The Purest Singletrack Mountain Biking Experience in North America?
Grey Mountain – alpine at 900m in Whitehorse.
Editor’s Note: This article is Part 1 of the Yukon Mountain Biking travel feature. Read Part 2 – Carcross here. Photos and videos by Lee Lau and Sharon Bader.
It’s a bold claim to attach a superlative like “the purest singletrack experience” to any place but if any place can earn it; it’s the Yukon. The Yukon’s slogan- “Larger Than Life” is apt. People come here to visit and never leave.
First some geography and numbers. The Yukon is a territory of Canada located north of sixty degrees latitude. About 35,000 people inhabit an area a little larger than the state of California (or 2x the size of the U.K.). The majority of Yukoner’s live in the Whitehorse area. Even so, there aren’t a lot of people here. There’s a lot of room to spread out. More importantly Yukoners are very outdoorsy people. A city of 27,000 people has approximately 200 members in their bike club. City of Whitehorse numbers show that approximately 3/4 of city residents use trails on a regular basis whether for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, ski-joring or running. There are 700km of trails in the Whitehorse area; an insane amount given the size of the city. The City so recognizes the value of trails that it has had a dedicated paid trail maintenance crew for some years.
Video: The creation of Anthony and Alex Starbuck’s starts from sub-alpine in Mt MacIntyre and links up to many of the lower trails. We rode the fresh loam of Starbucks to Goat, a 30 year old trail that was still pillows of lichen, moss and loam. All Hail the Yukon!
Adding to this data the Yukon is not immune to the tendency of Canadians to volunteer time building and maintaining trails. There are a lot of people who are active and the quality and diversity of the trails show their hard work. This trail scene has been developing for over 20 years!
Finally, the very dry climate of the Whitehorse and Yukon area helps. Rolling hills, a near-desert climate (Whitehorse gets the least rain of any Canadian city). Soil that can handle moisture (glacial silt blowing in on westerly winds which carpets the ground has moisture absorbent qualities) all contribute to trail bed surfaces that are basically perfect for creating singletrack heaven.
Sharon and I spent a week in September riding local trails in the Whitehorse/Carcross area. This city of 27,000 people does not seem to sleep in the summer. 20 hours of sunlight in mid-July leaves a ton of time for riding, exploring and generally playing tourist. Even in September we had 15 hours of sunlight.
The Yukon is a big big place.
On this trip we were hosted by Dylan Soo who put us up at the the Yukon Hotels chain who graciously provided us with lodging at their facilities in downtown Yukon at the Best Western Gold Rush Inn. Centrally located, this location had secure bike storage, a restaurant serving dinner and breakfast and walk to amenities access to downtown. Another option had been to stay at Boréale Biking‘s yurts located right next to trails. Boréale is moving to a new, more palatial location closer to Carcross which will be well worth checking out for future visits.
The Trails of Whitehorse
Whitehorse proper has two riding areas. Grey Mountain is a rocky hill east of Whitehorse and is the core of the Yukon trails. A combination of grants, assistance from the City of Whitehorse and a dedicated volunteer crew has established an awesome network of SIGNED trails, mapping/signage trails map and a ton of mountain bike specific, great, fast single track. For the most part trails are human-powered accessed with the exception of the signature Moneyshot alpine descent which drops 700m from the peak of Grey to the Yukon River and which can be accessed by vehicle to a telecom station at the sub-alpine (we rode up though just to keep it real).
Grey Mountain – Whitehorse
Mt. Macintyre (at the cross-country ski hill) is another distinct network. It used to be smaller than the Grey network but now is the focus of a significant number of trails built in there by the City of Whitehorse and volunteers. During our trip we had the privilege of riding Starbucks’s Revenge, a relatively new alpine epic descent from the top of Mt Mac. Again Starbuck’s can be shuttled but again, we rode to the top.
Whitehorse-area riding is mostly smooth, buff cross country interspersed with some more technical trails. The best riding is definitely biased to short-travel light bikes. The trails include old mining access trails, hiking trails and recently, extremely well-built and planned mountain-bike specific trails. Once you get away from the neighborhood trailhead access points expect to see very few people.
Starbuck’s Revenge – Whitehorse
The riding season goes from May to October. The core of the riding season (June – August) has long daylight hours stretching well into the night. Yukoners can knock off work at 5, go for a ride at 6 and finish up at 10 still well in the sunlight — it’s a tough life!
There are many people who visit Canada and think all there is is Whistler, Vancouver and the Rockies; do not discount the Yukon.Whitehorse is a mere 2 hour plane flight north of Vancouver; the same time-wise as the drive on the Sea-to-Sky highway from Vancouver International to Whistler. Now that the Yukon’s Air North flies direct from Whitehorse to Ottawa it seems that Eastern Canadians who want to ride lots of elevation, uncrowded singletrack and experience something different should also be considering the Yukon as an option.
Rental vehicles are easy to come by but should be booked in advance as the Yukon is undergoing a mining exploration boom.
Video: This was shot during the course of a five day biking trip hosted by Boréale Biking. Featured trail systems are Mt. MacIntyre, Moneyshot, the Yukon River trails & various lower Grey Mountain trails including the Boogaloos.
It’s worthwhile mentioning that if you stay with Boréale Biking you won’t need a rental vehicle or even bikes. Boréale provides not just guiding services so you can experience the trails in the best way possible but also pickup/dropoff at the airport.. While some may balk at the cost of a guided trip, sometimes it’s nice to be able to focus on the riding, eating and sleeping and let someone else worry about the logistics. Boréale offers a turn-key package that includes accommodations, food, airport pickup and transportation. If you book with them you will get a discounted airfare on Air North and will also save the vehicle rental fee so take all of that into consideration. In our opinion, it’s a no-brainer to stay with them if you’re flying in or on a shorter visit (Boréale offers long weekend as well as one week packages).
More Useful Information
Boréale Mountain Biking: Go here if you want a turnkey surprisingly affordable, astoundingly fun mountain biking experience in a place that is truly one of the must-see’s for any mountain biker.
Contagious Mountain Bike Club: This is the site for a 200 + person strong riding club of enthusiastic Whitehorse locals.
Award-winning travel and tourism site put together by the Government of Yukon: Many travel sites lack useful information. This is not one of them. It’s pretty much a one-stop site for all information about traveling to the Yukon and tourism-related opportunities for all season; spring, fall, summer and winter, We can’t thank Jim at the Government of Yukon enough for getting us up here so we could discover what the Yukon is all about.
Bike Yukon: This is a fledgling mountain bike portal for the Yukon.
Driving Force Rentals: Covers off your vehicle rental needs.
Air North: Flies you to the Yukon as do other major airlines.