Carcross trail earns international recognition

When Carcross' Wayne Roberts heard the news, it was like getting patted on the back by the international mountain biking community. "To me, I just won the Nobel Prize for trail building," said Roberts. "It's outstanding.

When Carcross’ Wayne Roberts heard the news, it was like getting patted on the back by the international mountain biking community.

“To me, I just won the Nobel Prize for trail building,” said Roberts. “It’s outstanding.”

Last week the International Mountain Bicycling Association announced it had inducted the Mountain Hero Trail on Montana Mountain in Carcross into its Epic Trails category. It is only the fifth Canadian trail to achieve the designation.

“On that list, you now see Yukon as a place to go mountain biking,” said Marsha Cameron, co-owner of Boreale Mountain Biking, a Yukon-based business that offers all-inclusive mountain bike vacations. “We know there’s fantastic riding here – some of the best riding in North America is in Whitehorse and Carcross. Just having the Yukon on this site is a huge accomplishment.

“We ride this trail quite often; it’s probably one of our most popular trails. It’s probably what Outside people expect: massive views, alpine riding and really fun single trail.”

It is believed that the trail follows what used to be a tramway for an old quartz-mining operation that dates back to 1905. Sam McGee, whom Robert Service immortalized in a poem, is believed to have led the crew of 20 men who first constructed it.

Almost a century later, Roberts, who was looking for scenic terrain over which to lead expeditions for his tour business, stumbled across the trail. Or, at least, what was left of it.

“I was bushwhacking along the Skagway highway when I first moved up here in ‘98, looking for places to take tourists,” said Roberts. “I kept seeing this wooden structure up the hillside and one evening I jumped out of the truck with a compass and made a beeline for it. I came across this cut and started following it around and came across tram towers and tin cans.”

Roberts began resurrecting the trail in 1999. Before long, he was leading two or three tours a day and spending his evenings continuing his work on the trail.

“I started it for Fireweed Hikes and Bikes back in the day and I needed something with everything in it that’s ‘the Yukon’ and that had it,” said Roberts. “It’s fast, it’s got wicked turns, it has incredible scenery, wildlife – you name it, it’s there.”

The refurbishment of the trail became a combined effort with the Carcross/Tagish First Nations’ land claim settlement in 2006.

Under Carcross/Tagish, the Singletrack to Success Program put local youth and graduates of the Capilano College mountain bike operations program to work, expanding, marking and maintaining the growing trail system in Carcross.

“Before the Singletrack to Success Project, Wayne had done a lot of the grunt work,” said Jane Koepke, founder of the Singletrack program. “When the project came about, we were able to use the youth in it to connect the historic trail to the point that Wayne had finished it, up to the Montana Mountain Road.

“I guess you could say that Wayne finished two-thirds and the Singletrack to Success Project finished the final third of the trail so it could be fully usable.”

Five years later, with Roberts continuing his work, now alongside Carcross/Tagish, there are an estimated 65 kilometres of trails in the system.

“It almost all started with Mountain Hero,” said Justin Ferbey, CEO of Carcross/Tagish Management Corporation, which oversees the management of trail system as the economic branch of the First Nation. “Every year, for the past three or four years, we’ve been doing one or two epic trails – big trails, three or four kilometres each – and we’ve gotten up to 65 kilometres of trail.

“They are all historic trails where, for example, there were old mining roads grown in. So there weren’t too many new cuts per se.”

The 28-kilometre trail climbs 1,400 metres and takes about four to six hours to complete. The trail ends 17 kilometres south of Carcross on the Klondike Highway, where it is recommended you leave a vehicle. A map of the trail can be found at Carcross’ visitor information centre or at montanamountain.ca.

“From our point of view, it’s a great trail,” said Cameron. “You can access the alpine through the mining road right from Carcross and you climb and climb for three or four hours and at the top you’re in the alpine for a really long time, which is really unique. Then you have a super fun descent.

“I think it’s a trail everyone can do. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s not impossible.”

The historic trail has been featured in numerous mountain biking periodicals over the past few years and was even highlighted by the Globe and Mail. With it’s new status, the trail should be seeing more visitors – on bike or on foot – in the coming years.

“It’s not a very well-kept secret in Carcross that our trails are some of the best in the world,” said Ferbey. “The young fellows have been working on them for five or six years, Wayne a bit longer, Jane the same amount of time, and they’ve all been saying the trails are attracting some of the world’s best and those who are attracted to some of the technical aspects of the trails.

“We’re trying to establish Carcross as a mountain biking destination.”

“Hopefully Yukon Tourism will see this and start pushing the bike operators and help them even more than they have been,” said Roberts. “It’s huge. Forty million bikes sold in North America last year, I think … It’s a monster industry.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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