bikes canada general snow trip reports

Lake Minnewanka bikepack overnighter

Last October I attended (and presented at) the Canmore Bikepack Summit – which I still need to write about, but that’s another story. But that led to meeting a lot of very awesome folks who were keen to get out bikepacking, and to me volunteering to host a couple of local overnighters, throwing the invite open to whoever wanted to come.

And that is how I came to be preparing to go bikepacking when there was a snowfall warning, threats of 20cm or more of snow, and a likely overnight temperature in the vicinity of -20oC.  Despite the weather forecast, it looked like the five others who’d registered an interest were still keen. We kicked around the idea of shortening the ride, camping somewhere else, but in the end, decided to just go ahead with it.

On Saturday morning Kat and I accepted the very kind offer from Guy for a lift up to the Goat Creek trailhead. Lazy? Yes. Cheating? Sure. But we’d both been feeling a bit like we were coming down with colds, it was very snowy, and the road up the pass can be very busy on a Saturday morning. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it.

This was Kat’s second time on a fatbike – but what better way to learn how to ride one?

And so Team Canmore set off at around 10.15am from the Goat Creek trailhead.  We’d meet the Banff guys up ahead, and Dean was going to be chasing after us from downtown Canmore (after finishing his second breakfast).

There was quite a bit of snow, and it just kept coming down! It was pretty light and fluffy though, and although riding conditions weren’t fast, they were still pretty good.

At one point, miracle of miracles, it even stopped snowing! And there was blue sky! This wasn’t to last though.

Likewise, the freshly groomed perfect corduroy also only lasted a few kilometres. We definitely enjoyed it while it lasted though!

We found Neil while out pedalling the fresh corduroy, and headed on together on the east side of the Spray River.

And then we were five! Rounding up Jeff not too long before getting to Banff Springs Hotel. Well, not that we actually went up there. We cut across below, past Bow Falls and then over the new(ish) pedestrian bridge and into town.

And to Wild Flour Bakery! I swear I need to get a sponsorship from this place. It’s amazing. We refuelled, warmed up, and waited for Dean. Then wandered down to the bike store, browsed, then returned to Wild Flour for our second visit, this time with Dean. There were six of us then, and we were ready to roll!

Biking out of Banff towards Lake Minnewanka, the stretch with all the traffic isn’t the most fun, especially when the shoulders are coated in slushy snow. But before long we were onto the Minnewanka road, the traffic died down, and riding conditions improved.

I was even feeling pretty good about the speed we were moving along at, until a runner starting overtaking us. It was just on the uphills though. Mostly.

But finally, we’d made it! We were at Lake Minnewanka, with over two hours until sunset up our sleeves. (And I clambered up a snowy bank to take the below photo, post-holing through snow up to my thighs, and narrowly avoiding slipping to my doom).

The good thing about being overtaken by a runner, is that you can then accost him and demand request politely that he take a group photo of the bunch of mad fatbikepackers.

Thanks to some very lovely snowshoers (we didn’t actually meet them, but they could have done their own grandmother in for the life insurance and I’d still think they were lovely, snowshoers do such a wonderful job of packing down trails)… but as I was saying, thanks to some very lovely snowshoers, we had nicely packed trail to ride for the first few kilometres.

Although things got a little wobbly on the descent down to the lake. Well, I wasn’t paying attention, pedal struck on a rock and fell down the hill a bit. Snow is wonderfully soft though. Although whatever banged my knee? Not so soft.

Still, it was mostly lovely riding through the forest after that, getting gradually less travelled the further along we rode. The last few kilometres to camp required a lot more concentration to stay balanced on that thin white line, and we were leaving bootprints in the loose snow beneath the bottom of our pedal stroke as the pedals spun around.

Only a couple of deadfall trees to lift the bikes over, and then, the bridge of peril.

After watching Jeff walk his bike across, Dean was considering it dubiously. The bridge never feels terribly solid at the best of times. But in the meantime, Kat happily wandered across the frozen creek below the bridge, and we all followed her lead instead of risking it.

