It’s early evening, and my riding buddy Nat and I are pedaling toward Brokeback Ridge on the wooded slopes of Fernie Provincial Park outside Fernie, B.C. Word on the trail is Brokeback, a mile-long black-diamond luge run, is on every Fernie local’s top five list.
We hear a loud crash and branches snapping. We stop. Silence. Then a loud sandpapery scratching and a loud exhalation of (no doubt human flesh-tinged) breath. It’s certainly something big, and we’ve got grizzlies on the mind after having been warned away from several trails at Fernie Alpine Resort owing to bear activity earlier in the day.
“You wanna get out of here?” I ask Nat.
We spin the bikes around and speed off. Turns out Brokeback Ridge truly is on every local’s top five list. Fortunately, this community of around 5,000 boasts over 100 named trails, so things never get crowded, whether with two wheels or four legs, but come fall the trails seem especially empty.
Nat McGrath riding in Fernie Provincial Park // Photo by Aaron Theisen
Located in the east Kootenays, 40 minutes from both the Montana and Alberta borders, Fernie is still very much a blue-collar mountain town; despite the weekly influx of Albertans, mining and logging are still the top two industries. Cut blocks occasionally close cherished riding zones, but riders have plenty of alternate choices, and trails typically get a facelift once the timber company moves on.
Fernie’s riding is less shuttle-centered than some communities, a fact that will become apparent the first time a local smokes you on a climb up a classic like Swine Flu. Fernie trail builders never met a steep climbing turn they didn’t like, and many of the area’s most well-regarded routes are black-diamond climbs where “cleaning” every switchback is a local badge of honor. Even if you don’t encounter a bear, your heart rate will skyrocket.
In fact, it’s easy to go car-free on a Fernie bike trip. From a campsite at Fernie Provincial Park (complete with shaded sites, free hot showers and potable water) or from one of the many in-town lodging options, riders can pedal directly onto dozens of classic trails in Fernie Provincial Park, some of which connect to Fernie Alpine Resort.
Nat McGrath dropping a wood feature on Will Power at Fernie Alpine Resort // Photo by Aaron Theisen
Despite the community’s trail-building bona fides, one need not be an expert rider to make the most of a visit. The city has built a sprawling skills park for the groms, conveniently located next to the aquatic centre. Nearby, the trails of the Castle Mountain area crisscross the Nordic trail system on a network of smooth climbs and descents.
Then there’s Lazy Lizard. The five-mile machine-built trail connects the campground at Fernie Provincial Park (via a short connector) to Island Lake Lodge. A favorite local ride is to pedal up to the lodge and enjoy dinner and drinks on the outdoor deck, which surveys the lodge’s famed ski terrain on the steep slopes of the Lizard Range.It’s an experience that typifies the riding here: both casual and hardcore, just enough work to make you feel like you’ve earned the rewards at the end. And the post-drinks descent, on high-speed berms under a sprawling awning of cedar and aspen, should rewrite your top five. Just don’t forget your bear calls.
Related: Planning a Fall Fernie Road Trip