Once you get into a new sport like mountain biking, you naturally start browsing around for some of the best of what’s out there. You begin dreaming of these amazing trails you see in magazines and videos. In 2003, I was a young rider who had just bought my first serious mountain bike, and I was dying to go ride one of those legendary places. Along with Whistler, Vancouver and Squamish, another place that was always on that list was Nelson, B.C.
Sooner or later, it had to happen. My dad and I packed up the truck and headed out on a weeklong road trip through interior British Columbia, with Nelson as our primary destination. With the beautiful waters of Kootenai Lake bordered by steep Selkirk Mountain hillsides, Nelson is simply breathtaking. During our two days there, we quickly learned one thing about the trails too; they’re steep. At the time Nelson had two main riding areas: Mountain Station and the North Shore.
Mountain Station is accessed right from town and offers quick, ripping trails that can be finished up at a café or pub. These trails feature wooden stunts as well as steep, technical singletrack. Nelson’s other riding area, the North Shore, is north of town along the western shore of Kootenai Lake. The North Shore trail system starts just across the highway from the Kokanee Creek Campground and includes some of the area’s most iconic trails. Here you’re in store for grueling climbs with long singletrack descents. There are many different types of trails to choose from: smooth and less steep; fast, and white-knuckle; or rocky and technical.
My dad and I chose to ride Newtsac, which offers a classic Nelson descent that begins in steep forest and leads into large granite slabs with various stunts mixed in. The trails here on the North Shore are vastly different from anything in the Spokane area. The steep grade and mixture of rock slabs, roots and off-camber descents challenged my bike handling abilities and re-stoked the fearless mountain biker I was when I first started riding.
It was too many years before I made the trip north again. But this summer, my friend Cameron and I finally hit the road to meet up with another friend and Nelson local for some early August shredding on old, familiar trails and a bit of exploring the new riding area right out of town called Morning Mountain. The less technical, flowy trails on Morning Mountain offer riding that’s atypical to the Nelson area. With the august temperatures reaching the upper nineties, we were up and riding these new trails with the sunrise. We started the day in golden morning light filtered through birch trees as we rode the smooth up-trail that takes off from the trailhead, gently winding its way up the mountain.
On our first lap, we rode the intermediate trail Lefty. We picked up speed down the smooth, flowy trail that included tall berms and tabletop jumps. We hooted and hollered our way down, laughing at how much fun we were having, and I couldn’t help but dwell on how different this trail was from the classic Nelson downhill trails the town is known for. For our second lap, we toned it down a bit and rode the intermediate cross country trail back to the bottom.
The Morning Mountain trail system exemplifies the new age of riding where trails are being built to provide a smoother and less steep and punishing experience that’s possible for a wider range of riders to enjoy. The construction and difficulty of the Morning Mountain trails reminded me of the riding at Beacon Hill in Spokane and Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham. Morning Mountain is the perfect spot to get a few quick laps in when you don’t have the time or energy for an epic adventure. You can easily do a couple runs in an hour or two and be back to town. It’s also attracting more riders looking for an alternative to Nelson’s more technical, downhill oriented trails.
After checking out Morning Mountain, we retreated from the afternoon heat for a dip in Kootenai Lake to cool off before making one last lap for old times’ sake. As the sun was getting low, we made our way up the North Shore slopes above the sprawling lake. With just enough time to get back to the car before dark, we dropped into Newtsac. Those early days of riding came rushing back with the memory of that trail. I pushed away the thought of crashing, let off the brakes and blasted down our final run of the trip. I didn’t need a drop of coffee to keep me wired on the drive home. Nelson is something out of a mountain biker’s dream that just keeps getting better.
New Morning Mountain Trail System
The Morning Mountain trails offer easily accessible, quick laps for all levels of riders. To find the trailhead, head west out of Nelson on Highway 3a, look for Granite Road on your left and follow it until you see a gravel road to the left with a sign for Morning Mountain. Follow the road and after a few switchbacks the parking lot will be on your left. There’s a covered picnic area along with a kiosk that has a trail map. The whole area is relatively small, so don’t be afraid to adventure and check out all the trails. There is a mixture of older, rougher singletrack along with the new, more smooth and flowy machine-built trails. Stop by The Sacred Ride bike shop in Nelson for more information or guidance on any of the trail systems in the area. They sell an excellent trail guide for the area, although the Morning Mountain area is so new that it’s not included in the latest edition.
Skye Schillhammer is a freelance photographer and professional mountain biker currently based out of Spokane. In 2008, he started riding for Transition Bikes, which kicked off his professional riding career. In his early riding years, he raced downhill and competed in slopestyle events in the U.S. and Canada, picking up sponsors like Gravity Components, Reel Cameras, Northwest Riders Clothing and Bell Helmets along the way. Eventually, traveling to compete as a full-time college student became more of a challenge, and Schillhammer shifted more of his attention toward producing videos that highlight mountain biking’s unique style and flow. //