Source: Ryan Kuhn
Saddled up and whippin’ it!
Back in the day – 2001 to be precise – Kicking Horse was a raw, untamed beast. There was a brand new gondola spanning a sparse base area to an upstart and elegant Eagle’s Eye Restaurant at 7,700 feet – Canada’s “most elevated dining experience.” It was the infrastructure of dreams, linking 3,700’ of raw alpine, sub-alpine and densely treed vertical. It was, by all accounts, a wild stallion.While the winter ski product at the Selkirk Mountain resort – located near Golden, B.C. – continued to evolve at a blistering pace, taming the terrain for a successful summer mountain biking program got off to a slow start. Though there was some “horse whispering” of A-line style trails and “build-it-and-they-will-come” philosophising, management at the time was more committed to a 4-season concept than they were a 4-season budget.
In 2002, I was a director of the Golden Cycling Club and tasked with trail advocacy. That year, we learned the resort intended to discontinue the biking program due to budget constraints, which came as a real shocker. While the trails at the time were merely fall-line, rock and root infested brake burners, they were better than nothing. They also took pressure off the over-shuttled Mount 7 area, which really was – and still is – the only other downhill area near Golden.
Thanks to some last-minute finagling, we managed to corral 20 dedicated bikers/volunteers in the community to be trained as first-responders. That summer, the bike program ran with only a couple coordinators – including current Mountain Safety Manager Mike Rubenstein, aka “Ruby” – and an army of volunteer patrollers. It was a shoestring operation…for cowboy boots.
Fortunately, things slowly began to improve over the next few years, with a more realistic budget, more full time patrollers and some smart build-for-tickets lures for locals. The product began to evolve, and with it the rider stoke.
I left Golden in 2003 and, needless to say, I was excited when the opportunity came for me check out the old stomping – nay, crashing – ground again this year.
While my usual bike is an all-mountain rig that rips up and down, there’s no question a big bike is a must at Kicking Horse. I was privileged on this trip to have the support of Tyler Merringer from Revolution Cycles in Rossland, BC, who surprisingly agreed to let me race his brand new, pimped Devinci Wilson 4 in Psychosis days following my Kicking Horse reunion. What better way to get dialed on a DH bike than gondola laps of 3,700 vertical feet?! The Wilson is a light, nimble and capable race machine that, in my opinion, is one of the finest looking downhill bikes on the market today. A few days aboard this steed proved my suspicions true.
Joined by Rossland, BC, ripper Matt Titheridge, we were gratefully guided throughout our first day in the bike park by members of the trail crew, patrollers and park managers. It was immediately apparent the trail network at Kicking Horse has come a long, long way. With some judicious use of machinery combined with some excellent vision by Steve Crowe of the 2-person (with patroller help) trail crew, the progress over the past two years is mind-boggling. There is a remarkable mix of beautiful, buff alpine singletrack, berm/jump flow lines, technical root/rock/steep trails and possibly longest rock slabs you’ll find anywhere in BC. Kicking Horse has some of the most diverse riding options I’ve seen anywhere – and it’s getting better all the time.Trail highlights for me include
Northern Lights to Dirt Devil to Magic Carpet Ride or Time Traveller: perhaps one of the most picturesque, flowing alpine DH trails anywhere. These trails snake down through the heather and dwarfed trees of Crystal Bowl and into the trees where small, flowy stunts and steep sections finish the line.
Chute to View/Home Run: similar to the above, but closer to CPR ridge and amid a beautiful babbling brook at the end. Am I waxing poetic? – yes, it’s that good.
Blaster to the new section on Pioneer: Blaster combines buffed, big flowing berms with smaller drops and some wood features It links into the old race run on Pioneer – take the first right off Pioneer and you’re treated to a long rock slab followed by an elevated wood berm…and further down a HUGE double spiral bridge feature ending with a drop. Excellent craftsmanship!
Showdown to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Built last year, Showdown was a huge undertaking and cut out a significant amount of dirt road to get to the lower trails. It is a fun, flowing berm/machined run with intermittent small jumps, finishing at Rock ‘n’ Roll – a true classic with amazingly long and technical rock slabs.
Super Berm: It has to be ridden to be appreciated. This seemingly endless track of berms and small jumps is a hoot. Maximizing the use of a perfect pitch, Super Berm has evolved to become a key staple of the Kicking Horse experience. It’s a welcome break from some of the challenging singletrack above, and is purely fun. Some more work to the jumps for consistency will make this a classic.
Bufflo Jump: a new section has transformed this older trail for the better, providing finishing options on the dual slalom course or on the big dirt Jump tables, which boost nicely and will improve as they settle in over time.
While the trail riding experience is worth its own price of admission, one can’t write about Kicking Horse without mentioning the overall experience. The Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is one of the finest places to eat lunch (or dinner) anywhere. The glorious view of the surrounding Selkirk and Rocky Mountains will bring cheers all around, and it’s a welcome reprieve from the sweltering summer heat in the Valley. The food is second to none.
The plaza at the mountain base has matured nicely, with grocery and liquor stores, a full service bike shop, coffee shops and other shopping opportunities, it’s now a destination unto itself. To say cold beer for sale at the bottom was convenient is an understatement…
And for those on the family trip, there are seemingly endless activities to keep everyone busy. In addition to biking (there’s also some excellent cross-country in the Moonrakers nearby), you can join an interpretive tour of the Grizzly Bear Refuge where you can see Boo, the resident grizzly, or do some gondola-access hiking, river rafting on the Kicking Horse River, jet boating on the Columbia, fishing, para-gliding, canoeing, golfing, wetland tours, horseback riding, rock climbing…get the picture? There’s good reasons that Golden is a mountain lifestyle town.Enjoy the video of us playing too!
While some aspects of the Kicking Horse riding experience are still a little rough and it can certainly buck (I’ve got the bruises to prove it), what the bike park crew has accomplished in recent years is unreal. The trails are challenging, diverse and super fun. The Horse is about the whole experience – the riding, the mountains, the food and drink, and casual atmosphere. I guarantee after your first lap you’ll feel like you’ve just ripped down a BIG mountain. I certainly look forward to saddling up for a ride on the Horse again and, judging by the breeding of the past few years, it’s safe to say the best is yet to come.
Come on and join us
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (www.kickinghorseresort.com
Revolution Cycle (www.revolutioncycles.ca
Matt Titheridge – bicycling model, race support, beer consumer
Tyler Maine – man about trails, inadvertent king pin
Tyler Merringer– brave bike loaner, rider for all the right reasons
Jordan, Ruby and Steve – Horses’ behind, er, folks behind the Horse
Shannon, Andrew, Chloe and Ayra – mountain lifestyle family exemplar
Nicola, Bodhi and Samara – pit crew for life