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YUKONOMIST: Summer fun on two wheels

With record water levels across the Southern Lakes, if you’re not fixing your dock or helping a friend sandbag their cabin then you’re probably looking for something to do that’s not on the water.
Yukonomist Keith Halliday

With record water levels across the Southern Lakes, if you’re not fixing your dock or helping a friend sandbag their cabin then you’re probably looking for something to do that’s not on the water.

With the good weather, everyone is scooting away to their favourite trails or small lakes whose snowpack melted weeks ago.

I’ve been noticing more people at several of my favourite getaways, both territorial campgrounds and elsewhere. That’s for two reasons. First, outdoors activities keep getting more popular. Second, our population has been steadily growing.

The Yukon government’s economic forecast says our population this year is 42,230. It forecasts over 45,000 by 2025. Cracking the 50,000 mark can’t be too far in the future.

Twenty-five years ago, our population was just 30,766. This means today that more than 10,000 extra people, mostly living in Whitehorse, are on the hunt for things to do.

Fortunately, Yukoners have been creative in tackling this problem. Websites like have informed thousands of Yukoners about a growing number of hiking and biking trails. This is especially important for new Yukoners, who might not know where to find the best trails.

Yukoners have also been creating new kinds of activities. For example, the cool kids these days are biking the new machine-built flow trails on Dawson’s Midnight Dome.

Your tale of driving the RV to Conrad Campground won’t impress the co-workers compared to the tattooed twenty-somethings in the office talking about riding berms and maintaining flow.

For those who haven’t done it, this is downhill biking on a trail with shaped banks and sloped corners. This is usually done with a small excavating machine to make sure it is smooth, root-free, and properly banked for high-speed corners. The idea is that you zoom steadily downhill, navigating the obstacles in a steady flow of speed and skill.

Enthusiasts even talk of achieving “flow state,” a zen-like mindset of total focus where you and your bike weave through the corners.

I spoke to a biker who tried Dawson’s new flow trails last weekend. Like a ski run, she described the trail as “blue,” meaning that moderately experienced bikers could enjoy it but experts could also partake of extra obstacles along the way.

Alyeska Ski Resort near Anchorage has built flow trails. In Anchorage, you can swirl down Toilet Bowl Trail in Kincaid Park. Bikers in Fairbanks, Seward and elsewhere in Alaska are also building flow trails.

Whitehorse has lots of fantastic traditional mountain-biking trails, as does Carcross, but no machine-built flow trails so far. It’s another reason for Whitehorsians to take their Outside guests to Dawson.

This is one reason why an economic study of mountain biking in Squamish estimated the town’s biking trails and events added $2 million to its gross domestic product.

The government also wants you to ride an e-bike. They are now offering you a chunk of the climate-change budget to subsidize the purchase of certain kinds of e-bikes.

Which raises the question of what other bike activities might be in our future.

One idea that has been floating around for years is turning the railway right of way between Whitehorse and Carcross into a hiking and biking trail.

This would be like the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in southern BC where you can now hike or bike 215 kilometres over old railbed from Midway to Penticton.

It’s a fun idea. The route is already a popular winter route for sleds. In the summer, you could cruise chunks of the scenic route from Whitehorse past Miles Canyon to Robinson and then Carcross.

Such a rail trail would create lots of options. You could even take a detour to Bike Night at Mount Sima, when they open the lifts to bikers. There could be races and bike touring events. A mountain bike race from the top of Grey Mountain to the top of Montana would be epic. All those e-bike commuters in the government climate plan could zoom to work from Pine Ridge and Mary Lake every day.

It seems improbable that the railway will ever run from Carcross to Whitehorse again. Fixing the track would be expensive. It used to take around eight hours for a train trip from Skagway to Whitehorse, and how many customers these days would choose to rattle for several hours along the less scenic Carcross to Whitehorse leg by train instead of car?

From an engineering point of view, converting the tracks to a trail would be easy. It’s the legal and governance hurdles that make it challenging. Money would have to be raised to buy the right of way from the cruise ship company that owns the railway. Once sold, you can’t get a right of way back, so railway companies are often leery of selling out even if their lines are not operating.

But money could probably solve that problem.

The biggest challenge may be on our side. Railways are regulated by federal agencies. The line passes through the traditional territories of three First Nations. Multiple Yukon government departments would be involved, as well as a YESAB application. Federal and territorial economic development agencies would be asked for cash.

An epic number of meetings may be required.

But those meetings can wait for winter days. In the meantime, if you bought this paper on Friday afternoon you still have time to make it to the Midnight Dome Enduro event in Dawson this weekend, complete with swag, prizes and free shuttle trips back up the Dome after each ride.

And if you missed that, at least get out your bike and enjoy one of the Yukon’s many existing trails.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.