Snow Bike Season

By Jon Turk

A few weeks ago, some friends came from out of town and I took them into the Fernie backcountry. After being conservative to test stability, we decided to ski a more committing line at the end of the day. As dusk spread shadows over the valley, we climbed until reaching the ancient limestone cliffs, and pulled off our skins. The slope beneath us was 35 to 40 degrees, steep enough to keep us honest, but not so steep that anyone was gripped. The snow was that magic Fernie cream, denser than Wasatch champagne, but fluffier than the maritime goop in Valdez. Every turn was perfect. When we got to the bottom, Willie gasped, “That was the best run of my life.”

That was before the warm wind and our current snow-drought. Don’t give up on winter, yet. Fernie has more tricks in her stash of secrets and we will be doing the powder thing soon enough. However, in the meantime, there’s a few scratchy turns here and there, but nothing to get excited about.

Wait a minute. There’s always something to get excited about.

Here’s the sequence: When a big dump comes, and avalanche danger is extreme, we ski at Fernie Alpine Resort. When the resort gets tracked up, it’s off to the slack country. When we become comfortable with the stability, we jump on the sleds and go farther out, into the true backcountry. But meanwhile, back in town, the snow shoe folks, hikers, and dogs are out there packing the mountain bike trails for us. It works out just perfect. If new snow doesn’t fall, by the time the back country is getting scratchy, we come back to town, where there is still snow to slide on — or roll over. What difference does it make? The folks at Straight Line Ski and Bike Shop tell me that they can’t order snow bikes fast enough. With huge fat tires and running low air pressure, the bikes cruise and float through the forest. But, a traditional mountain bike with studded tires does the job well enough. Still lines to drop, turns to be had, trees to dodge, cold frosty air to breathe, and good cheer with our friends. And then the snow will fall and we can start at the beginning again.

Linda Morris on a snow bike
Nina Maclean on a traditional mountain bike with studded tires
Meeting on the trail