After a final push through deep snow to get down close to the shore, we were clearing tent pads in the forest at the LM8 campground. There was not much more than a few inches of unconsolidated snow there, which was easy to clear. However it was not so easy to drive tent pegs into the frozen ground. And if you could get them in, it was in some cases damn near impossible to pull them out again afterwards!

My little Macpac tent finally got it’s first proper outing in snow in Canada, after being accustomed to lots of ridiculous Australian snow adventures. And our little bikepacking village in the snow was finally set up.

We then spent what seemed like hours melting snow to rehydrate dinners, make tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and prep water for the following day. There was talk of creating a fire, but we were lazy/perspicacious cavepeople and decided the warmest course of action would be to retreat to our tents.

At which point I realised that the patchy cell reception I’d been using entirely disappeared at ground level. After giving up on futile attempts to gain reception by holding my phone to the roof of the tent, I set my phone into airplane mode and settled in for the night.

I was in an old Kathmandu Rumdoodle sleeping bag. I’ve no idea what temperature it was supposed to be rated to. I think Kathmandu was always cagey on that kind of thing, and just called it a snow bag. Well it’s enormous, and very warm if not necessarily very light, and it’s stood me in good stead on a lot of snow camping trips. This one was no exception. I had my Thermarest Ridgerest, and Thermarest Neoair, then the Rumdoodle, and a whole pile of layers of clothes on, and one handwarmer clutched in my hands, and I was cozy and warm sharing the tent with Kat. A small window of skin was exposed to the tent air, and I could feel the cold biting at my nose, but the rest of me was snug and warm. And so I laid and read, and then daydreamed, then slept, then listened to a podcast or two, and somehow it was morning, and I’d had a lovely night’s sleep.

Hearing the others starting to get up, I reluctantly emerged from my sleeping bag, and started the morning routine and the packing up of camp… after first eating the two bars I’d shoved in my sleeping bag so they’d be nice and warm for breakfast (they were).

Eventually we’d all had hot drinks, packed up, and somehow convinced frozen tents to reattach themselves to our bikes. It definitely wasn’t a warm morning, around -22oC according to group thermometers. I was glad there was no wind. Even gladder we managed to avoid having any mechanical issues. There are few things less fun than having to fix a bike at those temperatures.

After the initial push up from camp at LM8 to the main trail, we found it was basically rideable most of the way out. Six idiots had ridden their bikes along the trail yesterday and packed it all down for us.

It was a beautiful still morning, and I was actually feeling nice and warm, without even using any hand/toe warmers. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of layering for fatbiking?

The one part of the ride that of course wasn’t rideable – that final climb up towards the end of the lake.

It was very definitely not rideable. Not for us, not that morning.

But it wasn’t a very long push, then we were back on our bikes and cruising downhill, flying along and maybe giggling just a little.

The ride out was pretty uneventful (thankfully?) – things went smoothly, no wolves, no mechanicals, no freezing to death. And then we were all back in Banff! And it was time to eat lots of food, and then have a lovely warm shower.

Thanks crew – it was a great weekend!

bikes canada general trip reports


S24O stands for sub 24-hour overnight bike camping trip, for those of you out there who aren’t into all the cool acronyms the kids use these days.

After getting the Moosling to bed on Saturday night, I loaded up my bike, and headed out for a solo overnight adventure in the snow – just for fun!

Packing took a while – I’d never packed for an overnight snow camping bike trip before, so it took a little organising to get everything onto the bike. It did fairly simplify things to not really need any food or water (I did bring a thermos of tea though).

I took a fairly direct route, but it was still about 45 minutes of biking to get to my campsite, and then 15 minutes or so to get myself sorted and set up in my bivy in the snow.

But then I was glorious and snug in my warm bivy, and fell asleep to the sound of crackling ice and the distant noise of the highway.

In the morning I was rudely awoken by my alarm at 7.40, with the beginnings of dawn light beginning to show in the sky, but otherwise no difference to falling asleep nine hours earlier.

