Ski Northern BC this Winter
For a dusting of powder and charm.
I just got back from biking The Bluff in Smithers, BC. Can you tell? I’m sweaty and dishevelled. I’m breathing heavily. My legs and arms feel a bit shaky, and—this is the giveaway—I’m wearing the world’s biggest grin on my face.
Hurtling down one of Smithers’ steep single-track trails on my mountain bike is, for me, one of those “pure fun” experiences. You know, the kind that turns an ordinary day into one you’ll never forget. And these trails are so close to town that getting an unforgettable experience is almost effortless…apart from the biking uphill part, that is. From town it’s only a five-minute ride (or a very short drive) to the beginning of the “Boardwalk Trail”. Another five minutes of pedalling, and you’re well on your way up an awesome network of mountain biking trails. If you’re into wearing body armour and a full-face helmet while navigating narrow trails and riding over carefully constructed stunts on a full-suspension downhill bike, then The Bluff is a fantastic outlet for your two-wheeled aspirations. But it isn’t only for adrenaline junkies and technical riders—The Bluff also includes an extensive network of fun cross-country trails, paths that wind their way through a gorgeous northern forest. Anyone riding here should be aware that Smithers is in rural northern British Columbia, so there’s always a chance of running into wildlife while out exploring—be safe.
All the trails are clearly marked but both bike stores in town carry a map made by the Smithers Mountain Biking Association (SMBA), a local volunteer-run non-profit that maintains and manages the trails at The Bluff and elsewhere around Smithers. Make sure to stop in at C.O.B. Bikes for some good insider knowledge from owners Dave and Gabe and to pick up any gear you might have forgotten to bring along. If you’re travelling to Smithers without a bike but are itching for a ride, you can rent one from McBike and chat with owner Peter about which trails are best suited to your style of riding.
My ride—essentially an extended coffee break—starts like all the rest, at the Boardwalk Trail. I’m alone this time so I’ve got LCD Soundsystem in my headphones. It rained lightly earlier and the trails are neither dusty nor muddy. Perfect, in other words. I ride slow on the Boardwalk because this part of the trail system is multi-use—hikers and joggers come here and it’s not uncommon to meet someone on the trail out walking their dog or going for a quick run. At the end of the Boardwalk, I head up an access road to a sign with a map of the trails. Here’s where the slog starts: Uptrack. Early in the riding season every year, C.O.B. holds a killer race called “The Upchuck” where competitors start the race at the bottom and ride all the way up the Uptrack but instead of stopping at the top, they keep going and ride all the way back down, along the Boardwalk, and back to the parking lot where their time then finally stops. It’s painful (yes, I speak from experience) but really fun.
Today, I’m not competing so I take it slow, enjoying the trail as it winds its way up the hill, sunlight filtering through tall trees and likely reflecting intensely off the sweat on my forehead. When I eventually get to the top, I’m tired but feeling good. Through the trees here, I can see the town below and in the distance the Babine Mountains (more on those later). I like all kinds of riding, but today I’m heading for one of my favourite trails, a black-diamond run called “Auntie Flo”. I strap on leg armor, tug my helmet on, lower my seat post, and take a deep breath. Go! It’s a fast, narrow trail with some tight corners and sections of technical riding, occasionally over structures, but I know it well, so I only get through one track in my headphones—a rocker of a tune called “Movement”—before I skid to a stop at the bottom, the smile on my face as big as the landscape I’m surrounded by.
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