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Heli-Dropping a Fatbike Into the Unknown

2014-04-09 07:50:44
Words by P.J. Hunton - Norco Bicycles Engineering Manager

Throughout the winter I spend significant time with friends and family in the small town of Bralorne, B.C., where the mountains are blanketed in snow well into the spring. It is here that we play with snowmobiles, skis, snowboards, no-boards or whatever other snow-sliding device is available. With a very low snowpack this winter, there was no pow to shred by usual means. With this in mind I made the decision to bring a couple of Norco Bigfoot fatbikes on my winter escape, just to mix things up a little.
After a few solid XC rides on packed snowmobile trails and a few enlightening shuttle laps riding down snowmobile trails back into town, I had an idea to take fatbiking to the next level. It revolved around the question of whether or not you could ride a fatbike down a skin track. A skin track is the packed trail that skiers make as they walk up the mountain. Knowing that the conceptual route on Sunshine Mountain had been in place for over a month with no significant new snow and had been travelled by many, I figured we should try and ride down it. But how to get to the top? A quick phone call to Bralorne’s local helicopter service, Kokanee Helicopters, was all it took. “Meet me at the Lodge at 10am tomorrow,” was all I needed to hear. After another call to my Bralorne adventure partners Stephane and his dog Kayla, the excitement began to build.
Fat Biking By Helicopter - Top of the WorldThe following morning was the start of a beautiful, sunny day and we rode our Bigfoots over to the Lodge, loaded them into the all black Eurocopter B3 helicopter and lifted off into crisp mountain air above town. Up, up and up we went into the sky, soaring above the woods, passing over the old Bralorne Ski Cabin where we would ultimately end up hours later. As we reached the alpine, we could see that the skin track did not go right to the top, where we wanted to land: on the peak of Sunshine Jr. (You should always get dropped off at the top when you have a helicopter – just because you can.) Off to the peak we went.
Fat Biking By Helicopter - Top of the World
After the mandatory shouts of joy, high fives, poser shots and shots of Fireball were taken care of, we turned on our avalanche beacons, put on our packs and helmets and rode off the peak. The first section was quite steep with firm, slightly windblown snow. The front tire was sinking almost a foot into the snow but the steep slope kept us moving forwards. After a few harmless over the bars incidents from the variable snowpack we reached the bottom of this steep pitch and pushed our bikes through the snow until we reached the top of the skintrack. It was here where we would learn whether we were in for a ride or a battle back down to the ski cabin.
Fat Biking By Helicopter - Top of the World
Stephane mounted his bike and began to ride down the skin trail and immediately it looked good:
…and then it didn’t look so good. After his front wheel slipped off the track, it buried itself and sent him over the bars, headfirst into thigh deep sugar snow. Thinking that Stephane just wasn’t doing a good job of balancing and staying on the track, I gave it a try to show him how it was done. Sure enough, the same thing happened to me. After a few more failed attempts, we looked at each other, looked down the mountain towards town and just laughed. I think Kayla was laughing at us too.
Fat Biking By Helicopter - Top of the World
For the next two and a half hours, we battled. We battled hard, wading through thigh-deep snow, pushing our bikes along the skintrack, dragging them behind us or carrying them on our backs – whichever felt the most efficient at the time. But our descent was not efficient in any way, shape or form. Skis would have been much more appropriate – and the skiing would have been pretty good. Even when we got out of the alpine and into the forest, the snow still wasn’t hard enough to support Fatbike tires or even snowboard boots.
The battle finally ended about 500ft above the ski cabin where the trail finally became hard and crusty enough to ride down. Once at the cabin, which sits about 1000ft above town, there were snowmobile tracks, our savior. The descent down from the cabin was a high-speed rush. Blasting down the straight sections, boosting off the snowmobile woops and then two-wheel drifting the high-speed corners was so much fun it almost made us forget how exhausted we were from our battle out of the alpine. All in all, another fantastic adventure in Bralorne.
P.J. Hunton
 - Engineering Manager - Norco Bicycles