Skip to content

Shoulder check

A glimpse at the trail-blazing history of the whistler mountain bike park

The thing about downhill mountain biking is, it doesn't serve to look back. When you're charging down a mountain at 50 kilometres an hour you've got to stay focused on where you're going.

That's probably why, for all its success as the premiere lift-accessed mountain bike park in the world, not even last summer's celebration of the millionth rider triggered a moment of retrospection for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

After all, there was the Top of the World alpine trail to build, a European spin-off of Crankworx in Les Deux Alpes and new partnerships with Giant Bicycles, Avid and Rockshox to roll out.

Momentum has a remarkable way of building out of almost nothing.

In 1985, Eric Wight was pushing a laundry cart along the dim basement corridor of the Delta Hotel in Whistler when he realized, "I'm really not into this."

Mountain biking was just getting started - beefed up road bikes with knobbly tires and no suspension were getting lycra-clad riders out onto logging and fire-roads, or down in the North Shore mountains onto rogue stunts and trails.

Wight went to see his ski school boss, Whistler's mountain manager Bob Dufour, with an idea: "Let's do mountain biking on the hill."

"Eric, you're an idiot," said Dufour, who fired Wight at least twice a year. "Get out of my office."

But Dufour also acknowledged that, "As big a pain in the ass as you are, Eric, I know I can give you any guest and they'll have a good time."

So after Wight spent a couple of years starting up a mountain bike tour company, rental business and bike shop in the valley, he was invited to run guided bike tours on Whistler Mountain.

The ski operation's managers were trying to develop summer business, but were fundamentally skeptical. They didn't really want anyone on the ski runs, tearing up the grass or creating erosion. So Wight and his crew, comprised of Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt, built single-track trails around Bear Cub, Whiskey Jack, Pony Trail and Expressway zones with very little gradient to meet the mountain's other concern: "No crashes. They want smooth surfaces and no crashes. So we built trails that you had to pedal if you wanted any speed."

When Intrawest took over operation of the bike park in 1999, Wight moved on to found Backroads Adventures and Dave Kelly took the helm. He finally convinced management to authorize a machinebuilt trail, and when B Line opened, the smoothbanked beginner run was so fun the pros were racing down it too.

Work on A-Line, the expert version, began the very next day. It took 1,200 machine hours and two summers to build, and became Whistler's claim to fame. With the introduction of dualsuspension mountain bikes and bike racks on the Fitzsimmons Chair, people were moving up the mountain more quickly, and riders were getting lots of laps.

That, said Paddy Kaye, put Canadian athletes and the Whistler Bike Park on the world stage. "A-Line, a downhill course with 50 jumps, really built the skills of local riders. They got really fast really quick and people would have to step up their game when they came over here to compete."

When Kaye hosted Joyride in 2002, the freeride mountain bike festival that set the stage for Crankworx, organizers brought international riders Cedric Gracia, Brian Lopes and Steve Peat to Whistler.

"Lopes fell in love with the park, spread the word in the mountain bike community and still owns a house here. Peat bought a place here, too. They all started coming annually," Kaye said.

The word got out. The game of mountain biking had changed. And if you wanted any part of the revolution, Whistler was the place to be.

Now, said Wight, "It's really come to fruition - guys moving to Whistler not to ski, but to bike. Coming specifically in the summer in order to ride the bike park every day."

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is still attracting people who look at the world as a playground that is fundamentally rideable, so long as you look at it in the right light and stay focused on where you want to be.




push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks