Seemingly out of place amongst the sky-scraping skier’s paradise of the Canadian Purcells and Rockies, the Upper Columbia Valley of eastern British Columbia is a spring escape for Calgarians itching for early-season tee times and wine tastings. But it’s also nurturing a quietly intense mountain biking community from a base in the Bavarian-inspired tourist town of Invermere. The same dramatic topography and warm weather that benefits grapes and golf makes for a long riding season. From warm Wandermere Lake to Panorama Ski Area, riders can start early in the year and follow the snow line.
Although many of the Upper Columbia Valley’s trails have been seemingly blasted from bedrock, the tread itself is never terribly rocky. This is not the slick, root-strewn steeps of, say, Rossland; rather, the buffed, crushed-rock surfaces and snaking layouts emphasize high-speed turn work. That said, the consequences of a blown turn can be harsh on these steep sidehills; pads and full-face helmets are not out of place here. These three stunning trail systems sample the best biking in the Great Green North.
The Johnson, Lake Lillian
The Lake Lillian trail system west of Invermere emphasizes the key features of Upper Columbia Valley riding. It’s a tight-turns test-piece where riders can work on early-season technique. Although a crisscrossing network of trails departs from near the primitive picnic area of Lake Lillian, the signature ride is the six-mile figure-eight loop known locally as the Johnson. Riders can practice their sidehill technique with real stakes above the steep stream cut of Toby Creek. Numerous bailout points can make for shorter loops; riders looking for a longer ride can connect to the Kloosifier trail downstream, where open sagebrush grassland replaces the tight trees of the Johnson.
Swansea Mountain trails
There’s a reason Swansea Mountain has a paragliding launch platform: this rough-hewn rock east of Invermere attracts plenty of gliders, hikers and gawkers for its view of Wandermere Lake. Mountain bikers, however, will be focused on their front wheels in this technical trail system, where ladder-like launch platforms and rock steeps demand dialed in riding. Swansea’s system is a mix of single-use and shared trails; first-timers should consult a local for the best riding options. Swansea’s summit requires a rough, high clearance vehicle for shuttle-assisted descents; however, the on-trail climbing directly out of the lower parking lot at least gives riders excuses to savor the views.
Panorama Ski Area
Panorama Ski Area, west of Invermere, constructed many of its 30 k of downhill trails during the peak of the lift-served downhill era, a resort-based arms race that chased bigger and bolder lines. Riders at Panorama (open June through early September) can expect a parade of technical features, from drops to gaps on runs such as Crazytrain. Recently renovated entries and exits embrace the flow-friendly modernized size of resort riding, and beginners can wade in on Let It Ride, a 3k, top-to-bottom beginner-friendly flow trail. //