So spring has made a few attempts at breaking through and you’ve dug out the bike from the back of the shed. But where to ride? Which trails are most likely to clear snow first and don’t turn to ugly bogs after the inevitable spring monsoons?
First to clear snow
The following trails usually clear snow fairly quick due to combinations of lower elevations, good soil and sun exposure. Its worth packing a hand saw (e.g. $15 pruning saw) in your backpack for early season riding and earning some karma and rider respect by clearing winter blowdown. Remember to report what you find to bikepirate so others can share the fun (or avoid your disappointment!). If you forgot your saw but found some trees down please report them so a trail society volunteer can get out to clear them, rather than assume someone who has already made tire tracks did the work. You can report blowdown to the appropriate trail association (listed at the end of this article) or to bikepirate who’ll pass on the info.
- Elbow Valley Trail (parts of): with a sunny Southerly aspect, sandy soil and generally low elevations the section from Paddy’s Flats (1.5km West of Station Flats on Route66) to both the high point on the trail and the bottom of the first descent clears of snow very fast and these section are often rideable throughout the winter as well. Download the GPS track for the out+back to the high point on trail and the GPS track for adding on the first descent. The rest of the trail takes a little longer to clear due to some Easterly aspect or poor drainage but the low elevation will open other parts up sooner than most other trails in the area so provided you’re flexible and prepared to turn around when you hit ugly sections then look to explore further west as conditions permit.
- Sulphur Springs (part of): parts of the lower section (see Elbow Valley Trail above) open early as do the super-fun switchbacks west of the Moose Mountain Road. Due to their westerly aspect the switchbacks are often snow free during the winter as well. The only challenge is how to get to them as the mountain road gate is closed until 15 May (annual closure). Strong riders can climb (or push) up the Elbow Valley switchbacks that head west from the 4-way junction at the bottom of the switchbacks down the Ing’s mine parking. Alternatively park at the bottom of Moose Mountain Road and ride up the road for 1 km before turning left onto Elbow Valley trail and heading up (pushing your bike through the snow) and over the hump down to the 4-way junction. Note the upper-east part of Sulphur Springs is shaded and on poor draining soil so takes a lot longer to clear snow and dry out after rainfall so you should avoid trying the full loop until later in the season.
- Riverview: although at low elevation the snow on this trail gets hiker packed over the winter and parts are stubborn to clear snow and even then the age and limited maintenance of the trail mean that many sections hold onto the melting snow and become huge puddles or mud baths. However, it makes a great loop with parts of Elbow Valley back to Paddy’s Flats and is an easier return than climbing back up the rocky section on Elbow Valley. If Elbow Valley was dry and you want an easy route back to Paddy’s Flats give it a go.
- Braggin Rights (East) and Long Distance: this out and back to the north of the West Bragg Creek parking. It faces south and hence clears snow fairly fast. It sees a lot of winter traffic (hikers, fat bikes, studded tires) and is a good option if you fit into one of those categories and the ground is still frozen! For regular bikes and tires you may only get a few kilometres ride in before a combination of snow and steep trail make it too difficult. It climbs steadily and the snow just gets deeper the further you go so don’t make the mistake of thinking it will get any better further up, or trying to loop it for the full Northern Flow Loop. Note the trail turns to a sloppy, greasy mess with melting snow or even modest amounts of rain so it is a bad choice after a Chinook or recent downpour. Also Braggin Rights West of the Long Distance junction holds snow longer than you’d expect and suffers from ephemeral flow in the Spring making it a sloppy mess in the melt or after rain.
- Powderface Creek to Prairie Creek Loop (via the link): this one takes a little longer and you may hit some snow going over the link but the trail is wide and battle hardy so worth considering. If you hit snow early on going up Powderface Creek it ain’t getting any better higher up so be prepared to bail out and try one of the earlier options. Remember to check the trail reports and report what you find!
Quick to dry out
Uh, hit by a Spring Monsoon? Make sure to check the great links on the trip planning page to see how much rain fell in the area. The nearest weather station to the Moose/West Bragg area is the Elbow Ranger station (right next to Station Flats).
The precipitation info has a 2 hr+ delay so bear that in mind and also check the radar and short-term forecast to see what you may experience while you’re out on your ride (being caught half way down Moosepackers with your car at Station Flats in a hail storm ain’t much fun!). It usually rains a lot more around Moose mountain than in Calgary and snow may have fallen higher up (check the following link to see what Moose Mountain looks like and read locals tweets – if you can’t see the mountain that probably means its raining hard, if it’s looking very white then yep you guessed it – fresh snow!). www.braggcreek.ca/weather
About twice a year Calgary gets walloped and Moose Mountain area stays dry – those days are SWEET!
Take 2 minutes to check the info a few hours before you plan to ride. Adjust the last trail report info taking into consideration the precipitation amounts and drying time that has occurred since it was posted, check the forecast (radar is best) and use the info below to gain some local knowledge on where your best options will be. Let’s keep the trails in great condition and ride with respect for all the volunteer hours that go into creating and maintaining our great network.
