Whistler Bike Park for mere Mortals - by Kurt Turchan
We were recently invited to ride the bike park courtesy of Intrawest.
Three of us editors took to the hills which in this case feature 3400 feet of vertical bike park. We were lucky to have with us one of the Intrawest Mountain Bike Guides - Chris Hartley.
Chris hails from Edmonton Alberta, having grown up ski instructing and mountain biking.
Our back-country ski editor, Chris O'Grady, rides all summer and skis all winter. He also climbs, which is a nice complementary skill because
riding the bike park can quickly exhaust your forearms due to the braking action. The better riders don't brake as much, but mere mortals need to control speed,
so be prepared for some arm burn.
We'll set you up with a mix of tips for riding the park, a smattering of trails that will thrill you without killing you, and, finally, some perspectives
from three intermediate riders.
First the equipment:
- a downhill bike such as they rent with 6 to 8" of front and back suspension is a must, leave your XC bike at home
- a full face helmet (also arental)
- leg and arm armor (also a rental)
- rip-stop or heavy fabric shorts
- possibly back armor
- camelback with water
- a small first aid kit and of course, a spare tube, and pump
Then the riding tips:
If you control your speed and maintain control, you'll have a blast. Don't be fooled by rider after rider who drops 5 feet or jumps easily, the best
riders in North America come to ride the Whistler Bike Park. Stick to the ground, and get a feeling for speed.
- if you are not used to getting air, stay on the ground you can roll all the table tops on most trails
ride downhill mostly off your seat, with your knees slightly open for balance (a tip from our guide Chris)
- keep your weight back, but comfortably over the bike where you remain in control
- use a mix of front and back brakes -- perhaps feathering the front brakes to learn what they can do for you
- look well ahead of your bike, choosing lines away from the pits and potholes that develop due to overuse
- stand tall on your bike before dropping over something steeper, shift weight back as you drop
- work the dips and lips by unweighting and weighting your handlebars -- this will make you a smooth rider
- flex your legs also in the dips, get a feel for your bike
- be as light on your brakes as you can be -- while controlling speed.
- for sharp corners look around the corner to seemingly "coax" the bike around
Looking up from the hi-speed quad where the riders queue, you will see some increible dirt structures leftover from Crankworx that are extremely intimidating.
You will also see lots of riders riding the bottom of A-line around giant berms and table tops. This can be defeating and scary for the rider about to ascend
the lift. Don't be afraid, there are some great trails on the mountain. Keep in mind that on weekends
you'll have rider after rider on A-line, likely jumping at twice your speed. If you are not a jumper, stay off A-line, there are plenty of great
alternatives for the intermediate rider.
It might seem obvious then to go for B-line. No jumps really, just berm after berm. Avoid B-line. For the intermediate rider it is both boring and extremely pitted from a very dry summer. This trail needs some work -- however it might be a good warmup and is a good intermediate alternative at the half way point for those who do not feel
comfortable with Devil's club. As you can tell, many of the trails intersect each other as you work your way down the mountain.
Now here are the trails we rode over and over, with perpspectives from the three of us:
Start off by exiting left off the chair and proceeding to the far right (looking down the mountain) and rightmost trail called Crank It Up leading away from lift.
The joy of Heart of Darkness is that it has several A-line style ramps and table tops and berms, without the stress of A-line. This trail is relatively new and
great for the intermediate rider.
- jump on "Crank It Up" a blue run.
- takes you to a skills area where you can practice a progression of small drops
- at the bottom of the skills area, you choose Devils Club or back on B-Line
- if comfortable with shore style ladders, take Devil's Club it's really fun
- otherwise choose B-line for an easy middle segment
- take "Heart of Darkness" to the bottom
The top of the mountain is now open also but only advanced intermeriate and advanced riders should go there. Take the Garbanzo chair lift to the top of the mountain which leads to advanced trails like Freight Train. Freight Train is essentially more of A-line but
less busy and in great shape. It's slopes are steeper and there are some
seriously large drops and gaps. Thankfully there are bypasses for most difficult sections. If you can ride fast, and are starting to get some air, Freight Train is great if not too busy.