Twenty minutes to pack up, then I was on the road, and cycling away from a beautiful sunrise.

Successfully back home at 8.50am to be ready to head out skiing for the day at 9am. Brilliant! Must do this again.

bikes canada snow

Festive 500

Riding the Rapha Festive 500 in Canmore seemed like a pretty sketchy idea. To ride your bike 500km outdoors, between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve… well, it can be hard enough when you’ve got a roadbike and no snow. But when you decide to do it on a fatbike, riding on snow, and then add in all the other family obligations, the sub-zero temperatures, the incredibly short daylight hours, and on top of that the high likelihood of snowfall, -30oC days, and illness (because it’s just that time of year). Well, I was kind of dubious about whether the whole thing would ever pan out. But I figured I may as well try.

So this is me, heading out on a nice warm lunch ride a couple of days before the Festive 500 began. Of course, it was nice and warm then. But then it got cold. And snowed.

24th December (57km)
My Festive 500 began with an attempt to get in a morning ride before a day spent with family. I was tired though, and managed to get a flat tyre only 3.5km into the ride, just after hitting singletrack at the Nordic Centre. Who gets a flat tyre on a fat bike? Me apparently. Why? Because I was trying to let a little air out, and managed to mess it up entirely, then not realise what I’d done until it was too late. And of course, I hadn’t brought a pump, because I was riding so close to home, and who gets a flat tyre?

So, ride aborted, I called the return journey hike-a-bike, and jogged my poor bike home again.

I headed out again that evening, in the snow, and rode up and over the pass and south along the Spray Lakes road. It was to be my coldest night of riding, around-20oC. After passing the Nordic Centre there wasn’t another soul on the road. The sky was overcast, no stars, and the world was reduced to the snowy patch of road illuminated by my light.

I rationed my headlight, not sure how long it would last, not sure how long it would take me to ride my planned 50km out and back. Having a headlight is reassuring when you want to check the snowy trees at the side of the road to confirm there isn’t a lurking cougar that wants to eat you. But having a flat headlight is worse than having a headlight that’s turned off, so I kept mine off for much of the ride, turning it on when the trees closed in and the road narrowed.

I had just enough layers to keep warm, with toe warmers in my shoes, and hand warmers shoved in my crop top and my gloves. Despite that, I felt the creeping numbness in my fingers once or twice, and resorted to riding along swinging my arm, forcing blood back into a recalcitrant pinkie, and then dealing with the ensuing screaming barfies as sensation returned. (Screaming barfies is the ice climbing name for this – when the return of sensation is so painful you don’t know whether to scream, throw up, or perhaps both).

25th December (20km)
I wasn’t planning to ride today. I spent the day at home alone with the Moosling, before heading out for a Christmas potluck dinner (I made my first pavlova, woohoo!). But when we got home at 9.30pm, and there was a chance to go for a ride. Sure, why the hell not. So, stuffed full of Christmas dinner, I went for a 20km ride in the dark, fatbiking along snowy trails around town.

26th December (0km)
On solo parent duty all day today. I could have gotten out at 9.30pm again, but by then I was ready for bed, so I decided I’d make up for it by getting up super early tomorrow.

27th December (120.5km)
I completely failed to get up super early. By the time I hit the road it was after 8.30am and the sun was already up! But I had the whole day to try and get in as many kilometres as possible.

First – up and over the pass and away.

I was going to head along Goat Creek and into Banff, and then see what I felt like from there.

Goat Creek was softer than I was expecting! It was the kind of snow where you tend to sink in a little and have to work to keep traction and forward progress. A few times I punched through entirely and came close to spinning out… or did spin out. It was worst between the two main bridges, as I struggled to pick and hold a good line, fighting for every metre.

Progress was slow. There weren’t many other people out. I listened to podcasts with one ear, to the crunching churning of my bike tyre with the other.

