This photo-essay shares a few highlights from Big Mountain Adventures (BMA), the Whistler-based mountain bike tour company that turns 10 this year. This is a brief history for Big Mountain, but really its roots started growing back in the early-70's...
Circa 1977, BMA founder Chris Winter getting a taste of cycling tours from the back of his dad's custom tandem on a month-long camping trip with 30 high school kids. Winter's pioneering parents started running road bike trips in 1972 to Europe and Canada's maritime provinces. The company, called Cycleventures still exists today, 41 years later.
The wheels were set in motion for the idea of developing an international mountain bike travel company during the winter of 2001 while eating fondue and drinking wine in a little chalet perched above the town of Haute Nendaz, in the Swiss Alps. Winter met local Francois Panchard earlier that year on the internet as he researched riding options in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The two hit it off like old friends and realized that they both shared a passion for mountain biking and exploring new terrain. In this 2002 photo, Paddy Kaye, Ryan Bowland & Winter ride the Col de Mines, Verbier, Switzerland.
On this first exploratory trip Panchard eagerly dragged Kaye, Bowland and Winter all over his local mountains, linking up rides with buses, trains, lifts and a shuttle truck. Panchard’s bike that year was a 25 pound fully rigid with v-brakes that he climbed like the wind. The bikes of choice in Whistler at the time were heavy overbuilt freeride bikes with double-crown forks and 3” tires built for jumping off roofs and big stunts. And jeans and flannel shirts as riding apparel. Needless to say, the Whistler crew got worked pretty hard on that first trip, but they still returned blown away by the riding. This photo is Winter taking trip notes after a long stretch of back to back big epics in the Alps. Tired, but very happy.
In Switzerland every ride requires a map and serious logistical planning to link the details together. Besides the amazing rides, what stood out for the Canadians was the lack of riders they saw on any given day and the unreal transportation network. And unlike riding in Whistler, every ride in Switzerland is a high alpine epic accessed by a lift or paved road usually with a cafe at the top. Each day became a top 10 of all time. In this photo, Panchard & Blaise Mettan scope new lines in their backyard.
Winter was so excited about his Swiss experiences that he and Panchard hatched up a grander adventure for the next year, 2003. Panchard dubbed it the Crazy Canuck Freeride Challenge (CCFC) based on the ambitious itinerary and the all-star crew of fired-up BC riders and local Swiss riders invited. This photo shows the modest view from their digs in Zermatt and JJ Desormeaux heading out for a day of big mountain riding on his Chromag on singletrack that could not have been closer to the front door.
Panchard laid out an ambitious riding itinerary that encompassed rides that overlooked Lake Geneva to rides on the doorstep of Mont Blanc and a long list of loops on both flanks of the Rhone valley through Martigny, Sion, Sierre and onto Brig and Zermatt. Many of the rides had barely seen bikes. This 2003 pic is Squamish-based Chad "The Champ" Onyschuk hanging it out on the Dent de Morcles. A hike-a-bike to end all hike-a-bikes that led to an extra large descent.
Nights on the CCFC were spent packed into his small chalet pouring over maps, listening to techno music, drinking too much beer and wine, or spent in a mountain hut, drinking too much beer and wine. In this photograph night had fallen, the group had ridden a massive day and had caught the very last lift, just in the nick of Swiss time, to an alpine hut for the night. Panchard (second from left with beer in hand) set the bar very high on the CCFC, and it was met with great enthusiasm as the smiling Sean Dinwoodie attests.
Journalist, rider and bon vivant Mitchell Scott grabbing a big sip.
This photo is Big Mountain Adventures' backyard, exploring deep into BC's South Chilcotins region with good friends and a flight from Tyax Air. BMA has spent a decade exploring some of the far reaches of the earth in search of great singletrack and great trips. Each time the crew returns home though, the riding and culture out its front door become just a little sweeter. The company also run some impressive itineraries out of Vancouver that encompass Squamish, Pemberton, Whistler, the South Chilcotins and the North Shore.
