Chris Winter loves to travel the world and ride mountain bikes. So, he made that his career.
The first time I met Chris, my husband and I had just finished 40+ hours of travel from Colorado to Nepal. We were beginning a two-week Himalayan mountain bike trip guided by Chris’ company, Big Mountain Bike Adventures. Within minutes of meeting, we discovered our shared affliction with the thing they call wanderlust.
The next time Chris and I ran into each other, we were in a backcountry hut, surrounded by a stunning volcanic landscape, in the middle of a remote highlands region in Iceland. It was the beginning of BMBA’s Tectonic Treasure trip, an epic mountain bike journey on an overland trail called the Lauvegavegur Route.
After both trips, Chris urged me to come check out his hometown of Whistler. Of course, I obliged. Sometime between laps on Whistler’s amazing valley trails, big rides in Pemberton, and a float plane adventure to the South Chilcotins, Chris and I found time to talk about his life as an outdoorsman, mountain biking in his backyard, and running an adventure travel business.
What was the driving force that got you outdoors?
I grew up in a very active and outdoorsy family, so I had no choice! We’ve always been a cycling family, it’s been a part of our lifestyle for as long as I can remember. We were also a big skiing family—both alpine and cross-country. Plus, I grew up in the country where we’d be outside building stuff and ripping it apart most of the time.
How did you get into mountain biking?
My dad was always a forward thinker. One day in 1986, he brought home three rocky mountain “discovery” bikes with cantilever brakes and knobby tires. We were into BMX already, but that was my introduction to a mountain bike. I started riding seriously when I moved to Whistler in 1992 with my Gary Fisher “Mt. Tam”—it was a painful and bloody few years of learning to ride the technical local trails on that bike, but I haven’t looked back.
How did you get into the mountain bike tour business?
My parents started running cycling trips for high school students in 1972, so I grew up in a house with maps strewn across the kitchen table and Mom and Dad talking about trip logistics all the time. They’d run month-long camping epics in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, England, and Wales, and then France and the rest of Europe. When I moved on from working on Whistler’s “Joyride” event (that eventually became Crankworx) in 2002, I was drawn to Switzerland’s Valais region and the crazy idea of offering mountain bike trips to North Americans. Thirteen years later, we now have over a dozen amazing locations on our roster of destinations. It’s been an amazing journey of discovering amazing places to ride worldwide and of developing the travel business.
What’s your favorite part about traveling via mountain bike?
Mountain bike technology has come such a long way in recent years that our bikes are able to venture deeper than ever before with comfort and performance. As a result, more and more trails and regions are being discovered, especially in developing countries. My favorite part is exploring a new region; its culture, its trails, its cuisine and landscapes. Especially when the trails are good, really good.
With so much info available online, have you had to change your strategies? What keeps people signing up for trips?
As mountain bikers, a lot of us are do-it-yourself types who are excited about creating our own adventures. This is great, and I love the fact that our company inspires more people to travel to cool places with their mountain bikes. There are a lot of riders who are too busy to plan their own trip and would rather spend their time riding the best trails in a region than fumbling with logistics. Plus, as soon as you venture to Europe or beyond you quickly realize that no matter how much online planning that you do, without speaking the local language or knowing the best local guides, your trip won’t be as good as you hoped. At the end of the day, we are based in North America and “speak the same language” as our riders when it comes to riding styles and expectations. When a rider asks us what the trails are like on our Nepal trip, we can answer in a way that they understand with confidence.
What kind of connections do you have with the local communities where you run trips?
It’s imperative to have the best local guides and logistics staff when you go ride bikes in a far away place. That’s the backbone of our business and the reason that our trips are so successful. We know that a mechanical issue can ruin your dream holiday. Through connections and years of experience and relationship building, we’ve built trusted partnerships with amazing people.
What’s special about British Columbia?
In BC you can walk into the forest and build your dream trail. It’s also home to an army of passionate, inspired, and active people. Combined, you have an amazing trail network in every community in the province, impressive weekly race series with hundreds of riders that participate, active trail building and mountain bike activism organizations, and scores of progressive pro riders, filmmakers, cinematographers, writers, shop owners, and event creators seeking to make their mark. And now we have governments and tourism organizations seeing the economic benefits of mountain bike tourism who are spending more tax dollars on improving the infrastructure and marketing it. It’s a nirvana for mountain bikers and it’s only getting better.
What keeps you in Whistler?
Whistler and the Sea to Sky Region is a place with more out-of-the-box and gutsy thinkers and mountain bikers than anywhere I’ve ever been. Because of this, it’s been ahead of the curve and I like it for that. Plus the riding in the valley and within an hour’s drive is unreal. I’m extra lucky, though, I get to travel to beautiful places all over the world but then come home to our mountain biking paradise.