In Banff I made a pitstop at the Wildflour Bakery, overwhelmed by all the people in town – so this is where everyone was! Bag stocked up with extra food, and body warmed, I headed out towards Sundance Canyon. An out and back along the Sundance Canyon road was punctuated with my down skirt getting stuck under my saddle, and me, trapped, falling into a flailing mess into a drift of deep snow. Dignified.

After that little episode, I tried heading further west and up to Sundance Lodge, but gave in on the idea as I worked hard through slow, soft snow. The struggle was too tedious, my kilometres too hard won. Instead, I returned to the bakery in Banff again (ahh, more chocolate zucchini loaf, don’t mind if I do!) and then hit the road out to Lake Minnewanka, and then onto the singletrack. The sun was getting low in the sky by now. Well, even lower. It barely scrapes the mountains at the best of times in the depths of winter.

The first few kilometres of Minnewanka singletrack were well packed, highly travelled. But as I rounded the corner and started to descend, things got looser. I then had my best crash of the day, flipping down the lake side of the trail with my bike bouncing after me. Thankfully I was completely fine, although I did startle two riders who had just started heading up the hill toward me.

Riding more carefully, I made it to LM8 (the 8km campground) and back unscathed, then, lights on, belted through town and back along Goat Creek once again.

In the dark, on slow snow, uphill, hungry, it was a long ride home.

28th December (54km)
Today I posted five separate rides to scrounge an additional 54km, and finally make it to the halfway point of the Festive500.

First up, 6km of towing the Moosling to his daycamp with the trail-a-bike mounted on the fatbike. Then another couple of kilometres as I commuted around town for work.

But then a solo lunch ride! Singletrack! Riding in daylight! And through the Christmas grotto up at the Nordic Centre.

Glorious riding, very tired legs. The climbs were much harder than I remember them ever usually being, but the snowy swoopy descents were wonderful.

Then, after work, a failed commute to pick up the Moosling as I snapped my poor neglected, poorly maintained fatbike chain. The walk home with a broken bike in the bitter cold was not fun.

I was still determined to reach the halfway point though – but I couldn’t get out until 9.30pm that night, and still didn’t have a functioning fatbike. So instead when the time came I disappeared into the dark on the studded 29er, heading out along the Spray Lakes road for some mindless kilometres.

29th December (53km)
Another lunch ride at the Nordic Centre, this time with actual company! Riding with Marcus, and a brand new chain on my fatbike! Joy!

That evening, with tired legs, my fatbike and I headed out into the dark yet again for 42km more of evening riding. I headed up the pass with big dreams, but gave in as I started slogging through drifts in the cold, snowy blowy weather, and descended back towards town. There I started picking off random road loops, trails, paths, and essentially doing whatever I could to gather some easier kilometres. But there are no easy kilometres riding on a snowy night on a studded fatbike.

30th December (82km)
Another lunch ride, more sunny kilometres! This time with Allan, my most usual riding buddy (and also my Strava certified training parnter of the year).

A long lunch break was enjoyed, weather and conditions were wonderful. And did I mention it was sunny?!

That evening I headed out after work for my penultimate Festive500 pedal, wandering out along Spray Lakes road again because it was in such great shape. I was thinking of heading straight back to my house once I got back into Canmore, but instead I was lured across town to enjoy some apple pie, along with a mug of hot chocolate and Baileys courtesy of Allan and his family (and the other red wine drinking folks who were at the dinner party I crashed!). That all meant quite a few extra bonus kilometres, as well as finishing off the ride feeling warm and rather pleased with myself!

31st December (114km)
A 7.30am departure from home, as I was hoping to be done early. The sunrise pinkened clouds as I rode up the pass.

One of the problems with starting in Canmore at sunrise on a clear day is the compulsion to stop and take photos of the damn scenic mountains everywhere.

Eventually the beautiful morning light faded and I was actually able to settle down and ride my bike for more than a few minutes at a time.

I headed off down the High Rockies Trail. I’d wanted to ride the Spray Lakes Road and jump on the HRT further south, but there was just too much traffic for comfort on the road, so instead I tried to ride the HRT directly from Goat Creek.