The following trails are quick to dry out after rainfall with a varied combination of good drainage soil, good drainage design or battle hardiness! Note all of these can be accessed from parking along Route 66 (Station Flats, Paddy’s Flats or Ing’s Mine), from West Bragg there are no good options after heavy rain.
- Fire Service Roads: OK, OK, they suck but if you forgot to check precipitation amounts and didn’t realize it rains a lot more in the mountains than in Calgary and find yourself about to trash some buff trail then please consider getting in your riding fix on the FSRs. The Husky road and Canyon Creek both dry quick and even Moose Mountain road can be ridden soon after rainfall now that it has had ditching down the side. The West Bragg FSR is a whole different story though and is a mud bog for days after even modest rain.
- Elbow Valley, Sulphur Springs (parts of) and Riverview. For detail, refer to above.
The next few take a little longer, are less battle hardened and/or trails that volunteers spend a lot of time maintaining so please be willing and prepared to bail out and knock out your kilometres on the FSRs if you find a trail in poor condition. Again all accessed from Route 66, parking as above or at Allen Bill.
- Pneuma: Above upper Sulphur to Moosepackers (the bottom sections take longer). Elevation and gravity are your friends here as the middle+upper sections actually dry out quicker than the lower-flatter section (provided the precipitation wasn’t snow!)
- SHAFT: maybe a bit hardcore for most XC riders (and their bikes) but if you hit some mud on Pneuma and wisely bailed onto the road then consider SHAFT as your route down from the top rather than Moosepackers and Ridgeback. SHAFT is quicker and way more techy fun that Moosepackers and Ridgeback and dries quicker than parts of Ridgeback. Great work by MMBTS!
- Lookout road down to Moosepackers and Moosepackers: usually a few streams on the old road part but mostly a path around them and the road is very battle hardened anyway. Note you’re up pretty high here and most of the trail faces East so good chance you’ll encounter stubborn snow patches. If ridden as out+back from Ridgeback side then you can always bail out once you hit the first major snow (you should at least get beyond the switchbacks which are the best bit anyway).
- Sugar Mama and Ranger Summit South: some great reroutes by the original builders are ongoing to avoid the few remaining boggy patches on Sugar Mama. If you encounter a boggy section either slow ride through the middle of it or walk your bike around, please don’t widen the trail – lets keep the single in singletrack. Great views if you add Ranger Summit South to Sugar Mama but to make a loop you’d have to go down some ugly/closed to bikes trails so just ride it out+back. Sugar Mama is a sweet DH anyway and I’m guessing you parked at Allen Bill right…
Give’em a chance
Next set take a little longer to dry and as mentioned before the key is to be flexible. If you’ve tried some safer bets and they’ve been dry then go for some of these.
- Ridgeback: CMBA have built an awesome trail in Ridgeback and spent many years working out the boggy wrinkles with reroutes and most of it dries out reasonably well – lets keep it that way and not ride this one wet. The section of Tom Snow you have to ride by Station Flats will give you a good idea about chancing Ridgeback. Big puddles on Tom Snow? Try elsewhere!
If it’s not on the above list then it’s probably going to be a mess for several days after rain. In particular most of the trails leading from West Bragg parking are a boggy and/or greasy mess and being young trails are very vulnerable to damage. Be respectful to the huge amount of volunteer hours that go into building and maintaining these trails. If you had a brain lapse and find yourself in West Bragg Creek looking for a longer ride then use the old trails (e.g. Telephone Loop, Crystal Lines, Sundog, Elbow, Iron Springs, Moose Loop, etc.) not the buff new ones. Prairie Creek is another really bad bet after rain although its pretty battle hardened your bike won’t thank you for trying it after heavy rain. Diamond T, Race of Spades and Special K also bad ideas as they all finish near, and on, the bog pit known as Tom Snow!
The list is not exhaustive but covers the most popular trails. Please add your comments or additional info if you think it will help others riding experience and ensure respectful use of the trails. A respectful rider is a happy rider – keep the karma going!
~ Guest post by Trevor Warne
Trevor moved to Canada from the UK in 2008 and settled in Bragg Creek due to the fantastic access to year-round recreation opportunities in Kananaskis Country; also a great place to raise a family! To keep the karma going, Trevor volunteers his time to help the GBCTA build and maintain the great network of new trails in West Bragg Creek.
The Moose Mountain and West Bragg Creek trails are built and maintained by volunteers. As well as riding with respect for their huge and ongoing effort please ensure to ‘give-back’ either with a monetary donation or better yet some volunteer hours. By volunteering your time you’ll get to meet other riders, hear about new projects/best rides and most importantly feel that inner glow from knowing you did your bit to help – every trail rides better when you know you helped build or improve it!