Do you really need mountains - to go mountain biking?
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
After six years of travelling to Medicine Hat/Redcliff in the Spring for "first dirt", I would say - no. No you don't. Redcliff Alberta - 1st open, last closed.
*Kurtis Peters on the left. Spotted in his natural habitat. Doug looking for cactus?
I first met Kurtis, Jaques, and Blaine six years ago. These fellas, key members of the 670 Collective (Medicine Hat and area MTB club - named for the Elkwater Townsite elevation in meters above sea level - where they have been expanded their mecca) were gracious enough at that time to show me around their trails. I've been going back frequently ever since, and taking others with me.
I have listed below my top reasons why YOU need to check out the Redcliff MTB trails:
1) Frankly - the trails are fantastic.
Nestled in coulees below Redcliff, Alberta - and starting in Medicine Hat next to the South Saskatchewan River - is a large network of expertly crafted mountain bike trails. The 670 Collective bootstrapped the project off the ground with pure grit and sweat equity, and the results speak volumes. At times fast and full of "flow", and at times punchy and highly technical, these trails offer challenges for every skill level. New to me in 2021, the "Rampage Line" - gave me (a mountain biker since the mid-90's) pause and I found myself pre-scouting the natural drops and rock rolls of this "fall line style" gravity steep. Experts only (the location shall remain a secret).
*The trail known as "Old School" - climb Old School then take a left turn onto a rowdy fun descent best done with minimal brakes. Blue option.
** "Old School" (alternate descent, black trail) - climb Old School then take a right turn onto a ridgeline trial with heart pounding exposure and a short steep descent at the end.
***Smiles guaranteed! Old School merges the riders into the mid-point on the Death Valley trail - plenty of challenges await in this cactus filled coulee.
All the trails are up on the Pinkbike Trailforks app. I'm not sure exactly how many kilometres are now constructed but I usually do about a 26km lap myself. That still isn't all the single track, and I am guessing that to ride every trail in the area is well over 30km.
Rock. Cactus. Rattlesnakes (small ones). Clay. Loam. It is a lot like Moab to be honest, and only 2.5hrs drive from Calgary.
2) Expansion, expansion, and more expansion.
With the blessing of the town of Redcliff, Alberta Tourism, and local businesses - the money and volunteer hours are starting to really flow towards the 670 collective and their various initiatives in the area. Every time I go back (3x a year at least) there are a few new trails.
In 2020 the "Cemetery" zone was added, and a massive expansion is underway in that area. It features extremely flow-oriented riding, with some natural technical features placed at key spots to really keep riders on their toes. The quality of this new zone serves as a showpiece to the maturity of the local scene - as the trails are second to none. Elevation is gained and lost conservatively, ensuring maximum reward for the riders who visit the zone.
In 2020, not wanting to be left out of the action - the town of Medicine Hat provided money for yet another zone to built across the river from Redcliff. This is a project Medicine Hat is funding and taking on themselves but includes a) a paved pump track, b) upwards of 15km of new cross-country single-track riding and c) a "shuttle" DH zone with a some gravity trails. That work is starting immediately, and is a direct result of the inspiration and energy the 670 Collective is injecting into the local scene. The 670 folks were consulted, and are stakeholders - so you know it's going to be really good.
3) The chillest vibe.
One of the things about mountain biking as a sport that frankly, stinks - is what I like to call "bro culture". It's the male-oriented non-inclusive attitude and testosterone driven mountain biking of the past, and it's something myself and others who truly love the sport despise.
It is fully on display at locales like Moose Mountain/Ings in Calgary, and in various mountain towns from Alberta to the Coast. It's changed somewhat in the past decade but it is still very much there.
However in Redcliff, bro culture is 100% absent (and that goes for Elkwater too). There is no attitude. Mountain bikers are friendly, the demographic is age, body type and gender balanced, and the vibe is very very chill. Family friendly, chill friendly, the culture of the scene in Redcliff speaks to the dedication of the folks in the 670 Collective and their vision for the area (to attract mountain bike tourism) and who they are individually as people.
****The Author about to drop in on "Death Valley", a fast and fun raucous descent with plenty of rock features.
*****The Author transitioning from the DMZ zone to the Frigidaire/Goat zone.
4) Van friendly. Yup, thats a thing.
I love my van. Cheaper than a hotel, my private little house on wheels has served me well during COVID. I suspect that, because #vanlife is somewhat new to Medicine Hat and area - that there is a certain novelty involved.
Or maybe the locals are just that mellow?
In any case when I take my van to the area to stay overnight and ride, people are incredibly friendly and happy to see me in my van. The spots to park and camp are endless.
Not too shabby of a spot to make breakfast and brew some coffee!
I didn't mention the amazing craft beer in Medicine Hat (#travoisaleworks #medicinehatbrewingco #hellsbasementbrewery) the self-serve vegetable green house area in Redcliff, or the Redcliff pump track - some things need to be discovered on their own.
I will mention however that Redcliff is only the home trail location for the 670 Collective. Their passion project - Elkwater Alberta - contains 7 solid green/blue/black cross-country style trails now - and funding for a massive expansion has been secured and work has begun. The expansion consists of 12 new trails, on or at the Elkwater Ski Hill - focused on Enduro-style riding (an up track is being provided). A trail crew from Golden that have worked on Kicking Horse have been hired - I'm really excited about this!
Elkwater is at the same elevation as the town of Banff. There is a restaurant that specializes in smoked meat there, and a volcanic caldera style lake that has paddle craft available for rental (next to the public beach). The annual MTB endurance style race - the "Battle Creek Challenge" - is a heck of a good time and very unique in it's culture. Elkwater is steep, and treed - and it is really easy to forget one is in South Eastern Alberta.
Finally - an IMBA epic trail is planned to break ground in 2022 - touring the landscape east of Elkwater. It promises to be some 50km long (it is in the planning phase), and traverse unique terrain found only in Southern Alberta. The Province of Alberta kicked in for this project, and it will be like everything else the 670 Collective touches - awesome.
But don't take my word for - go see for yourself. South Eastern Alberta - mountain biking destination.