Clockin’ Vert and Crunchin’ Dirt: A First Timer’s Guide to Mountain Biking in Fernie, B.C.
How pro snowboarder Austen Sweetin learned to love mountain biking—and discovered one of the last true mountain towns at the same time
Kodak Portra 400
I’ve never really owned a mountain bike, nor have I ever been on a mountain biking trip. But things are about to change.
There’s a beautiful thing about mountain biking that we can all relate to—pure outdoor enjoyment. I grew up snowboarding and now spend my winters riding professionally. My summers are spent skating and chasing waves. With a long history of outdoor living and thrill seeking I’m always keen to try new ways to go fast and catch air.
The opportunity to do so recently materialized in the form of a long weekend with our friends at Specialized in my new favorite mountain town, Fernie, British Columbia—a quaint little town tucked away in the Canadian Rockies miles off the well traveled path.
Born from coal mining and released of its curse in the 1960s as it began to evolve into an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, Fernie is what I’d call the perfect town.
Surrounded by mountains, the mountain resort is just minutes from town, offering endless bike trails ranging from groovy scenic rides to full throttle downhill gnar. And if that quick drive is a little too far for you, the local bike park is just a few blocks’ pedal away at the bottom of the Montane trail network, where our adventure began.
It wasn’t long into my first day of riding the new Enduro that I realized some surprising parallels between mountain biking and snowboarding. You pick your line and go, using all the terrain that gets in your way to bank a turn or pump for speed. And if all goes right, a permanent smile will be plastered on your face for the rest of day.
"When you align the power settings and gears just right, you feel like Superman."
The following day we decided to speed things up and ride two of Specialized’s new e-bikes, the Levo and Kenevo. As my first time riding an e-bike it was so much different than I anticipated. They don’t ride like a motorized bike, but more like a mountain bike on steroids.
As I quickly learned, the e-bike only works as hard as you do—it amplifies the pressure you put on the pedals by one to three times, depending on preference, allowing you to go further and ascend faster, while still keeping traction (helping prevent trail damage) and climbing more efficiently. When you align the power settings and gears just right, you feel like Superman.
Now I’ve heard a lot of people talk bad about e-bikes, and though I can’t speak to all concerns, I did learn to appreciate the machines for what they really are—tools for making certain activities more accessible.
There’s a growing culture of trail builders using e-bikes to haul tools without burning all their energy, making it easier to build and maintain more trails in less time.
Park Rangers have also taken to e-bikes for transportation throughout the parks and trails they monitor, allowing them to respond quicker to search and rescue and to cover more ground more efficiently. And if you’re just starting to mountain bike, they allow you to keep up with the pros, or that really fast friend you always want to ride with, without getting left in the dust.
After two days of action packed trail riding I began to see mountain and e-bikes as a new way to see the forest, the mountains, and the lakes that are just a little too far away. Which is exactly what we did. And while we were lucky enough get in the saddle of some of the highest performing mountain bikes out, it was the experience of exploring nature from a new perspective that I valued most.
Mountain biking may seem intimidating, but it’s only as intimidating as you make it—I’d encourage everyone to give it a shot. Start small and work your way up. And just like hiking, you don’t need the newest gear to have fun. Just the right attitude. Whether you’re looking to explore your own back yard or go out and ride rad new trails, it’s a good way to get active and enjoy some fresh air.
6 Suggestions for New MTB Enthusiasts:
Scout trails before riding so you don’t drop into heavy terrain blind. And don’t be afraid to walk down sections too steep for your liking.
Raise your seat when ascending to make the climb much easier, and lower it when descending to improve comfort increase control. (New specialized bikes have a thumb lever on the left handle bar that lowers and raises it for you. Pretty neat eh!)
Open your hips when going around a corner and point the knee in direction of your turn. This allows you and the bike to turn more fluidly.
Get to know your surroundings. Reach out to locals and gather info on nearby trails to better familiarize yourself when riding. Even though you’re on trail, it’s still easy to get lost in unknown territory.
Bring a small backpack or fanny pack for your daily necessities—water, snack bar, extra inner tube, and a spare layer if its a colder season.
Only do what you’re stoked to do, and you’ll have the best day ever! If you’re stoked on cruising mellow fun trails, go out and rip a nice loop and see the sights. If you’re stoked on crunchin’ dirt and clockin’ vert, get out there and find some double black single track. And if you’re somewhere in the middle then follow your tires to a loop that has it all!
- Bonus: If you’re in Fernie, be sure to grab a delicious bagel breakfast sandwich from Big Bang Bagels and a smooth cup of coffee from The Valley Social Company.