This was not a good idea. Sure, it initially seemed like a great idea. But gradually the trail was less and less well packed, and then I was struggling to stay upright in deep unconsolidated trail, and hike-a-biking. Damn. Should I turn back? No, it can’t be too much further.

And so in that way, I lost a lot of my morning to not many kilometres. Once I got to Goat Pond I jumped on Spray Lakes road and pedalled quickly back to the Goat Creek trailhead, and headed out along Goat Creek once again.

There was a lot more traffic today, although it wasn’t really in any better shape, or any warmer.

In Banff, I hit up Wildflour Bakery again, where I was heckled by the Australian cashier for the amount of chocolate items I was ordering – I say what’s wrong with chocolate zucchini loaf, hot chocolate and a chocolate spice cookie?

Then, out and onto the Tunnel Mountain singletrack. Fun, but my legs didn’t have a lot of go in them. By this point I really only had one speed, and it wasn’t very fast. I kept finding excuses to stop and rest – this was not conducive to finishing my kilometres quickly!

Finishing up my Tunnel loop, I returned along Goat Creek as the sun set. It didn’t seem so bad this time, I had skittles with me.

After some internal debate (should I ride the Highline? it would be fun, but oh, my legs were tired) I rode out along the powerline trail and along Loki’s (weee!), out to Three Sisters. It was cold, dark, but I churned through those final kilometres, finishing with a loop around town, and even ending with a bonus kilometre or so padded on just in case.

Done! 501km in 8 days. And the stats?

Ridden at night: 293/500km
Ridden alone: 449/500km
Ridden on my fat bike: 445/500km
Ridden on studded tyres in the snow at below-freezing temperatures: 501/500km


bikes canada general snow trip reports

The return of adventure Sundays

With a knee that was starting to feel a lot better, I decided to make the most of having a whole Sunday to play. First up was a ski at the Nordic Centre, where conditions were surprisingly pleasant – although would certainly have been better if I was skate skiing. The main plan was to keep Miles company as he hit 1000km of skiing for the season.

Next up was loading the fat bike, and then waiting for the road up the pass to clear of crashed vehicles (it had been an icy morning).

A few centimetres of fresh snow on crust made for pleasant riding and clear tracks. There was no-one much else about though. Two bikepackers coming out from the Spray River, and one guy coming from Banff along Goat Creek, and that was it for the whole afternoon of riding. Just me pedalling along with a knee that felt perfect – meditative bliss.

From Banff I headed up along the Brewster Creek trail to Sundance Lodge. Quickly, because I realised I was going to run out of daylight if I wasn’t careful. It was another deserted trail, although in great shape and with plenty of previous fat bike traffic.

On reaching the lodge I paused for a minute to eat a snack, then flew off downhill.

Hurrying back along Goat Creek the light was getting low. It was silent and deserted, but a beautiful evening. And then I came upon a bull elk standing alone in the middle of the trail. We eyed each other. I asked him politely if he could wander into the bushes so I could get by. And waited. Eventually he wandered off, and I rode by.

The descent back into Canmore was achieved with minimal light, but thankfully also minimal traffic. I rolled in the door at 9pm or so, having ridden 92km and still wondering if I should get out and ride another 8km (to make it a round 100km). But I was starving, and out of water, and succumbed the the seductive pleasures of food and warmth – besides, another 8km would have been a contrived addition to a really fun ride.

bikes canada general moosling snow

Family fat biking

We got out on Saturday morning to wander about on the north end of the High Rockies trail, which basically means exploring a few convenient little loops of snowshoe trails, sled dog trails, and the heavily travelled east end of the Goat Creek trail.

The High Rockies trail travels along the western side of the sled dog loop. We did well on the portion that had been travelled by snowshoes, but once we hit the less packed surfaces, we started to have issues with the skinny tyre on the trail-a-bike. It just doesn’t have the float that the fat bikes do. We either need to attach a ski, or find a way to rig a fatter tyre.

We turned back without having got terribly far. Still a fun wander, and it’s great beginner fat biking territory out there. And the scenery is pretty nice too.