Friday, November 14, 2014

Never stop exploring: the Yukon Territory.


For years I’d heard the stories from close friends who’d lived in the Yukon, friends who described the place passionately with hands and arms flailing and eyes wide open and alive, “the views are like nothing you’ve ever seen with endless untouched forests, pristine rivers and lakes and big and inviting mountain ranges everywhere,” they’d tell me. “You can basically walk out your door to 1000 miles of nature all around you.” I listened with keen interest as I’ve always been into outdoor adventure. 


And then came the larger-than-life stories of characters that they’d met in the Yukon. “There’s this one guy that I became friends with who’s a total animal on skis,” recalled Anthony, who’s now back in Montreal. “Basically he was this unknown and unassuming guy who all but walked out of the woods and decided on a whim to compete in a national cross-country race and he destroyed the world-class field of competitors. And he did the same thing in a cross-country mountain bike race too. We climbed and skied all kinds of mountains together - you have to meet him!” The stories continued, the years passed and as it happens, these friends of mine no longer live in the Yukon.

Then I met Ray. Ray is one of the most passionate and warm-hearted people that I have ever crossed paths with. And guess what? He told me similar stories – the epic adventures to be had, the amazing people and the unreal natural landscape all around. And just like my friends before, when he described the Yukon he spoke with reckless passion – arms flailing and eyes glowing - he was practically dancing when he talked about the place. Then he invited me up, and I went. We mountain biked and our trip was magical.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pure riding indulgence.


Food and mountain biking find their heavenly match in Liguria, Italy


“Buon giorno!” Antonio greets me heartily as he looks up from watering his plants, smiling. Our host and chef at the agriturismo "A ca Vegia" doesn't speak a word of English — the norm for most people of the older generations in Italy — but I can tell by his gestures towards the green valley bathed in sun that he is admiring another perfect-weather day in Liguria.

Downtown Finale Lirure is beautiful.
 Our hilltop retreat at A ca Vegia overlooks the township of Finale de Ligure, one of the many towns along the Italian Riviera. Finale is the first stop on Big Mountain Bike Adventures' Bella Rivera DH, a week-long downhill mountain bike tour of the Ligurian coast shuttling some of the country's finest trails, and gorging on arguably the best home cooking in the world.
Mountain biking has existed here since the early '90s with many of Italy's cross-country racers using the hills surrounding Finale as a training ground. But after Canadian freeride pioneers Brett Tippie, Wade Simmons and Richie Schley (namesake for Whistler Mountain Bike Park's "Schleyer" trail) visited Finale to film for the Kranked film series in 1999, the local mountain bikers began to put shovels in the dirt to build their own downhill-centric descents.

Guide extraordinaire Louise. There's no one better to show you the trails, and more.
"(The Kranked crew) rode XC trails jumping from one side of the trail to the other, playing around and having so much fun with their bikes," said Allesandro Molini, a born and raised Finale local and guide for Big Mountain Adventures.
"It was an explosion. After that (the locals) started to build trails just for fun."
Finale de Ligure has since become a popular destination for British and European mountain bikers looking for easily accessed trails and reliable, sunny weather. Trails range from berm-filled downhill descents, jumps and stunts to the 2013 Super Enduro course, all with views stretching along the beaches of the Ligurian Sea.
With as many shuttles as our group can handle, for two days we sample trails that finish either in the town or on the beach, the locals barely noticing trains of riders donning full face helmets and body armour. Bikers are welcome here, providing much needed tourism after years of declining mainstream tourist visits to Italy.

Mid-descent. Yes, that's Finale Ligure way way down there on the Med.
A new destination is on the cards tomorrow, requiring a send off from the hospitable folks at A ca Vegia. Glasses of Prosecco clink as another gargantuan four course meal emerges from Antonio's kitchen.
Good thing we don't have to pedal uphill tomorrow.

