Slocan, Many Feet and Gracious Dieties

The topography outside of New Denver is steep and varied and the Butter Trail is the perfect showcase, winding from open fields of ferns to towering old-growth forests. Stu Dickson dips in to samples the goods. NIKON, 1/1000 sec, f/4.0, ISO 1600

Slocan, Many Feet and Gracious Dieties Bruno Long

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

Gray days are my favorite kind to spend in the forests of the West Kootenays. I pray for them. Thankfully, the West Kootenays are blessed with a plethora of grayness...except when it’s late July of an unseasonably bright summer. So as Stu Dickson, Casey Brown and I watch the clouds build on the horizon during the ferry ride from Revelstoke to Nakusp, we are hopeful despite the harsh sunlight beating down on the iron deck.

There’s a reason I pray to the gods of the Kootenays: they are usually gracious deities. As we arrive at our first trailhead a cloud bank curls over top of us, a wave of rain, thunder and lightning poised above. Snuff, Casey’s dog, paces with nervous energy—apparently he isn’t too fond of storms.

Forests here are a cathedral of towering old-growth, a living roof covering enormous moss-covered stumps, dark abandoned mine shafts and forgotten artifacts. As lonely as the trails may seem, these relics—both human and arboreal—are reminders that many feet have crossed these lonely paths we now ride, inspiring quiet awe and reverence. Years from now, both the trails and ourselves will be gone. These temples, however, will remain.

One of these relics is the Kuskanax Trail, a century-old route in Nakusp leading to a natural hot spring. As expected of such an ancient trail, it’s steeped with an enormous amount of history, the archetypal West Kootenay forest. In the grayness, its stunning visuals are a photographers dream; it’s even better to ride.

Forty miles away, up Highway 31A near New Denver, the purpose-built trails of Retallack Lodge are the antithesis of the worn-by-generations Kuskanax. Shutte-able access roads, originally built for logging and mining, branch in every direction, and despite the operation being only a few years old, trails weave through ruins of the silver craze that struck the area in the late 1800s. Kessel Run is Retallack’s flagship, a flowy masterpiece of dirt, loam and roots dropping 5,000 feet to the shuttle pick up. They may not have been thinking about future mountain bikers, but the miners chose their zones wisely.

One of the area’s living mountain biking legacies is Greg McRae, a 67-year-old trail builder and creator of the beautiful Butter Trail. Constructed over two years, the reason behind the name is obvious: with a perfect grade, swooping turns and bench-cut sidehills, Butter is one of the Kootenay’s newest trails—and, like surrounding forests, it only seems to get better with age.

Back at the Kuskanax trailhead, our faith is rewarded as clouds cover the blaring sun. We offer our thanks, hop on bikes and drop into the arboreal cathedral— this is our type of worship, Kootenay style.

The beauty of any trail is largely judged by its ability to blend with its surroundings. Stu Dickson does little bit of blending of his own along the Butter Trail. NIKON, 1/80 sec, f/3.2, ISO 1600
Scattered detritus doesn’t just mark the Butter Trail’s path, but also chronicles the area’s centuries-old history—like this discarded oil can, the remains of decades of logging. NIKON, 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600
If you pray enough, in the Kootenays the mountain gods will answer—especially when it comes to cloudy days, soft dirt and marvelous views. Stu Dickson enjoys the bountiful blessings above New Denver. NIKON, 1/6400 sec, f/4.0, ISO 1600
Located between New Denver and Kaslo in Canada’s Selkirk Mountains, Retallack Lodge is famous for its winter cat-skiing. Now, with a growing network of shuttle-accessed trails, it’s quickly becoming famous for its biking—and for good reason, as Stu Dickson demonstrates on Kessel Run. NIKON, 1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000
The immense precipitation that makes Retallack so renowned in the winter can also turn wooden features into hazards in the summer—or add a whole new level of tech for riders like Casey Brown and Stu Dickson. NIKON, 1/500 sec, f/4.0, ISO 1600
Beware: rusty, sharp objects exist. Casey Brown holds up a relic of the hundreds of hours Retallack’s trail crew has put into shaping the lodge’s dirty masterpieces. NIKON, 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1600
Over the past few years, Retallack has proven they know how to build trail, and whether it’s brown pow or powder snow, they’ve also proven they know how to finish a ride. Casey Brown and Stu Dickson return to the lodge for après food and beverages. NIKON, 1/800 sec, f/8.0, ISO 1600
Kessel Run is one of Retallack’s keystone trails, dropping nearly 6,000 vertical feet through an incredible variety of terrain, including meadows, old- growth and techy descents. Casey Brown chases Stu Dickson down one of the steeper zones. NIKON, 1/640 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000
Anything a century old will have a countless stories behind it, and the Kuskanax Trail is no exception. Stu Dickson pedals past an abandoned cabin just outside of Nakusp, BC. NIKON, 1/30 sec, f/1.8, ISO 2500
Despite the friendly name, the trail markings along the Kootenay’s Butter Trail range from historical to comical and in some cases, downright creepy. However, when you’re as fast as Stu Dickson it’s worth the risk. NIKON, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800
From there post-ride effusions at the nearby hot springs, there’s no doubt Casey Brown and Stu Dickson enjoyed their morning rip along the Kuskanax. From his high-speed, four-legged shredding, Snuff the trail dog might have enjoyed it more. NIKON, 1/125 sec, f/1.8, ISO 2500
Originally settled as a mining town in the late 1800s, today Nakusp’s primary economic revenue is from forestry—although plenty of relics from the mining days remain. Casey Brown, Stu Dickson and Snuff blur by some of the area’s still-standing history. NIKON, 1/8 sec, f/4.0, ISO 2500
Trailside water access is a must for any canine companion, even if it takes some mossy creativity. Either way, the Kuskanax is Snuff approved. NIKON, 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600
At nearly a 20-mile round trip, the Kuskanax boasts as many winding climbs as flowy, loamy descents. Casey Brown, Stu Dickson and Snuff earn their turns after a mid-ride hot springs soak. NIKON, 1/60 sec, f/4.0, ISO 1600