Rossland is steeped in the mountain bike racing history of North America. While the small community of 3,500 people hosted the 1993 North American Championships, the history of bike racing in Rossland goes back much further with the original Rubberhead Bike Festival.
The Rubberhead started in 1985 on fully rigid bikes: with a cross-country race on the Rubberhead trail in lower Rossland; a Mt. Tam-style downhill race on the wagon road from Rossland to Warfield; a ski-inspired dual slalom; and an innovative “Technogrind” race where cross-country racers were penalized time for dabbing on the highly technical sections.
The Rubberhead was hugely popular at a time when mountain biking was exploding on the scene.
“I bet you could count the number of mountain bikers on your fingers and toes when we first started,” says pioneer Terry Miller. “It was new and exciting.”
Based on the success of the Rubberhead and strong volunteer and racer enthusiasm, Rossland bid and won the right to host the North American Championships for 1993 at the zenith of the early mountain bike revolution. With 400 participants and 200 volunteers, more than 600 people were involved in the Championships, not counting fans, spectators and most of Rossland’s residents (who didn’t have a choice as the course literally went through their backyards).
The ’93 NorAms were coupled with the Rubberhead Festival and offered nearly a dozen different events for all riders—from elite competition to a beer-fuelled bike toss. The ‘93 cross-country race used the traditional Rubberhead trail, a fast, non-technical route. The ’94 National Championships, however, shifted the cross-country event to another level altogether. The start/finish line that year took over Rossland’s main thoroughfare sent riders weaving through town, up and down the technical single track of Monte Christo mountain, and then back again through town. The elite men had to do five laps of this winding course.
“I remember Alison Sydor telling me the course was ‘a little technical’, and she was the World Cup Champion,” laughs Miller.
The downhill ran from the top of Red Mountain down the backside road and some roughed-in singletrack to the bottom of the T-bar. As they used the lift at the resort to get to the top, there was a lot of negotiating with the Ministry of Transportation at the time, as they had never heard of putting bikes on lifts.
“The stuff we had to go through to pull it off was really something else,” says Miller.
Other unique events included a grueling head-to-head hill climb competition, bike polo and a noncompetitive “Just Be There” ride for spectators and enthusiasts. The event was hands down a massive success and certainly put Rossland on the map.
“It was a big deal in those emerging days,” says Miller.
One of the spin-offs of hosting the North American Champs was the town labelling itself the “Mountain Bike Capital of Canada,” a name that endured for decades. With the establishment of the Kootenay Columbia Trail Society in the late ‘90’s, Rossland has continued to develop and maintain an extensive trail network, including the IMBA-designated “Epic” Seven Summits Trail.
The North American Championships evolved into the Canadian Nationals and Canada Cup series races for two years following—while Canadian, it continued to be of a similar scope and scale, with equal success. During those years, Cycling Canada officials attended and were a little skeptical a small town like Rossland could pull off such large-scale events. However, they were so impressed they endorsed a bid to host a World Cup event in Rossland in 1996.
“By the time they were done they were ready to move here,” says Terry. “But in the end the UCI wouldn’t go for it. Our organization and courses were excellent, but if we were in Vancouver or Whistler we would have had a good chance.”
With the unsuccessful World Cup bid and a significant strain on the community after hosting a decade of large mountain bike events, the first glorious chapter in mountain bike racing in Rossland came to a close.
A few years later, Rossland played host to the BC Cup mountain bike series on three occasions between 1999 and 2003.
“The events were memorable as the festivities centred on the deck at Red Mountain, and the spectator friendly action on challenging purpose built courses,” says organizer Stewart Spooner. “An unrelentingly steep downhill track plunged straight down from the summit of Red, the XC loop formed the basis for what is now the Redtop trail and an impressive 4X course was constructed on the face.”
Five years later, in 2008, the Rubberhead would return with new organizers, a renewed vigour and new disciplines fit for the times.
The Dreadhead Super-D, Huck ‘en Berries Jump Jam and Seven Summits Poker Ride (which had been held for several years prior as a fun event) comprised the new “Rubberhead Festival.” It’s been held the past five years with great regional participation.
Now entering its 6th year, things once again are stepping up on a much bigger scale. The Rubberhead Enduro (formerly the Dreadhead Super-D) will be a 3-leg enduro race and is part of both the BC and the Kootenay Rockies Enduro Series. Being held August-long weekend, the event will be centred at Red Mountain Resort with two days of entertainment, fun events and much more.
The Huck ‘m Berries Jump Jam has been awarded a “Bronze-Level” status as part of the new Freeride World Tour, meaning it will draw some of the best dirt jumping/slopestyle talent from across Western Canada and the U.S.. The Jump Jam will once again coincide with the ever-popular Poker Ride on the September long weekend.
It’s safe to say the history of the Rubberhead and mountain bike racing in Rossland helped shape the fledgling sport of mountain biking into what it is today.
The organizers of today’s Rubbherhead are standing on the shoulders of giant mountain bikers, which sounds dangerous. Maybe that will be a new event next year.
Story provided with permission by Ryan Kuhn www.rubberheadenduro.com