In the southern corner of the remote Yukon Territory, the volcanic massif of Montana Mountain rises above the tiny town of Carcross. It’s sacred land to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) as one of the four peaks that Game Mother used to string her hammock and gather her animal creations before releasing them to the land. It’s crisscrossed with old hunting and trapping trails and cut through with Gold Rush-era mining roads punctuated with crumbling mineshafts.
It’s also the Yukon’s newest hot destination for mountain biking.
In the mid-2000s, as C/TFN negotiated its land claim agreement with the Yukon and Canadian governments to return autonomy over its lands, the community of Carcross debated what kind of town to become in terms of economic drivers to sustain its people. The prospect of adventure tourism was deemed viable, and in 2006, the community opened Montana Mountain to a project called Singletrack to Success. Its mandate: “to develop a world-class network of single-track trails on Montana Mountain, a sacred site of Carcross/Tagish First Nation, while providing local youth with a summer job.”
While the project’s original purpose was to bring tourism dollars to Carcross, its success in engaging the local youth in the first few years of its existence surpassed any of its other goals, as portrayed in the 2016 film SHIFT that made the rounds with the Banff Film Festival. That said, Montana Mountain has now become a must-ride destination in the burgeoning Yukon mountain biking scene, known for its downhill trails that encompass everything from flow to technical riding with wood features improbably perched on the boulder gardens that define much of the terrain.
Dominic Smith-Johns was only seven years old when the Singletrack to Success trail crew got started building trails on the mountain. He rode bikes more than he walked when he was little, and his grandmother gave him his first proper mountain bike at the of 11.
“It came to me that I was going to be a mountain biker,” he said. He knew he wanted his first job to be as a trail crew member building those trails that would turn him into a great rider, and he joined as soon as he was able at the age of 14. Six years later, he’s trail crew leader, and he’s watched several kids grow up building trails on the mountain. “It’s reassuring to know that there are kids out there who want to be on the land and want to work,” he says.
For Keegan Phillips-Hopkins, 19 years old and in his first year on trail crew, the satisfaction of guiding the younger kids on working in the backcountry is reward on its own. “It’s good teaching them how to use the tools, things to look for and do, creating a work ethic,” he says. “We all know you have to work to get what you want, and we’re ingraining it in their heads. And then it’s super satisfying to see a trail built, to have made something come from nothing.”
Visit Destination Carcross to learn more about the trails on Montana Mountain. Mountain bikers can also purchase a Friends of Montana Mountain pass that helps pay the wages of the youth building and maintaining the trails.