2018 was the last occurrence of the L’Alpe de Grand Blanc, a hill climb fondo-race from east Kelowna to the ski village of Big White Mountain Resort. That year, 148 cyclists signed up — that’s not a lot for an epic 2000+m hill-climb event that you think would attract more riders. Well it didn’t for a couple reasons: difficulty; weather; traffic; the descent doesn’t make the climb worth it; and, a short seasonal window.
The Merckx Fondo, with stretches on a four lane highway, is successful in part due to safe lane closures and numerous aid stations on the route — not a feature of L’Alpe de Grand Blanc. The Meadows in the Sky Parkway event at Mount Revelstoke similarly has a short seasonal window, but has significantly less traffic, better views, and a wicked descent. Picking an epic fondo to do during a western Canadian summer is a fickle business.
Also, this route is basically 50km up hill. The route rolls up and down in parts, making pacing the effort difficult — and saps speed during the descent. In one direction, you’re bound to be fighting the wind. Even in June, it can be cold and damp at the top; dress & pack accordingly.
But, it is epic! That’s enough reason to ride up to Big White. It may not be enjoyable, up or down. But, it is epic. You MIGHT see a bear, a couple of sheep, some Australians that didn’t go home after ski season, or an increase in personal fitness and the ability to truthfully say, “I rode that”.
Points of Interest
- Mission Creek @ 0km
- Black Mountain @ 5km
- WildPlay Elements Park @ 12km
- Kelowna Nordic @ 31km
- Big White @ 54km
Surfaces & Traffic
100% pavement with moderate traffic.
Pavement on Highway 33 is a chip-seal surface—slightly rough—and has two lanes with narrow shoulder. Logging & shipping trucks are common. Traffic is light in the early morning but moderate later in the day. It’s relatively flat from 10km-28km.
At 31km, the route turns onto Big White Road for the remaining 23km until the turnaround. The road has two lanes and is 100% pavement, but it can be rough in some points and can have gravel or water run-off from the snow melt. There are 3 flat/downhill sections during this portion of the climb. Traffic is light until July 1, when the mountain biking bros start showing up.
Depending on temperature, it’s recommended to take 2× 750ml bottles with the option for a third bottle in the back pocket. If you’re attempting sub-2 hours, you may want to travel lighter.
- Big White Resort @ 54km.
- Kelowna to Big White @ 5km. 49km @ 2.4%. The first 6km of this segment feel and look like a climb, then its mostly flat until 20km into segment. The remaining 30km aren’t steep, but they stay consistent, with three more flat/downhill sections before you reach the top. Fast segment times are sub-2 hours; very fast is about 1½ hours.
And please be sure to…