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Fernie, B.C.’s small town feel hides endless mountain adventures

Find your perfect mountain biking challenge in the East Kootenay Rockies

Photo by: Fernie views. Photo: Jeff Bartlett.

We’d been climbing at Jikke Gyorki’s steady pace for about 20 minutes before she pointed us back downhill. After a quick drop down to the Cabin lookout, we enjoyed a snack and an incredible view across Elk Valley toward the Three Sisters peaks. It was just the beginning of our loop in the Castle Mountain network and there was more climbing to come.

The route to the Cabin lookout followed the Montane Trail. With green- and blue-rated options, Montane sets out wide, non-technical, but fun route with a steady grade. The stunning vista spanning across the valley is one of best rewards I’ve been given by any green trail.

The Cabin lookout is just one example of what sets Fernie, B.C. apart from other mountain towns. From easy spins to long adventures, Fernie is open to all and has a stunning view on practically every ride.

For Gyorki, Montane and Castle offer an hour loop that she can squeeze in before work, or ride with her children. “I have two boys, age 6 and 10,” she says. “The Montane Trails have been perfect for them to explore the outdoors by bike while building their mountain biking skills. From the Montane Green Trail that’s wide and flat to beginner and intermediate singletrack, the trails are very family friendly with amazing views as well.”

Fernie Alpine Resort
Rubber Ducky adds new school flow to Fernie Alpine Resort. Photo: Jon Canning

Fernie remains better known for its winter attractions than its summer adventures. The easternmost stop on B.C.’s Powder Highway, Fernie Alpine Resort pulls in skiers and snowboarders from around the world with the promise of deep Kootenay powder. In the summer, Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) opens its lifts to mountain bikers, as well as hikers and sightseers. The mountain has hosted Canada Cup and BC Cup downhill races for years off the steeper Timber Chair side of the mountain. After undergoing upgrades in 2019, riders can look forward to a rejuvenated Timber zone in 2020.

The lower-elevation Elk Chair trails offer a mix of flow, speed and few steep loamy routes. With names such as Mr. Berms, Duffy Dynasty and Top Gun, any rider can find the right flow on the Elk side of FAR. The resort’s mountain bike facilities, which have been running for more than 20 years, are in the midst of expansions and updates to further develop this side of the mountain.

After our stop at the Cabin lookout, our cross country ride took us up a trail called Roots. While still blue-rated, it’s more challenging than the trails we started on. Soon we were faced with our next intersection, and next choice. Turning up Hyper Ventilation would, as its name suggests, be an escalation to the next level of difficulty and effort. Instead, we took Uprooted and enjoyed a rolling, blue-trail descent that weaved through well-spaced trees toward the valley below.

Trail networks that scale naturally to accommodate different levels of difficulty facilitate a progression of improvements in riders. For many local groms, though, their first introduction to mountain biking is the Fernie Dirt Jump Park. There, pump tracks with lines of various difficulties, technical features and four progressive dirt-jump lines that range from beginner to pro. “Fernie’s Dirt Jump Park has been around for more than 10 years and caters to the advanced slopestyle rider all the way down to the two year olds on run bikes,” Gyorki says. “You’ll see them ride the park at the same time, just on different features.”

Singletrack and mountain views in every direction. Photo: Mark Gallup

When we passed by, the park was a frenzy of youthful excitement. Summer camps and different little groups of kids were charging around on all parts of the park. “There is an ability to progress from beginner to advanced,” Gyorki adds, “My 10 year old has been riding the park since he was two and still loves it.” The park is also one of the town’s main trailheads and hub of the cycling community. Every Labour Day weekend, it hosts the Wam Bam Dirt Jump Jam.

Later that day, I headed across town to Mount Fernie Provincial Park to meet Vince Mo. For him, the provincial park holds a wide appeal, regardless of a rider’s skill. “With family-friendly machine- buffed Lazy Lizard and more challenging beasts like Verboten and Brokeback Ridge,” says Mo, “you’re bound to find one of your personal favourite trails within the Mount Fernie Provincial Park network.”

We opted for Verboten. Starting with steep sections of challenging roots, the trail opens up quickly into faster sections, winding through forest. Best of all, Verboten drops you at Lizard Creek, where we stopped to cool off and escape the late July afternoon heat.

Verboten is a favourite of cross country pro Carter Nieuwesteeg. He was home in Fernie during a break in his summer racing calendar and led photographer Nick Nault and me on a ride on Mount Proctor. We went up the new Swine Flu climb trail. The mix of bench-cut and switchbacks on the way up makes for a challenging ride. Nieuwesteeg hardly seemed bothered though. The payoff was a riotous, twisting descent. While our wheels stayed on the ground, mostly, Swine Flu links flowing corners in a way that is fun at any speed.

“I like coming back to Fernie because it’s a quiet place to escape from the hectic race schedule and get re-centred,” Nieuwesteeg says. He chooses home even though, logistically, it might be easier to stay out west in Victoria, where he is finishing university. Beyond the peaks, the appeal is quite simple. “It’s genuine mountain culture,” Nieuwesteeg says. “It is what it is without trying to be.”

Nieuwesteeg’s relaxed and straightforward perspective is refreshingly common among all the locals I met in town. Fernie has a wealth of outdoor adventures just waiting and, without a crush of summer tourists, everyone seems happy to explore at a good pace.

Big Bang Bagels Fernie
Big Bang Bagels


How to get there

Fernie, B.C. is in the Elk Valley in the East Kootenay Rockies. Situated on Highway 3, just west of Crowsnest Pass, it’s a three-hour (290-km) drive from Calgary International Airport. Alternatively, it’s an hour (96.3-km) drive east from Cranbrook’s airport, YXC, which offers daily connections to Vancouver and Calgary.

Where to stay

Lizard Creek Lodge (lizardcreek.com) at the base of Fernie Alpine Resort’s Elk Chair offers rooms and apartment-style suites with easy access to the downhill trails. Blackstone Bed and Breakfast has a modern style and its own spa. The Mount Fernie Provincial Park campground is just a short pedal from the centre of Fernie. With the exception of Fernie Alpine Resort, all trails are within biking distance of town.

Where to eat

Big Bang Bagel is the place to start your day with breakfast sandwiches and coffee, as well as lunch options. Head to Fernie Brewing Co.’s patio for a refreshing craft beer after a warm summer ride. The brewery’s Trail to Ale Challenge rewards any rider, runner or hiker able to get to the top of three local climbs within 24 hours. The prize? A medal and a well-deserved cold beer. Nevados and The Loaf both offer dinner menus that will fuel the next day’s adventures.

Where to shop

Fernie boasts three bike shops: Straight Line, The Guide’s Hut and GearHub, all within the downtown core. For trail status and routes, check with the Fernie Trails Alliance.