A Front Country Adventure in Mountain Biking BC's Sea-to-Sky Corridor


Too busy working, fixing your bike, and looking after the kids all week to plan your riding getaway this weekend? This article series does all that work for you. We give you 4 different trip itineraries, each one showcasing a unique riding experience in the Sea to Sky. Every itinerary is designed for a different type of rider and a distinct experience, they are curated around a 3.5 day get-away and are designed to be “grab and go”. We aren’t taking bribes or getting paid by businesses to tell you what to do, we just live here, like these spots, and think you will too. If you are already a “local” these might still be worth checking out, we could have some refreshing ideas for: rides, coffee, beers and apres eats. Or just skip to the comments below and tell us what a S*** job we did.This third installment, the Front Country Adventure, serves to satiate your appetite for adventure, while not totally draining your wallet. We cannot say the same for your legs and your lungs, this is a big weekend of riding that will test even the fittest of mountain bike enthusiasts. If this doesn’t sound like your style, don’t worry, our fourth and final itinerary for the Frequent Visitor is toned down on the pedaling, but still packed with some rad local trail insight, so stay tuned.The itinerary you are about to read contains some of the most technically challenging trails in the Sea to Sky corridor, and should only be attempted by riders with advanced to expert technical abilities. We aren’t kidding, this shit is legit. There are a collection of seriously spicy moves on these trails that are hours away from a paved road, let alone a hospital, so fair warning. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, have ‘atter! You are in for an eye opening experience that you will tell your friends about over beers for weeks to come.

The trails you will be riding in this itinerary are maintained by committed volunteer builders with some help from both PORCA and WORCA. Please be respectful of the trails, pack in what you pack out, and buy a trail pass to help support the local trail organizations.

Day 0

Day 1

Today we start things off with a bang. Jack the Ripper is the longest ride of this itinerary and the trail itself is steeped in mountain bike lore. The ride from the MacKenzie Trail Head takes easily 5 hours while moving at a steady pace, but this can quickly turn into a full 8 hour affair. Your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views of the Pemberton Valley, Lillooet Lake, and some incredible trail that passes through seriously enchanting sections of forest. Those foolhardy enough to attempt it, will be rewarded with a seriously long descent, ~1,200m sprinkled with steep technical chutes, gnarly rock faces and some punchy climbs to keep you honest. JTR is an extremely challenging, remote trail so prepare yourself accordingly, advanced to expert riders only. Seriously.The story of the trail’s construction, as we have heard it, goes as such. Pre 2008, the trail was originally named Titties and Beer, was very primitive and difficult to access due to its remote nature. This changed in 2008 when ski legend Jack Hannan moved close to the bottom of the trail and began working on making it more rideable, largely by himself. After a year of work, he convinced 10 friends to attempt the ride with him, leaving out the fact that the entrance was largely unfinished. Tragically, Jack died in an avalanche in March of 2010. Later that year, once the snow melted off Titties and Beer, his friends returned to the trail to finish the build and re-named it Jack the Ripper to commemorate his life.We always have a seriously big breakfast before attempting JTR and Grimm’s Deli is our go to Pemberton greasy spoon. A serious selling feature of Grimm’s is it opens at 6am every day but Sunday, so you can get the early start you need to complete your ride before dark. If you are a coffee snob, stop at Mount Currie Coffee on your way to, or from breakfast as you won’t find a no-fat hazelnut americano misto at Grimm’s.Once you are fed and caffeinated, head to the Mackenzie FSR trailhead, a few kilometers north of town. Your ride will take you back here, so put some beers in the cooler and have a couple bags of chips ready for your return.

The ride starts with roughly 3-5 hours of climbing up Nimby to Middle Earth, past the upper paraglide launch and all the way to the end of the Mackenzie FSR. Then you start your final climb up Xtratron, the most technical ascent of the whole ride. Full disclosure, you will end up hiking. Rumor has it that the climb was cleaned as recently as the spring of 2018, but this is something we have yet to complete or witness.

