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YOU REMEMBER THAT FEELING AS A KID, THAT UH-OH-HEREIT- COMES GUT DROP WHEN YOU’RE ABOUT TO BE SPANKED?

That’s how I feel right now. I’m out for an evening rip with one of Jasper’s XC nerds, Matt Staneland, who, to my concern, is riding a svelte 19-inch Kona Unit hardtail, ideal for smashing out big miles on the sprawling network of cross-country trails in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies.

The setting sun casts an amber glow upon Roche Bonhomme, the distinctive ridgeline east of town that resembles an old duffer in repose. Jasper is like a mini-Banff, set in a mountain valley where the Athabasca and Miette rivers meet, a setting that has sent infinite camera shutters clicking since it morphed from a rough railroad siding into a tourist haven following the creation of Jasper National Park in 1907. However, for mountain bikers, the similarities between Jasper and Canada’s other national parks end quickly.

Matt Staneland

Canadian national parks, in my book, are dead zones for mountain biking, places where our sport ranks in importance well below hiking, horseback riding and maybe even pickleball playing. It’s treated like that unpredictable second cousin with a gift for the off-color joke who gets the obligatory invite to family reunions. Or so I thought, until I heard rumors of epic XC riding in Jasper, where mountain biking is not only allowed on almost every official lower-elevation trail, it’s encouraged. Proactive, enterprising cyclists have somehow found a way to work with the plodding bureaucracy of Parks Canada, the federal agency responsible for national parks, where decision- making often creeps along at a glacial pace.

But there’s nothing glacial about Staneland’s pace. We rip northward along Big Horn Alley, a smooth, hard-packed route on a grassy bench above the Yellowhead Highway,

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