I was happy with the sequence described above, and Chris also took us down Angry Pirate which had tighther switchbacks and some steeps. I found it to be a lot
of work and generally preferred the less busy trails that approximated A-line but without the pros racing up my rear. Day 1 I rode my Kona Dawg Deluxe with 5"
front and rear, but it wasn't enough. Day 2 was way more fun on the Kona Stab rental.
A good tip is to ride what you want to ride once you find a line you like. Let your buddies go off to ride what thrills them, otherwise you'll feel pushed and
just won't enjoy it. Better to set a rendezvous time. My friends went off and rode Dirt Merchant, generally doable but I took a pass on it on account of
my broken collarbone from April. My goal for the two days of riding at the park, stress free riding without injury. One should note there is at least one ambulance (engine running)
stationed on the mountain as well as first aid teams and patrols and generally these teams are busy -- so ride careful especially if the bike park is a one-off
visit rather than a weekly thing.
Other riders are mostly polite and will generally give other riders some time to get down the mountain
so that there are gaps between riders.
We rode on Friday and Saturday toward the end of August and had only 5-8 minute waits for the lift. One other tip, don't go and ride 5,000 feet up a logging
road the day before riding the park as your first ride in weeks -- I was in pain day 1 and day 2 requiring a lot of warm up time.
Hiring a guide is completely worth it as you will get riding tips as well as a custom tour down the mountain where you can get the skinny on your favourite trails.
Mark is a new Dad who has a beefy Brodie Devo and has ridden a lot of the shore over the years, and, can take 3-4 foot jumps, as well as skinnies and ladders.
However, with a 1 year old, this was his first ride of the summer, here's his perspective:
Getting out on the bike is a wonderfully liberating experience, given that parenthood has been 24 x 7. One of the things I looked forward to most was doing a
little male bonding. Flying down the hill for the first time of the year reminded me of life before children. It also made me want to make more time to do
things like this. Favourite trails were Freight train but by that time my bike was broken. I also liked the ladder ride on old school. I loved the berms,
the flow, the whole thing. My advice is to ride within your limits and enjoy the opportunity to be out there.
Chris is our back-country ski editor who rides all summer. He likes speed and between his overall strength and love of riding
had no problems with the physical challenges of the bike park. Chris likes to earn his turns and his favourite run on the North Shore is riding
up Fromme, and taking Seventh Heaven for a long ride down.
It is a good thing we rode up a logging road all day the day earlier, as Chris then had no guilt feelings riding the bike park lifts. I was curious myself how Chris
was going to sum up his experiences. Chris rides a giant AC3 which has a good downhill geometry for an all mountain bike.
Here's what Chris had to say:
For years now I've been a purist "ride-what-you-climb" mountain biker, exploring the coast trails from Seattle to Pemberton under my own steam, suspicious of that car shuttling crowd screaming downhill past me on their huge downhill rigs. So it was with mixed feelings that I ventured up to Whistler on a TrailPeak weekend of riding the chairs.
I was immediately struck by how beautifully different the mountain looked covered in grasses and late summer flowers. High speed lines I'd skied at last winter had huge cliffs in the middle of them, and there were all sorts of animals and birds scurrying around in the dense underbrush.
The first drop in we headed down B-line to test our skills, relieved to find taht everything could be rolled, and that the more difficult stunts had well marked easier by-passes. I was happy to have remembered to bring a pair of ski goggles. The dry summer we'd been having left the trails dusty, hard packed, and pitted. Padded arms and legs, and a full face helmet was the recommended fashion, and there were no cross-country bikes in site.
Several runs later, and now tackling some of the harder trails, I was surprised to notice that kickers, technical drops and tightly burmed corners that have always daunted me on the North Shore were starting to feel easier. I was able to flow at higher speeds than I'm usually comfortable. A day at Whistler was improving my riding in ways that would normally have taken several weeks of climbing North Shore trails. I'm looking forward to taking these new skills back out to the trails, and seeing if they stick."