Snow Riding the Seymour Valley

With the mercury dropping and the white stuff presumably on its way at some point, I’m reminded of one of the North Shore Mountains more underrated pleasures. That pastime, folks, is riding your mountain bike in the snow, and when I lived in North Vancouver, it was something I used to do whenever I got the chance! So why, you ask, would someone really want to layer on clothing, don thick gloves, and breathe in the cold, drafty winds of the Seymour Valley? Well, because it’s fun, that’s why!

There is something special about those days when snow falls and the sun sits lower on the horizon. It all combines to add a certain magic to your surroundings, as even the simplest images seem to come alive with a coat of fresh snow! You get to enjoy the silence of winter, interrupted only by the sounds of nature and your bike rolling forward. It’s a chance to clear your mind of all the clutter of everyday life, and to lose yourself in a different world!

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Snow! Snow! Snowwww!

Typically, I like to ride all year long, and living in southwestern British Columbia often affords you that possibility. Though I’m now living happily on Vancouver Island and exploring the trails here, sometimes I do miss those days on the North Vancouver trails. That said, join me as I share the stoke about winter riding in the Seymour Valley. You might find it’s something you’ve been missing out on!

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Snowy branches

While I’m at it, I’ll review a little about preparing for winter rides. Naturally, Β you’ll want to be ready to get outside as soon as those snowflakes fly, right? To begin with, a well tuned bike with tires that will provide plenty of traction is a good place to start. While riding your bike in the snow is a blast, it’s also an entirely different skillset, and one that requires more practice than you might think, so take it slowly and learn the way your bike behaves in winter conditions. An early start is recommended too, because you’ll normally need extra time to get where you’re going. In addition to my usual toolkit, I often bring along some WD 40 and a pick that I use to clear ice from places it may form, such as the pedals, shoe cleats, chain, or derailleur.

Don’t forget the extra gloves!

With all of that out of your way, the next item on your agenda is going to be clothing. The temperature will determine how much you tend to bring, so pack an extra layer, and have at least one pair of gloves in reserve. Headgear is important too, and I’ll generally bring a headband or Buff as well as a toque to wear underneath my helmet. Basically, I have found you’re always better off being over prepared!

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On those days when I had a lot of time, I’d ride up to Seymour Valley via Grand Boulevard and Lynn Valley Road

If you’re using a hydration pack to haul your water, you may want to insulate your lines so they don’t freeze on frigid days, so in those conditions you might want to stick with water bottles instead. You may also need adequate lighting, due to shorter daylight hours, and if you have a phone, stash it somewhere warm to preserve its battery life. Finally, make sure you have enough food, and then you’re good to go!

Early morning sun breaking through the forest near Rice Lake. To note, the trails that encircle Rice Lake itself are off limits to cyclists

So, when I lived in North Vancouver, why was it that I chose the Seymour Valley to do my riding in? Well, chief among my reasons was always that not only could you drive to the trailhead near Rice Lake, but also, the Seymour Valley Trailway does not allow public vehicle traffic. Moreover, the usual crowds seen there don’t usually show up when it snows, so you don’t have to share the path with nearly as many people. Chances are, after you get past the first few mileposts, you’ll probably be on your own! If you’re lucky, you may find that a maintenance vehicle has left a helpful tread to follow, or even that a track has melted out to provide easy passage. Most likely, though, you’ll probably have to forge your own path and deal with the elements the best you can! If you’re unsure of the route, here is a link to the LSCR park map

Occasionally, a winter storm will cause trees to fall across the road, and you may even be greeted with a sign like this one

Remember, too, that the road will likely not be plowed, so your skills in navigating snow and ice will need to take over. Some snow is excellent to ride in, and some just isn’t! I prefer six inches or less of freshly fallen powder myself, but you have to take what you can get! You might even show up ready to roll only to discover that the snowpack will turn you around before you even get started. I’ve encountered a few setbacks on winter rides, but I’ve usually found the effort to be worthwhile. As a rule, you won’t be doing much riding in the big ring either, as I have always found lower gears to be more useful on snow and ice. Braking, too, is a more careful exercise, assuming you want to stay in the saddle and avoid crashes.

Snow on a moss covered tree
I’ve always enjoyed the marks that tires leave in the snow. Maybe I’m easily amused!
This photo illustrates that you will deal with snow and ice accumulating on key parts, so be prepared to deal with that under certain conditions

Tall trees, clusters of branches, the mountains, and your favourite trails take on an altogether different personality when the snow flies. It’s also easier, if you’re observant, to track the comings and goings of some of the local wildlife. On my rides I’ve commonly seen the tracks of squirrels, pine martens, weasels, deer, bobcats, black bears, and mountain lions. Even the sound carries differently on a winter day, almost affording you a heightened sense of awareness.

