The days are getting longer, the sun feels warmer, the snow is melting, you’ve put your skis into storage and you just aren’t looking at your fatbike the same way that you were in December. That can only mean one thing: Springtime has arrived and it’s time to find your shorts, dust off your mountain/gravel bike and take your road bike off the trainer (if you’re into that)!
In other regions of BC, people have been riding on dirt and roads all winter, or at least since March. But here in Fernie, trails aren’t ready to ride most years until late May. Some lower trails are starting to open however they are busy and too limited for training at this time. So how do you satisfy the need for dirt and prepare yourself for the upcoming season without driving to nearby, drier places like Cranbrook or Invermere? You hit the tarmac and gravel roads!
One of the most popular and enjoyable early season rides is heading out Cokato road right from downtown. The Cokato out and back offers many benefits: It gets a lot of sun, there isn’t much traffic, it has some nice rolling hills, you’ve got an absolutely stunning view of the Lizard range for almost the entire ride and you’re staring straight at Mt. Fernie and the Three Sisters as you come back into town. From town, it’s about 6km to the end of the pavement, then it changes to hard packed gravel. At that point, you can just turn around for a quick ride or if the gravel is still mucky and soft, or if it’s in good shape, carry on for another 11km until you get to the Morrissey/Lodgepole/River road junction. It’s a beautiful ride, and has a few larger hills for some great variety. From there, if you want an even longer ride, keep on keepin’ on down River Rd for another 14km till you reach the town of Elko. The full ride to Elko and back will take a few hours, so it helps build up the endurance and stamina needed for those long days in the saddle. Be aware that River road is a FSR (forest service road), so you’ll likely encounter logging trucks if you decide to go that way.
If you’re preparing for TransRockies races such as Singletrack 6 or the Gravel Royale (both are coming to Fernie this summer), or maybe just feel like you need to get your legs ready for the big climbs in Fernie like Project 9 access, Swine Flu, Hypervent, Stove/Mushroomhead/Lactic ridge or Big $, there’s a nice, south facing climb that dries up early and has served me well as a training ground since I moved here in 2018. From Fernie, head North past the visitor centre and jump onto Dicken Rd. It’s a beautiful, flat, 4.5km pavement road with very few vehicles on it and mountains on both sides of the valley. A great warm up for hill repeats you’re about to do! At the North end of Dicken, you have to hop on to highway 3, and ride North for about three more km until you reach Beese Rd. It turns to dirt and starts climbing right away. You’ll climb about 110m over 2.1km (avg grade of 5.4%) if you stop at the top of the hill just a little ways past the cattle guard. Take a sip of water and head back down to the highway. Do this climb as many times as your legs, heart and lungs allow, and you’ll be ready to race or tackle those big climbs as soon as the snow melts! The best part about this ride is the cool down cruise back into Fernie on Dicken Rd. You’re treated with an amazing view of the snow capped Lizard range the entire way.
Heading South on Dicken Rd after a Beese Rd interval session. The Lizard range in all its glory.
If you feel like getting out of town and exploring some new roads, there are plenty of options in the “South Country”. Take the Kikoman/Newgate road from Elko and head South towards Newgate Sandy Shores. You’ll cross Lake Koocanusa and enjoy winding roads and small rolling hills for miles. Another nice option in that area is the Jaffray – Baynes Lake road. Very little traffic and roads suitable for a road, gravel or cross country mountain bike.
Maybe road/gravel riding or climbing isn’t your thing, and you just want to dial in your trail riding and bike handling skills. Usually the first little trail to dry up in Fernie is a short, but fun trail called Space Unicorn, which can be accessed from Coal creek road. If you want to improve your cornering and jumping skills, dial in your suspension settings or maybe try out your shiny new bike early in the season, this trail is for you. Please just respect the trail and the volunteers that maintain them. If it’s soft and muddy, stay off it.
There are many other options out there for spring training; these are just a few of my favourites. Whether you’re by yourself, with your bubble or with a few friends, just get out there and explore the amazing training grounds in the Fernie and South Country area. There’s something for everyone!
By Dylan Bailey