The Witching Hour
Driving west along the coast and turning up the steep Valle Argentina, we soon arrive at the tiny crow's nest village of Triora. A dark history permeates the alleys and cobblestone streets, testament to the brutal witch trials held by the Holy Inquisition in the late 16th Century. Today the locals celebrate the morbid legacy of putting the witches on trial and burning witches by selling wart-nosed witch dolls and Halloween decorations year round, as well as celebrating several witch-themed festivals throughout the year.
The steep walls of the valley meant most paths were originally built to traverse the hillsides, used by hunters stalking game and peasants harvesting the numerous chestnut plantations. But the trails are not without their challenging sections; rocks and roots protrude out of the soil and the exposure off to the side requires disciplined braking and line choice. Ancient medieval bridges and simple stone shrines honouring the Virgin Mary are just a few of the historic treasures we pass by as we descend towards the valley floor.

Nice spot to be at the end of the day.
We break for lunch in Triora's town square, the iron sculpture of a hooded witch – complete with cauldron and broomstick – overseeing our four courses of bruschetta, meats and cheeses, pasta and tiramisu. I order a double espresso to shake off the afternoon fatigue, but our first ride after lunch turns out to be a spectacular wake up call.
We descend directly from the restaurant in Triora to the satellite village of Molini, bikes buzzing down the vacant stone walkways. Riding through the town's deserted cobble-stoned alleys with cats scattering into the shadows, you can't help but feel that the souls of those "witches" haunt the place several centuries later.
The hills have their share of history as well. During World War II the area was a staging ground for the guerrilla attacks against Italy's fascist rule, the roads that provide such convenience for shuttling mountain bikers were refined by Nazi Germany to move troops and armour faster inland from the Mediterranean. Now the majority of traffic is relatively peaceful with shuttle vans and motorcycle groups.

A SUPER fun trail deep in Europe's largest beach forest.
 The Santo Spirito Hotel is our dinner and bed for the next two nights, and its chefs have been hard at work to give our hungry group of mountain bikers the meals of our lives, which after Antonio's magic will not be easy.
Two more days of riding and eating lay ahead of me. Without a single hill to climb on this mountain bike vacation, I'll be needing an endurance of a different kind.

For more information on this trip and more, head to the Big Mountain BikeAdventures


Friday, December 20, 2013

10 YEARS.

This is a photo compilation that was posted on Pinkbike.com back in May of this year. We figured that since the year was coming to an end we'd bring it back. Enjoy!

This photo-essay shares a few highlights from Big Mountain Advenures (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.

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.
video
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.

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.

















Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trail X. Riding Costa Rica.

Trail X.
Riding Costa Rica with guide Paulo Valle.

Photos: Anthony Smith, 4color.com
Words: Chris Winter
Seen on bikemag.com 

One thing that makes our sport unique is the different natural landscapes that we traverse on our bikes. Some of us ride the ancient Appalachians and its mixed forests, others spend weekends pedaling the sub-alpine of the Rocky Mountains while flowy Arizona singletrack starts on the end of some of our streets. In certain regions the land changes dramatically from one town to the next and a single ride can offer staggering diversity.
Paulo Valle (trail builder and riding guide) is just like the rest of us, he loves to ride trails and hunt for new zones. His backyard is different than anything that we have in North America. Valle, you see, lives in San Jose, Costa Rica.


For most of us, Costa Rica conjures up images of lounging half naked in the sun on a sandy beach sipping on a cold cerveza after a surf session. Up from the hot coastlines of the Pacific and Caribbean are vast and rugged rainforest-clad mountains and active volcanoes make up one of the most biodiverse places in the world. It’s not uncommon to hear a noisy Mantled howler monkey in the forest canopy, or see a red-eyed tree frog on a giant leaf, or a colorful Scarlet Macaw parrot in the sky above. What people don’t know, along with the amazing biodiversity lies an amazing web of nearly unknown hand-built trails.


