The Mountain Bike Life

Last post I took you along on our first week of summer holiday in Jasper National Park. While we admittedly didn’t do as much riding in Jasper as we (read: Rivers) would have liked, that decision was made in part because we knew week two of our holiday would be more ride-focused, including two days back at Silver Star Mountain Resort.

Speaking of ride/rider-friendly, check out this cool pub in Kimberley, BC

Before we get to the riding though, I want to include a little shout-out to Kootenay Cycle Works in Kimberley, BC. I am working on a full post on bike shops and the issues I’ve seen and experienced with them, so for today let me just say KOOTENAY CYCLE WORKS, YOU ROCK! You are what a local bike shop should be.

Moving on down the road, after enjoying the generous hospitality of family and friends, we headed back up to Silver Star Mountain Resort. I loved Silver Star last summer. It was my first lift-assisted riding experience, and I felt challenged and exhilarated. That this visit wasn’t quite a repeat of that joy doesn’t detract from my recommendation that beginner riders and those who ride with them check out Silver Star; that recommendation just comes with some caveats now.

Oh how I love a good bike lift. 

One of the things I loved about Silver Star last year was that, unlike Vancouver Island, it has true beginner runs. Again this year I put in a full day of riding said runs (six runs; 42 kilometres; 3 hours of moving time) and enjoyed it, but realised a few things:

1. There are really only two full beginner runs at Silver Star, plus a couple of access points, short runs, and joins between trails. Of the two top-to-bottom runs, Paradise is basically a flowy, gentle road. It’s lovely and a great place to start, but it’s really just a place to blow the rust off and build your confidence if you haven’t been riding a lot lately. It gets pretty dull pretty fast. Don’t let yourself get too stuck here doing what’s easy.

The most exciting part of Paradise: Yes, that is a black bear napping under the tree. And yes, I am using Rivers as a human shield. 

2. Challenger is much much more fun, but not if you haven’t been riding much this year, and not if you’re at all rusty or unsure. It may not be steep but there are some nasty rocks at the top, and they can shake your confidence (I HATE those kind of rocks and accessed Challenger via Paradise after the first run). Of these two main beginner runs, you’re going to be much happier if you warm up on Paradise rather than on Challenger. I did it backwards and am still bearing the bruise from panicking (aka slamming on the brakes and almost getting bucked over my handle bars) where I didn’t need to.

Challenger is called Challenger a) because it builds your skills with berms, bridges, single-track, and some lulls in between to catch your breath and b) because it has little intermediate alternative routes where you can challenger yourself when you’re ready, or where your long-suffering boyfriend can deke off and have a little more fun. It gets funner and funner as the day goes on, until you realise you’ve spent the whole day riding the same runs over and over.

One of the smoother sections on Challenger.

I really enjoy Silver Star, but if we were to go back for a third time, I would need to do enough riding in the meantime to graduate to intermediate runs. I was really disappointed with the condition of the trails this year. I don’t know if it’s because Silver Star is getting more popular or from some other factor, but the braking bumps on the trails were really irritating (and yes, I do need new forks). Having your whole body shaking over the bike version of rumble strips is really tiresome. The only good to come out of the braking bumps is that I finally learned to ride high on the side of most berms in order to have at least a few seconds of smooth riding.

This year Silver Star announced that they were re-opening some cross-country trails from the 1990’s. In the interest of research, we decided our second day at Silver Star would be a cross-country one; let’s just say that the trails are a work-in-progress (in fairness, the website mentions this). We rode one short loop before I decided cross-country riding was not for me and I’d rather just go take pretty pictures of flowers. Rivers stuck it out and explored some more, but vague trail marking and incomplete trail builds left him disappointed and, at one point, briefly lost. According to Rivers, “the one black trail was fun, but everything else is just decommissioned road.” I’m sure they’ll keep working on those for future years, but I think I’ll just stick to downhill when I have the chance.

Mountain wild flowers – way more appealing to me than sweaty cross-country trails. 

If you’re looking for reasonable accommodations in the village, I recommend Firelight Lodge and Silver Star’s mid-week stay/ride 3-for-2 package. We booked late and ended up with a studio unit this year instead of a bachelor; we won’t do that again. There’s only about $25 difference and bachelor’s have a full kitchen, many of them have barbecues, and some have jacuzzi tubs. After two days of riding, your own jacuzzi is a really nice feature.

Everything you need in a condo … including a pretty view. 

One fun discovery at the end of this stay was a ten-pin bowling alley under the Firelight Lodge – actually, it’s a bowling alley/ice cream shop/cocktail lounge. Since the nearest ten-pin bowling to where we live is a two-hour drive we checked it out. We are definitely not Fred Flinstones (I won, just in case you’re wondering), but it was a fun way to spend an hour on our last holiday evening. For people who might be visiting the mountain with a group of friends or younger families it’s a fun change of pace.

One final final note – last year I mentioned that we were disappointed with the food in Silver Star village, and in particular with the lack of gluten-free options. The Saloon has since changed ownership, revamped their menu, and offer a wide variety of delicious, healthy gluten-free options. As well, the (slightly pricier) Bulldog Amsterdam Café clearly indicates on the menu all of their gluten-free options. Kudos to both establishments for stepping it up.

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