There are many stories of multi-use trails losing ground in the mountain bike category, especially in more popular destinations. So it may come as a surprise that one of the most beautiful and most traveled to towns in the world is actually becoming more mountain bike-friendly. Banff, located on the Western most part of the Alberta providence in Canada, is often a bucket list town. In any weather and any season, the town’s center shows off breathtaking views from all directions of the 13 surrounding mountains. The streets are lined with restaurants, gift shops and lodges, while tour busses buzz up the main street in the high-season of summer toting sight-seers from around the globe. But Banff isn’t a tourist trap or just a seasonal hub, thanks to the town’s “need to reside” law—meaning that in order to own property there, one must also work in Banff. Thus, the town has become a multi-faceted community and full-time home to all types of adventurers, with a healthy mountain bike community.
On the day of our ride, we meet in the early afternoon with Andrew Matergio, owner of Banff Soul Ski and Bike—located just one block from Banff Ave. That morning the rain had been heavy, but groups of vacationers in full weather-repellant gear are heading out on rental bikes. Matergio tells us, “Our rental program appeals to all levels of rider, but it is the novice and early intermediate we see renting most often.” The next level, however, is a different story: “Our road rental program sees a more experienced user, but the demand for bikes all around just gets more and more every year.”
The Banff mountain bike scene has been strong for the past 30 years, but has gained more acceptance with Parks Canada in the last six years, due to the efforts of the Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance, aka BVMBA. The BVMBA, founded in 1997, is a volunteer-based group that meets once a week for regular trail maintenance. “Certain people were riding trails that existed, then people started building trails illegally and that created problems within the National Parks because it is illegal. The BVMBA came about when trails started to become decommissioned,” member of the BVMBA Daymon Miller tells us. “Our land owner is the federal government and we have a really good relationship with them because we do fantastic work on maintenance and even some new construction of trails in the National Park. They see the value in MTB maintaining the trails.”
BVMBA also has fans in the town. All the tools and lumber are funded by a consortium of Banff’s most diverse restaurants and clubs. One such business, The Banff Ave Brewing Company even has a community tap beer in which part of the proceeds go towards BVMBA. They also hold fundraisers and have bike poker to raise money. The cooperative nature of the group and the National Parks makes for a harmonious relationship, everyone wins.
As for the experience itself, Miller explains, “One of the beautiful things about riding in the National Park is that on our trails I will seldom see droves of people, because our trails lean more toward cross-country trails so you’ve got to pedal. No shuttling or downhill. So when you do come out here to ride you’re going to have a really peaceful experience.”
After getting fitted on mountain bikes at Banff Soul Ski and Bike, we ride directly out of the shop to the popular Tunnel Mountain Bench trails that overlooks the stunning Bow River and Mt Rundle and Miller’s words are reflected in our own experience.
Images by Rebekah Stevens