Little Red River Park doesn’t have the mountains of British Columbia, but Brad Clifford is more than happy to be here.
Clifford, a former Saskatchewan resident who now trains skiers, mountain bikers and motocross athletes in Whistler, was eager to make the pilgrimage to Prince Albert for the Pine Needle Music and Mountain Bike Festival. His biggest reason is the community. It’s easily the thing he misses most.
“The group of people, especially (organizer) Mike (Horn) and his Fresh Air crew that put this event on, they’re some of my first ever sponsors and really good friends of mine,” Clifford explains. “They’ve always kept in touch with me and always been really good to me. It’s just really the community that I miss. That’s the best part of the province.”
Clifford is one of roughly 135 participants in this year’s festival, most of which are current or former Saskatchewan residents. For the next six hours, teams of riders will complete as many laps as possible around the wilderness track at Little Red River Park.
It’s a bit different from the Rockies, but Clifford says the course still offers plenty of challenges.
“It’s really hard-packed and it’s fairly flat and fast, so it’s going to be a day for the big engines,” he says. “Fitness is going to take over towards the end.”
Although a slow, steady drizzle falls across the park shortly after the 11 a.m. start time, the riders are in high spirits. Numerous local riders, like Ron Horn, Mike’s father, are excited for the opportunity to show off the park. He says it doesn’t get enough attention.
“It flies under the radar,” Ron chuckles. “It’s like the Rotary Trail, but in the bush.”
This is the Pine Needle Mountain bike and Music Festival’s ninth year. During that time it’s not only helped bring attention to one of Prince Albert’s best outdoor locations, it’s also raised money to keep it in good condition.
In the early years, event organizers would donate the proceeds to other local groups or projects like KidSport, but starting a few years ago they focused solely on supporting Little Red itself.
During that time they’ve raised more than $52,000, not including what they bring in this weekend.
For many riders in attendance, that’s all the motivation they need to come out.
“There’s really nothing else like it,” Horn says.