We knew that by embarking on a trip to Rossland, a town with a history almost as old and rich as Canada itself, that we would be sure to encounter a wild, rugged adventure. Our story begins with the decision to explore.
Words: Hailey Elise
Images: Mark Mackay
Travelling to a new place harbours so many different kinds of excitement: The unknown, the possibilities, the scenery and in our case, the mountain biking.
Rossland, British Columbia lies in the Kootenays, a vast amount of land that hugs the south-eastern side of the province and encompasses more than one mountain range. The mountains in this district are known for their enormity in comparison to their coastal counterparts. Settlers in Canada’s youth forged the foundations of the current cities against these rocky giants based on the richness of earth. Rossland in-particular was formed on gold mining and whiskey running. The mining and rich forestry created the foundation for what Rossland’s current mountain biking scene lies on.
HEADING TO THE MOUNTAINS
Once the choice was made to travel to the Kootenays in late summer when the weather is warm and the days are still long, the group quickly formed. It was melting pot of Whistler locals: Mark MacKay, or Mag as he is affectionately known as ,is a Scotsman that knew that he had to capture the unruly beauty of Canada from a young age. Now, a professional photographer, he lives for the moments on top on mountains that take your breath away. Ollie Jones, a free rider and photographer. He is known for pushing limits both on and off a bike. Cameron Argyle-Robinson is a traveller, wanderer, peacemaker, and rides a hardtail with unprecedented skill. Jamie Hill is former gymnast turned downhill racer. Her humor and ability to randomly do a back flip made her an integral part of the group. And finally myself, Hailey Elise, collector of moments on and off a bike.
We drove into the mountain town late in the evening. The darkness and surrounding seemingly old growth forests shrouded our view of the peaks we would try to pedal up the following day. One of the first things you should do when arriving in a new place is check out the local watering hole. We quickly found the Flying Steam Shovel, an original saloon and hotel from Rossland’s beginning. Comfort food, local beer and Mag organising his Tinder dates for the week made us ready for sleep. So we went to our lodging, a cozy inn snuggled against Rossland’s iconic Red Mountain to prepare for riding the next day.
TRAILS FOR DAYS
The mountain bike community and the city of Rossland had supported the growth of an unparalleled trail system surrounding the city. The most well-known trail is called the Seven Summits and considered a cross-country ride. However, the full 35.3 kilometres of trail takes you up and down several mountains, hence the name. Most of the trails are maintained by a full-time trail crew and volunteers in the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society (KCTS). If you're looking for more than cross country, Rossland has an active downhill and freeride community who have built a large network of shuttle trails located in and around town as well as a dirt jump park.
We were itching to go ride the stuff Rossland was known for. In fact, the stuff most of the Kootenay’s is known for: the ability to access the alpine areas. As a mountain biker, one of the most exciting aspects of this area is the ability to pedal into the alpine wonderland and experience the sheer vastness as you stare into the valley below. Hailing from Whistler, most of the trails in the Sea to Sky corridor only take you as far as mid mountain. We wanted in that moment, at that given time, to stand on the top of the world.
We were lucky to be staying with two of Rossland’s infamous guides, Natasha and Ian Lockey, founders of Kootenay Mountain Bike Coaching, Mountain Shuttle and BettyGoHard. Natasha and Ian set us up with a route that would take us up Red Mountain and deposit us right back at the door. The pedalling trails were marked and easy to understand. We soon found ourselves barreling down a former downhill World Cup track called Red Top. I got ahead of myself and decided to follow the boys off a drop without looking at it. My mistake. The drop got the better of me and some of my front teeth. I set the tone for the rest the trip: Go big or go home and don’t be afraid to leave a bit of yourself in the dirt. Licking my wounds, we headed to our lodging. Another beer at the Flying Steam Shovel was in order.
IN LOCALS WE TRUST
It seemed we needed the help of Natasha and Ian to navigate Rossland’s terrain. No more coming across unknown features. They took us to an area called the Montecola Loop, an all mountain zone that is easily accessible and combines a quick shuttle with a short pedal. Earlier in the summer, the area was picked as part of the BC Enduro series. The trails were buff and beautifully maintained appealling to every riding level. Before we knew it, we were soaring down the singletrack. Among our favourite parts was a long stretch, similar to a pump track that brought you up to very high speeds. We made a train and hollered the whole way down.
