Knowing trail conditions before you head out to mountain bike is very handy for anyone travelling from Calgary to trails 45 – 90 minutes away. At least as important is being able to find the trails in the first place! There aren’t any all-inclusive resources for weather, trail conditions and trail maps, but I like these…
Trailforks is a global, web-based, crowd-sourced, ad-free MTB-specific trail map/conditions site, with a very nice free mobile app for iOS and Android. It’s a one-stop-shop for mountain bikers to know where to go, what the trails are like and where they are on the trail mid-ride. You can research trails and conditions from the Trailforks website or using the app. When you’re out riding the trails, the app [using your smartphone’s GPS] can tell you where you are, even if you don’t have any cellular coverage. Big chunks of Kananaskis don’t have cellular coverage, so this is a very nice feature. In my opinion, that puts it one up on paper maps and guide books.
Trail conditions are updated by users. This is good because you don’t have to wait until somebody “official” posts an update – you can do it yourself. The downside of this is that until more people use Trailforks, trail reports and descriptions for less popular trails may be a bit out of date.
The more people use Trailforks, the better it gets. As mobile technology improves, the capabilities of the system will do so as well. At present, it has more trails than any other system, and more are added every day. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best single tool available for mountain bikers in the Calgary area.
There’s a weather station out near West Bragg Creek that’s hooked to Weather Underground. From that page, you can get a very good idea of what’s happening west of Calgary, and can quickly view satellite and radar maps to see where the weather is coming from.
A Note About the Weather
The weather around Calgary is a bit unpredictable. I spend a lot of time on various weather sites trying to figure out if I will get rained on if I head out. Most of the time I’m dry, but sometimes I get wet. C’est la vie. The motto for Calgary should be “Bring a Jacket” – the weather changes quickly, and the wise biker carries something with them to keep the chill off. Unlike some places, the rain in southern Alberta is typically cold and is often accompanied by wind out of the North or West. Bring a jacket.
Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies – Out of print for several years, this book was THE resource for mountain bikers up until around 2008. I rode dozens of the routes outlined in this book, and it earned its reputation as The Bible for local riders. If you are interested in getting off the beaten path and exploring some true backcountry trails, try and find a copy. Double-check your planned route against Trailforks and other resources to see if there have been closures.
Current and Historical Alberta Weather Station Data Viewer – This site provides a wide variety of meteorological data via a map interface. You can review precipitation records for many backcountry weather stations with a lag of around 6 hours. Great for weather nerds.
About the Calgary Riding Scene
Most people from Calgary get their mountain biking fix to the West in Kananaskis, but there are also great trails within the city limits. There are loads of informal trails in Calgary – you can find most of them on Trailforks.
Kananaskis is a large [4200 km²] wildland park area to the West of Calgary, and it’s where the area’s best mountain bike riding is.
- While there are several hundred trails in Kananaskis, about 150 are good for mountain biking.
- There are bears and cougars in Kananaskis, but it’s very rare [extraordinarily rare in the case of cougars] to encounter them. Travelling in a group, and yelling “THIS IS SUCH A GREAT TRAIL!” or perhaps “OOOOH YEAH!” as you ride, tends to cause bears to move away from your locale at a significant velocity. Other wild animals visible from the trails include: moose, eagles, whiskeyjacks, ravens, squirrels, chipmunks, deer and mosquitoes.
- From mid-June until mid-October, many areas in Kananaskis are used for cattle grazing. There are few things more exhilarating than coming around a corner at speed and seeing 750kg of free-range bovine standing in the middle of the trail. Said bovine may or may not choose to move off the trail, despite enthusiastic encouragement to do so. If cattle don’t want to move, go around them.
Calgary is a city of 1.4 million people, and is a fantastic starting point if you are planning to ride the front range of the Rocky Mountains. It’s also a great staging point for a push into British Columbia and the great riding in Golden, Fernie, Kimberley, and beyond.
Canmore is located just East of Banff National Park on the Trans Canada Highway, approximately 1 hour [100km] West of Calgary. The Canmore Nordic Centre has over 50km of primarily intermediate singletrack trails tucked in just above the town, and is a great spot for a 1-3 hour ride. Other area highlights include the Highline trail and the High Rockies route.