Day 2

If it’s summer, it’s liable to be pretty damn hot, much of this climb is south facing and bakes in the sun. It is likely that you will happen to be running low on water by the time you hit the Flank, but don’t fret, you will be crossing a creek shortly. We drank out of this creek all summer without any negative consequences, but we have stomachs of alley cats so don’t be as stupid as we are. Treating this water will ensure you are able to keep your dinner down later and actually enjoy the rest of your weekend. It is also highly likely that the bugs will be horrendous from this point on in your ride, so best to break out that bug repellant we told you to pack and lather up. Hopefully one of your riding buddies is of a fairer complexion than you, or you swapped their bug spray with sugar water, and they are attracting all the bugs.

In addition to the bugs, this next section of the climb is savagely steep, and just when you think it levels out, it only gets steeper, and just when you feel like the worst must be over, it gets technical. If you manage to clean this climb first try, kudos!

Day 3

After breakfast, park at the base of the Cougar Mountain FSR, you will pedal up this rather grueling road for 4km. Yes, this road is largely shuttable if you are totally cooked, but where is the fun in that. Gargamel was built by Tyler Morland and local crew including Ian Ritz and Sean Dinwoodie of Chromag, and so many more. They started ~2001 and it took Morland and co three seasons to build between him working at Evolution Bike Shop and racing downhill bikes. Gargamel was made famous when it and Tyler were featured in The Collective, arguably the most recognized mountain bike video of all time.Most of the wood features have since dilapidated, and lots of the loam has disappeared, but the trail flows as well as ever, largely thanks to the more recent work of another Whistler resident, and former Mayor. In 2012, Ken Melamed, father of EWS racer Jesse Melamed, put over 100 hours into resurrecting Gargamel to its current state.

Navigation to the entrance of Gargamel is pretty easy, ride to the top of the Cougar Mountain FSR and the trail leads off the dead end of the road. The first 750m of the trail is rolling, with some slightly technical climbing and short descents to get you warmed up before the true top of the trail.

Bike selection and Setup

Mark and I both rode our Specialized Stumpjumpers, but with some slight modifications to make them more equipped to handle the long, smashy descents. Here is what we would suggest, some of them are more extensive and expensive than others.

1. Heavy duty tires, or Cush Core front and rear: We rode Gargamel 7 times this season, and every time at least one person got a flat tire.

2. Bump your fork travel: Have we mentioned these trails are steep, and rough? Well they are, so this tactic can help you get your bike a bit more tuned up for these wild trails, and hopefully keep you from going over the bars too many times. Depending on your fork, adding 10mm to your travel could be as easy as an internal adjustment, done at your local suspension service center, or after 6 beers and a couple of minutes on Youtube. Sometimes you might need to change the air shaft, which gets a bit more expensive, or sometimes you are just out of luck.
3. More stack height and/or a high rise handlebar: If changing your fork travel is out of your budget, increasing your stack height, aka adding more spacers under your stem and above your top tube can help improve performance on steep tracks. Start with 5mm, it makes more of a difference than you might think. Higher rise handlebars achieve essentially the same outcome, as sometimes there isn’t enough steerer tube on your fork to raise your cockpit as high as desired, making this a good alternative.
4. Shorter stem: You can run any stem you like, so long as it is a maximum of 50mm in length. A shorter stem will drastically improve how your bike handles in the steeps.
5. Smaller chain ring: Unless you are a seasoned Sea-to-Sky climbing veteran, it is likely that you will want to run a front chainring that is 32T or smaller. Mark runs a 34T chainring and never uses his 50T on his cassette, but he’s a showoff.
6. 200mm Front and Rear Rotor: The sustained steeps of these trails mean you will be on your brakes more than you are likely used to. More braking means more heat, more heat means your rotors are hot and your brakes lose performance as you descend the trail. This is NOT ideal. If you aren’t already running a 200mm rotor up front, then we would HIGHLY suggest this at the very least, but both front and rear is favourable.


Special Thanks to Sea To Sky Biking
MENTIONS: @MountainBikingBC