 

Snow shaded branches

In my experience, one can generally expect to be able to ride only as far as O’Hayes Creek, around the 8 km marker, on a typical snow day, though on some occasions I have managed to make it all the way to the Seymour Dam. When snow does fall, the upper valley accumulates more snowpack, and parks staff will normally leave the road uncleared until winter loses its grip. That said, there have been winters when the valley got little or no snowfall, and others when it’s been inundated by storms, so conditions can be hard to predict.

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The old Seymour Mainline, while not open to the public, runs parallel to the trailway and can be accessed in an emergency. It is generally plowed and well maintained
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If you guessed this photo shows a difficult day for riding, you’re quite right. These conditions really tested my skill!
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Unearthly winter light!

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Roadside attraction
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Snow just makes everything look more cool, don’t you think?

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Hydraulic Creek Bridge
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Near the O’Hayes Creek Bridge
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Snow and long shadows

Of particular interest is the section of the trailway near Jack’s Burn Cliffs and Owl and Talon Creek. There is a herd of deer that can usually be seen in the area and on the cliffs above sometimes mountain goats can be spotted, if you bring binoculars. It’s here I’ve often picked up the tracks of cougars, and even seen sites where they have made kills. There was even once when I found the tracks of a wolverine pressed into the snow, but I never saw the elusive beast!

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Jack’s Burn Cliffs are at roughly the 7 km marker on the road
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Is that what I think it is?
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Yes it is, a deer!
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Jack’s Burn Cliffs. I still have not seen a mountain goat here but I do know people who have. These are the cliffs below The Needles, by the way

On most snow rides, I have stuck to the Seymour Valley Trailway, but when conditions are right I have also dropped down to Mid Valley Viewpoint or the Fisherman’s Trail just to enjoy those views. If you do this you may either choose to double back or complete the loop by going up the Homestead Trail or fire road at the site of the new bridge, but on snowy days that will often necessitate walking your bike.

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Mid Valley Viewpoint, looking at the Intake and Suicide Creek drainages
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Sun and alder
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Fannin Range glory
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The forest near McKenzie Creek

You could head up to Seymour Dam from the road on the east side of the river that leads to the Bear Island Bridge, but generally it can only be done under ideal circumstances, so that’s a route I will tend to avoid when it snows. Over the years, I have only ridden it successfully several times when snow has been on the ground.

 

 

The Fisherman’s Trail, which runs along the Seymour River
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Taking a break on the river
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Seymour River
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Fisherman’s Trail can have its share of roadblocks after winter storms!
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Not the best day for a swim, right?
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To say nothing of the snow!
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Branches

Of course, one of the things I’ve always loved about the Seymour Valley is that you never know quite what you’re going to find! There are more than a few more stories here on this website that detail more of my explorations over the years. There are archaeological sites, ruins of old cabins and other relics, industrial remnants, ancient forests, and to further confuse the would be explorer, there are also movie sets. If you’re thinking of asking where this particular one is, well, this was over a decade ago. The site has long since been dismantled, but it was fun to discover it!

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Yeah, I don’t think Canada Post gets up here too often!
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This, I really liked. A one room cabin with a view!
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The view from the back porch was not too shabby!

Another thing I tend to do on winter rides is to give myself ample turn around time, so that I’m not trying to cycle home in darkness. Normally that has meant that around 2 pm I will start heading for home. I also like to leave enough time to bike over toward nearby Lynn Headwaters Regional Park if I’m not too rushed . You’re not able to bike any of the trails up Lynn Creek, but you can use the connector road to head over to the creek and gatehouse. If you like, you can always stop by End of the LineΒ on Lynn Valley Road near the park gate for a coffee, hot chocolate and/or something to eat. It’s a nice way to end the day!

 

Lynn Creek
On the bridge near the park’s gatehouse
Fine end to a perfect day!

There might be snow days when you’re better off just staying home to avoid the obvious dangers of winter travel, but if you have the right timing and adequate skills, you just might want to take up snow riding. There’s nothing quite like rolling through the fresh snow on a cold, crisp winter afternoon. Now that I’m living on Vancouver Island, I’m looking forward to doing the same thing here, but I’ll always remember my days in the Seymour Valley. Get out there and discover the good times, you’ll be glad you did!

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