Nighttime was spent around a fire beside the inn. Along with Jamie’s dancing and occasional gymnast moves, we planned our next few days. We all wanted to experience the iconic Seven Summits trail but my recent meeting with the ground and numerous concussions in the prior few years made the expedition type journey seem daunting and risky. Natasha suggested that Ian show us a local favorite that takes you along the Rossland city limits all the way to Trail, the next town over.
We knew we were in for a ride if Ian was taking us. As a former paralympian snowboarder, Ian was no stranger to adrenaline. We started off on a quiet pedal through the woods, chatting and fooling around. Ian and Natasha took turns showing us the remnants of old mine shafts and telling stories of how people usually find them by falling in! We turned a corner and immediately began the descent. The trail is part of a decommissioned zone called Oasis. No friendly signs or maintained trails here. Speed driven singletrack alternating between grassy open areas and lush cedar forest cover unravelled before us. Keeping up with Ian was near impossible, his guide knowledge of every bump and turn carrying him further and further away from us. When we thought we were finished as the lights of Trail came into sight, Ian told us this was where the fun began. We began another descent, this time it was full urban. Ian showed us his sneaky lines jumping over lawns and dropping stonewalls. Trail is known for having lots and lots of covered stairways that take you down into the main part of the small town. He warned us that we needed to commit to each stair well or it wouldn’t be a happening ending. And so we did, one by one, riding our bikes down never ending covered stairs.
CELEBRATE LIKE A LOCAL
The only way to celebrate what was a first urban downhill ride for all of us, was to go to the local brewery, Rossland Beer Co. for pints of their signature brew. I was very excited to find out that their current seasonal beer was a Raspberry Ale. Pink frothy pints were set before us and over the sweet concoction, we set into motion the plan for the following day to head south of Rossland to area that had free-ride roots.
Whiskey and Cherry Poppins are two of KCTS blended trails for freeride and all-mountain style riding. The upper part of Whiskey called Whiskey on the Rocks is full of technical slabs and as you move lower, the dirt turns to loam and the jumps appear. Ollie was in his element. Everything that could be hit or jumped was on his radar. Natasha stopped and showed us a well-known feature called the Whiskey Drop, a 12 foot drop with a manicured landing. Ollie didn’t hesitate and Jamie was right behind him, launching herself off of it with the style and grace of a skilled gymnast. The full day riding this zone turned to a close and Cam made a group decision that tomorrow was the day we would attempt the Seven Summits.
CONQUERING THE SUMMITS
If we were going to do the Seven Summits, we were going to do it right. This meant ascending into the alpine wilderness in time to catch sunrise. 3:30am came far too fast and with our maps and gear loaded, we began our journey. A morning mist weaved it’s way through the giant trees and the light crept from dark to that glowing blue of the first morning sun. The initial climb is the longest of the trip but it was gradual, a nice way to warm up from the early morning chill. We came to the top just as the sun began to break. Much to our surprise, we were over an inversion. A blanket of cloud covered the valley below, creating the illusion of water cascading out before us. It was breathe taking. Orange and red hues filled the sky, illuminating the caps of mountains as far we could see. We all stopped to admire what lay before us. This was the moment that makes mountain biking not just about riding your bike. It’s the instances that are only for the eyes of those that work for them. The rest of the Seven Summits trail was a mixture of short ascents and longer descents through various terrain. Dark wooded forests gave way to open alpine rock fields. The sky opened up and each time we ascended we were handed a view of the valley below. Fast forward several hours later and a tired group of mountain bikers finished what they had set out to do, smiles as big as their faces.
The completion of the seven summits marked the end of our trip. We hugged our new friends Natasha and Ian noting that it wasn’t goodbye but see you later as we made a number of plans to return to Rossland and to not crash on the first day. We had set out to stand on top of a mountain and grasp the full effect of the Kootenays, the massive rock giants and their accompanying lush forests. We set out to explore with our bikes and that’s just what we did.