Downhill mountain biking is exactly what it sounds like: all the glory of the descent with none of the grind of the climb, which is why it’s so popular as a summer activity. The Whistler Bike Park tends to get all the glory in British Columbia as the place to go for downhill mountain biking. And while it definitely lives up to the hype, the crowds are just as legendary. For a less crowded taste of B.C.’s unparalleled mountain biking, try these quieter small-town locales.
Panorama Mountain Resort
Town: Invermere, pop. 3,300
Panorama is the definition of a small alpine resort. Tucked up in a canyon above the little town of Invermere, it’s literally at the end of the paved road into the mountains, and offers a true village feel with its slopeside accommodation and relaxed scene. In summer, the village boasts tennis courts and mini-golf, rafting on Toby Creek, and a short mini gondola between levels of the village. The T-Bar is one of the best apres bars around, the essence of a small-town ski hill saloon packed with character.
The fiercely independent resort was born as a nonprofit in 1962 by a group of locals with a passion for alpine racing. It was the first Canadian resort to host the World Cup, in 1980, and its slopes have since produced Olympic ski racers like Christina Lustenberger and Benjamin Thomsen.
Panorama has hosted mountain biking in the summers for nearly two decades. Many of its trails are the best of old-school riding: steep, studded with roots and rocks, and punctuated with wood features. Some its trails blend in new styles of flow with berms and jumps, but those are have distinct Panorama character with a more traditional feel.
The mountain recently opened an alpine ride called the Hopeful Trail. Riders can get a $12 single ride ticket for a lift bump up the Mile 1 chair, from which access is a grueling climb with a consistent grade up a logging road. But the reward is more than worth it. The trail has a true backcountry feel to it, and descends through several biomes from alpine to subalpine to forest, crossing basins and creeks. And Hopeful is only the beginning; Panorama has been reclaiming a network of old outfitter trails off Hopeful for remote high alpine riding, which it plans to open next summer.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Town: Revelstoke, pop. 7,500
A relatively new ski hill, Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened in 2007. It became famous through the grapevine of the ski scene for its consistently deep snowpack in combination with the most vertical in North America. But up until very recently, summer operations were at a minimum with hiking and a pipe coaster.
Various bike trails have been built on the mountain over the last decade. But in the tradition of the ambitious human-powered ethos at the base of local Revelstoke culture, all required climbing rather than lift service to access, and most are burly black or double black diamond trails, aptly christened with gnarly names like Crowbar or Pipe Wrench.
That changed July 26, when RMR opened Fifty Six Twenty, its new gondola-served bike trail. Named for the amount of vertical from the top, the trail is 5,620 feet of machine-built flow with berms and jumps for what feels like days.
This isn’t to say that it’s easy access though. In typical Revelstoke style, while bikers can take the gondola most of the way up, getting to Fifty Six Twenty still requires over four miles and 1,700 feet of climbing into the alpine. The climb through wildflowers is well graded, though, and offers incredible views of the Columbia River far below and the glaciated peaks of the Monashees across the valley. Once riders have accomplished that, it’s worth a sustained break at the top to take in RMR’s stunning alpine with its skyline defined by Cartier and Ghost peaks.
And then it’s all about the descent, which is the longest stretch of pure fun that riders can expect anywhere in B.C.
Silver Star Mountain Resort
Town: Vernon, pop. 40,100
The Silver Star Bike Park is well known by locals around B.C. as the best place to go to get comfortable with speed and air. A very different type of riding than the other two, the resort is based in the mountains above the Okanagan valley, a warmer, more arid zone than the jagged peaks further west, with views from the top of Okanagan Lake and gentle gold hills.
Riders can lap the high-speed 6-person chair—Canada’s longest mountain bike chairlift and equipped with the easiest bike mount of all three resorts—and literally feel their speed increase from lap to lap with the repetition of berms and jumps. The Silver Star trail map offers a suggested progression of trails for improving skills from rolling greens through wildflower meadows, fast blues with roller coaster berms, and flowy blacks with big features. The resort also offers coaches for those who are serious about upping their skills.
Silver Star’s combined 125+ kilometers of trails offer more than enough for every type of rider, from families with kiddos to expert bikers. The mountain also hosts a network of cross-country trails, so you can bring your friends who are endorphin junkies to pedal trails while the adrenaline enthusiasts lap the downhill.