Fall '04 was their first trip to Morocco led by Montreal-based Dave MacDougall who’d been guiding and living in Marrakech on and off for a decade. After an amazing eight days of remote desert riding, on a whim, MacDougall had this first group climb North Africa's highest peak, Mount Toubkal. A side-trip that goes down in the books. BMA knew that this would be the first of many visits to Morocco. Here, Andrew Shandro is seen flying high in remote mountains on the edge of the Sahara while Vanderham carves a giant red wall while filming for The Collective.
Guides Joe Schwartz & Chris Winter descend the final stretch to the Hotel La Vallee in Lourtier, Switzerland, Big Mountain Adventures' European headquarters in the heart of the Alps. The hotel is run by the skiing and mountain biking Pellissier family who are the warmest mountain hosts after a big day of riding.
Early in ‘05 a big crew left the snow and rain of Coastal BC and headed south to the palm trees Costa Rica to ride with legendary San Jose-based guide Paulo Valle. The trip ended with a few deserved days of surf and sun on the worldclass beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula. Since then Valle has hosted hundreds of BMA riders and created lifelong memories. In this photo Valle admires a killer view in his beautiful country.
Along with leading trips for clients, BMA also produces corporate and media events. Here, locals Fabio Bernardi & Paolo Tossi drop down to their beautiful hometown, Cortina D'Ampezzo while researching routes for a Trek Bicycles event in 2012.
Peru remains one of Big Mountain's most popular destinations. It's for good reason, it's one of the best places to mountain bike on the planet. The Andes are extra grande, the second biggest mountain range the world. Add the fact that their mountains are arid, that the Incas happened to be master trail builders and you've got a recipe for a whole lot of good times on a mountain bike. Rider: Justin Mark.
For a number of years Big Mountain ran a mountain bike safari trip in South Africa and Botswana where you'd ride from luxury camp to luxury camp in a 70,000 acre game reserve. Kinda like being inside the cages of a zoo, except without the fences. The trip is no longer, at least for the time being. This photo is a group racing the sun back to camp. When the sun sets in Botswana the predators come out to hunt. Lions, leopards; a different kind of technical. It's a good thing guides carry big-ass guns just in case.
Mr. Wade Simmons with Chile's Villarrica volcano looming in the background. Not all destinations have made the cut for a BMA trip. Chile is one of them, at least not yet. It has all the features of a world-class adventure mountain bike destination but its unique geography makes logistics difficult and expensive.
This is mountain bike-crazy Rotorua, New Zealand. A truly great place to ride if you get the chance. Every town planner should go to Rotorua and take some notes in their Whakarewarewa Forest trail network. Task #1 is to figure out how to pronounce the name. They've created an extensive network of great trails within a concentrated area minutes from town. Easy climbs to trail heads, trails for all levels of riders and a killer shuttle service. The dirt there is pretty much perfect for trail building. Lucky them. Rotorua. Rocks.
Dropping down to dreamy Lahaina, Maui with Lanai island in the distance. There are pockets of good riding on Maui but not enough to warrant bringing your mountain bike instead of your surf board, yet. This is local mountain bike advocate 'Moose' leading the charge on a killer evening ride.
Wherever they travel, Big Mountain's mission is to support the local economy by partnering with the very best local guides and tour operators at its destinations. It also has had the pleasure of working with a number of celebrated guides like Joe Schwartz, Wade Simmons, Lorraine Blancher, Paulo Valle, Wayo Stein, Andreas Hestler, Seb Kemp, Louise Paulin and Stephen Matthews, to name just a few. Here, Kemp is right at home on the planet's biggest mountains, on BMA's Nepal 'Himalaya Heights' trip.
What's in store for the next decade at Big Mountain Adventures? Continue to fine-tune and improve their current roster of destinations, develop new itineraries and keep inspiring people to ride their bikes and love our sport. The search continues...
A huge buffed-singletrack-filled thanks to all the riders who've joined BMA on trips over the past decade. And more thanks to the amazing professional photographers that have shot our trips: Sterling Lorence, Blake Jorgenson, Harookz, Chris Christie, Scott Markewitz, Dan Barham, Ian Hylands, Bonny Makarewicz, Ilja Herb, Mattias Fredriksson, Christophe Margot & Adrian Marcoux. And BMA's amazing sponsors: Trek Bicycles, Sombrio, SRAM, Chromag & Smith Optics.