As it is for most mountain bikers, land use is a challenge, and it’s no exception in this Central American country where every inch of the land is privately owned or protected and people’s idea of mountain biking consists of dirt roads. To ride good singletrack Valle has had to build his own, and to do this he’s had to network with landowners to earn their trust. Sculpting singletrack in the remote, steep and dense rainforest is no easy task. Maintaining these trails is a whole other matter in a place where tremendous buckets of water fall during the rainy season, and plants grow like they’re on steroids. After the rains stop, Valle and his team of machete-wielding locals disappear into the forest to clear the new growth and shape the newly eroded sections so that bikes can flow down the mountains. Considering the great effort that has gone into building and the lack of bikes that the trails see, one feels privileged to ride good singletrack in Costa Rica.


In his proud and understated manner, Valle has designed and diligently built an impressive web of fun and technical trails over the years. His creations reflect the way that he rides; strong like an ox on the climbs and equally so on the descents. Don’t expect to find a map or to drop into a San Jose to lead you to the goods, Valle’s had to keep his bounty under the radar to satisfy the landowners and keep the masses from schralping it. There is an exception however; you can explore the unique landscape of Costa Rica on Valle’s trails with the man himself by contacting Whistler-based guiding company Big Mountain Adventures who offer downhill and all-mountain trips exclusively with Valle.
From your backyard trail to Valle’s, we are all inherent explorers and we long to ride our bikes in new terrain.

A bit from the guide, Paulo Valle:
I’m a bit perennial rider, I been biking since I was a kid. I started riding BMX and then mountain bikes in the early 90’s. Having gears on my bike really opened a whole new world to me.
Thanks to mountain biking, I have met some great friends and travelled to many unreal places. As a former racer, what I’m most proud of is to be able to ride as much as I want without having a number plate on my bike or aiming for a finish line.
Geographically Costa Rica is a small but very intense country, you can drive coast to coast in four hours and in between there is nothing but mountains, some as high as 3,800 meters (12,400 feet). Most people come to Costa Rica for the beaches, but there are many unexplored gems higher up.
There a lot land access issues in Costa Rica. Basically, public land doesn’t exist. I wish that we had as much public land as other bigger countries, but somehow I also think that our shortage of public land makes trail riding here more special.


A great trail should be a mix of vertical drop, flow and challenge. Put it in a jungle rainforest in the middle of nowhere and it makes it even better. That’s what we ride here.
Ride in Costa Rica and you feel like the trail was built exclusively for you, on areas that even the Lonely Planet doesn’t know exists. You’ll feel the country’s real vibe from the land and the locals that helped give Costa Rica the title of the “happiest place on earth.” Pura Vida!
It’s always warm here. If you are from the northern hemisphere, it doesn’t sound too bad to take a break from freezing temperatures during the winter and go biking where the sun is shining.
Cross-country riding is actually quite popular in Costa Rica. To most of the local riders, cross country means dirt roads. Road riding is also a very big scene here.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Summer guide profile: Pete Gaston & Mathias Marschner

Pete Gaston, 26, lives in Aspen, USA. When not riding in the high mountains of Colorado Pete is right at home in the Alps. His favorite place to ride? Zermatt, Switzerland. When not guiding for Big Mountain Adventures in Europe Pete can be found climbing and skiing throughout the winter as a Salomon Freeskiing athlete. Pete and his brother John also founded Strafe Outerwear, a technical snow sports outerwear company. Pete will be co-guiding our CrossAlps trip, August 17-25 and our Swiss Cloudraker trip, September 2-10. 

Pete Gaston, right at home in the Alps.


46 year old, Munich-based Marschner did his first north to south trans-alp mountain bike crossing in 1999. Since then he’s ridden across the Alps annually on a variety of different routes. The route on this CrossAlps trip is the result of a culmination of these years of exploration. His philosophy of guiding and riding are summed up in three words: bike, nature and soul. Mathias is at the helm of this year's CrossAlps trip, August 17-25.

Mathias cleaning up before the big descent.

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Every Ride Has a Story: Chris Winter scopes the Dolomites