not have ended well for me… not to mention my fellow guided-cohorts.
Ah, who am I kidding: out of everyone in the group, I took one of the hardest crashes of the week, per usual. So while perhaps I think I would have preferred slightly more challenging trails on this trip, Ryan’s trail choices showed wisdom and restraint, providing everyone on the trip with a superb mountain bike experience on fantastic singletrack… without getting too beat up. Ryan also noted that if you’re looking to take a Sacred Rides trip to this region and are a glutton for punishment, the Ultimate BC is the trip for you. It will fully satisfy your desire for technical trails and lots of shredding with 12 days of hardcore riding.
So while these aren’t the gnarliest trails in Fernie, if you’re looking for a sampler that won’t leave you bloody and broken, this is a good place to start:
Ridgemont Trail System
The Ridgemont Trail System is where it all began. It’s home to the original singletrack trails in the Fernie valley, built with motorcycles and chainsaws. Some of the newer trails in this network have been built with more modern techniques, but without the original Ridgemont trails, Fernie would be nowhere.
As my first true introduction to British Columbia mountain biking, I reveled in the dark dirt, the loose loam, and the webs of roots spread across it all–and not having a single rock in sight! (Ok, maybe one or two.) I love experiencing whatever is unique about an area’s trails, soaking in the differences that make traveling to mountain bike instead of just staying at home on your local trails worthwhile. The dark, loamy dirt deep beneath the massive forest canopy is definitely what sets Fernie apart!
This trail network is, overall, very intermediate-friendly… although some trails exceed.
Swine Flu Loop
Swine Flu required a grunt of a climb to reach the top of the loop, proving to be much more physically demanding than our ride at Ridgemont that morning. But the views of the valley were worth the effort!
The rip back down made the pain of the climb fade in our memories, as we railed through endless berms, fast straightaways, and caught air off of optional kickers.
Located off the Swine Flu Loop is Fairy Creek Falls, which the ladies also rode/hiked to separately.
Fernie Alpine Resort
Many of the trails at Fernie Alpine Resort epitomize old school DH riding at its finest: steep, blown out, filled with the same root webs and loamy dirt as the other trails in the region… just more challenging and intimidating due to the added steepness and the amount of wear and tear. Hidden deep in these woods are also all manner of wooden features: jumps, drops, elevated skinnies, low skinnies, the works–yeah, this is British Columbia!
A few of the trails had easier ratings and more berms, but none of the bermy or jumpy lines that we rode struck me as outstanding. The berms were low, the jumps were oftentimes less than intuitive… I wouldn’t recommend this area if you’re looking for flow trails.
We did get the chance to sample one of the longest descents off the high lift, and while we opted for the easiest line down that we could find… it still proved to be a true challenge! The higher elevation trails finally had some rocks, and as the dark dirt of the forest disappeared as the elevation increased, it left us with an endless, technical rock garden–not at all for the faint of heart!
But if you have the stones for it, I highly recommend the 3-mile descent off the highest lift. Personally, it was one of my favorite trails of the trip, despite crashing down low and rolling my ankle.
Mount Fernie Provincial Park
To round out day two, we rode back up the lower lift and then pedaled out of the resort boundaries, entering Mount Fernie Provincial Park. The trails here were again, ultra-loamy and filled with the most incredible black dirt… but what set these trails apart was the quality and flow of the singletrack. I’d argue that these were the highest-quality trails we rode in Fernie, and maybe even on our whole trip.
While that’s difficult to ascertain definitively, the trails in the Provincial Park were an absolute treat, and I found myself wishing we could spend the entire evening exploring all of the various singletrack options in this network.
Day three found us lodging high above the town of Fernie at Island Lake Lodge (more on that below). Island Lake Lodge built their own singletrack trail on their private land to connect to the massive network around Fernie–and that trail is known as Lazy Lizard.
Lazy Lizard is the first machine-built flow trail in Fernie, and has received rave reviews from the locals as a result of the incredible swoop and flow. Personally, I’d rate Lazy Lizard as a cross country flow trail, and not a gravity flow trail. Much pedaling is still required, and the berms and features are all pretty low–this trail is unequivocally a beginner track.
Yet having a beginner trail of this quality and this caliber in British Columbia speaks to how diverse the mountain biking is in Fernie and BC in general. It seems that we only ever hear about the insanely-difficult uber-tech trails in BC, but for those who aren’t up to that level of challenge, Fernie still delivers an incredible mountain bike experience.
Indeed, I’d rate the bulk of the trails we rode on our 7-day Bring Your Partner Adventure as solidly intermediate.
Hedonism > Mushroom Head > Red Sonja
Technically, we rode Lazy Lizard down from Island Lake and then tacked this loop onto the end of it, but you could easily split these two chunks out into rides of their own… and they feel very different.
Hedonism, Mushroomhead, and Red Sonja are a mix of intermediate and advanced-level trails, depending on which direction you take them and how many of the optional features you hit. Expect more loam and roots, steep climbs, steep descents, and a pretty wicked ride over a car.
Lodging in Fernie
Canadian Powder Tours
Our main base for the bulk of our time in Fernie was Canadian Powder Tours. This lodge is located in the town of Fernie, with incredible views of the mountains and easy access to all of the from-town singletrack. The lodge is owned and run by Susan Mould, who originally pioneered the tour operating business at Fernie Alpine Resorts 20 years ago with a fully-catered, all-inclusive ski and snowboard lodge experience. She was the “first tour operating business in the valley bringing international visitors–primarily from the UK–to the valley,” according to Mould.
About 9 years ago Susan began working with Sacred Rides as the main base for the Fernie portion of their BC tours–and all of the BC trips come through Fernie at one point or another. This is due in part to Sacred Rides getting its start in Fernie–it was originally called “Fernie Fat Tire Adventures” about 20 years ago. Since that time, Sacred Rides has expanded all around the world–quite literally. Yet Fernie remains a critical location on some of their most popular trips.
During our visit to Susan’s lodge we enjoyed the laid back, homey atmosphere, and the absolutely delicious home-cooked meals for breakfast and lunch. Chilling in the backyard drinking cold beers with Fernie Alpine Resort looming large above us was the absolute perfect way to end an epic day!
Island Lake Lodge
While we only stayed at Island Lake Lodge for one night before moving on, the scenery and the setting of this backcountry resort is absolutely breathtaking! Located up in the mountains from Fernie, I group it into this article as we rode down from Island Lake, all the way to the town of Fernie, on the Lazy Lizard trail mentioned above.
A snowcat skiing destination in the winter, Island Lake Lodge’s summer attractions are on point–the main group did a big hike straight from the lodge, up into the surrounding mountains, on the Spineback Trail on day three of the trip. In fact, my wife Summer named that hike her single favorite activity of the trip! “The trail climbed through alpine wildflower meadows, crested at the top of a mountain ridge that displayed the vastness of the Rockies, and ended with a magical meander in an old growth forest,” she said. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join the group on this hike as I had rolled my ankle the day before, but thankfully this was the only activity out of the entire itinerary that I had to miss out on.
We also enjoyed an elegant evening meal at the lodge, which I thought was the dining highlight of the trip. The company of our comrades was entertaining and enjoyable, the food was delicious, and the setting couldn’t have been better!
Even More Photos from Fernie
Enjoy some extra shots from the epic mountain biking in Fernie:
Thanks to Sacred Rides, Canadian Powder Tours, and Island Lake Lodge for making this trip possible.