This is a guest post by Jeff!
Whistler, touted as the downhill capital of the world among mountain bikers, is located in British Columbia, Canada. Whistler has been on my radar since the late 1990s, but given its remote location it was a challenge to reach from Florida. As such, it has been on my “must do” mountain bike bucket list since starting our West Coast Tour. The drive from Ferndale, Washington takes about 2 hours, however the scenery starting from Vancouver and heading north to Whistler is nothing short of spectacular. Serious eye candy! The north and west showcases the Strait of Georgia followed by snow-capped mountains, and to the east for the entire drive are steep mountains laced with lush emerald green forests and rocky cliff faces. Whistler is similar to most ski-resort type towns with its many quaint shops, restaurants, and hotels. During the summer the town is transformed into a mountain bike mecca sporting the latest in downhill bicycles, equipment, and gear. My “all mountain” mountain bike is about the minimum recommended rig for this mountain, and countless times during my two day trip I could have used more suspension as mine bottomed out on the larger jumps and drops. One of those downhill bikes would have been nice, but I decided to stay with my rig.
Upon arrival, I parked in one of the many lots for $7.00/day, suited up in my downhill gear (full-face helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and gloves), grabbed my carbon-fiber steed, and headed for the ticketing area. The ticketing area was bustling with all kinds of people and bicycles. Hikers could take the gondola up in one direction to the subalpine and alpine hiking trails, and a chair lift was used for the mountain bikers, whisking them up in another direction. A lift pass for a bicycle is similar to a skier in that it costs about $53.00/day, and the lifts are open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. My stamina isn’t what it used to be, so 6 hours of mountain biking was plenty for me, before retiring to my hotel (hopefully in one piece). After paying for my lift ticket and getting a trail map, it was time to catch the first chair lift.
While on the chair lift, I studied the map only to figure out that there were many chair lifts and a gondola which serviced the mountain bikers. The main area, called Fitzsimmons, was the original Whistler downhill area. This took up one entire side of the trail map, with a seemingly endless intertwined spaghetti bowl of trails. I flipped the trail map over to find two more large sections of trails. One trail area was higher up on the mountain, called Garbonzo, and the other trail area which encompassed the opposite side of the mountain was called Creekside. After getting off the chair lift, I discovered that the Garbonzo area chair lift was labelled, “experts only.” Consequently, I felt it was prudent to stay on the lower section of the mountain first, before venturing further. Given that the lower section had everything from easy to “Pro Lines”, it would take the better part of the day just to figure out the lower trail system.
The trail map yielded a wealth of information. I determined that the trails were further subdivided into “Technical” and “Free Ride” trails. About 70% was setup for technical riding, and about 30% was earmarked for “Free Ride.” If you don’t mind leaving the earth from time to time, the Free Ride trails offered buff single track, with various jumps and table tops, all broken down from beginner to Double-Black expert levels. The technical trails are much less buff, and generally contained natural obstacles, roots, rocks, logs, drops, jumps, and other natural or constructed features that required technical riding skills, and again were divided from beginner to expert levels. I started on an easy free ride section called “Easy Does It”, and it proved to be a great introduction to the large, sweeping berms all the way down the mountain. Throughout the first day, I spent my time on mainly blue intermediate free ride and technical trails, but ventured down a couple of black diamond free ride and technical trails just to get the flow of the mountain. On my last run of the day, I about ran into a rather large black bear hanging out on the trails. Good thing my disk brakes work well! The bear saw me, and scurried off down the trail. A great first day!