Back to the Trails


WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach

There was a point in Whistler’s history, before it was actually called Whistler, when thousands of Coast and Interior Salish First Nations people called the land between Vancouver and Lillooet home. For thousands of years the Lil’wat First Nation hunted and gathered between Whistler and Pemberton, and even today many of the area’s popular hiking trails actually follow traditional routes traveled by the Coast Salish First Nation. Of course today Whistler is considered to be the preeminent outdoor recreation destination on the planet, an accolade that stems from recent history as what would eventually become Whistler-Blackcomb only began spinning lifts in 1966, much later than many of North America’s other destination mountain resorts. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Whistler’s notoriety as an idyllic outdoor hotspot began picking up considerable steam, with people flocking to the area from around the world as word of the deep snow and incredible terrain spread. One of those aforementioned pursuits was mountain biking and in 1989 Whistler saw the creation of WORCA, its local trail advocacy association, which of course would eventually help lay the foundation for Whistler’s status as the gold standard for mountain biking on the planet. With Whistler and the rest of BC now in the 3rd phase of its “restart plan”, the community is opening its doors to others within the province.

Photos courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova.

Lay of the Land:
Whistler is surrounded on all sides by some of North America’s most beautiful mountains. While the elevations seen are somewhat modest compared to summits found in the interior of BC as well mountains and peaks found in the American West, the prominence available is substantial, with upwards of 5,000 vertical feet from the highest trail to the Sea to Sky Highway. Its close proximity to the coast can make for plenty of moisture for 3/4 of the year, with peak bike season typically occurring in the fall due to moderate temperatures and superb trail conditions. Whistler is also home to a bevy of microclimates which range from coniferous rainforest on the valley floor, to slightly drier slopes where hemlocks and spruce are prominent, to a true alpine setting as you top out. This incredible combination makes for some of the most diverse riding opportunities you’ll find anywhere on the planet in one location. Oh, and the alpine lakes are dreamy and aplenty, so there’s that. It’s also worth noting one of the big things the Whistler community likes to drive home: Adventure Smart. It’s about preparing yourself for safe travel, always knowing your ability and riding within it, and understanding any inherent risks on trails you intend to ride.

Whistler isn’t really a place that requires much of an introduction, and trying to organize all of the opportunities available to riders in such a massive space into a tidy paragraph or two may seem like an exercise in futility, but the truth is that Whistler is at the center of the mountain bike universe because of the absurd amount of trails available for riders of all skill levels and styles. What is an absurd amount of trail, you might ask? Well between the bike park and the trail networks throughout the valley, there are over 1,000 named trails totaling close to 1,300 km. That’s categorically absurd. In a good way of course.

Whistler Bike Park is, for all intents and purposes, largely what most visitors have in mind when they plan a trip to “Whistler”, and for good reason: it is a massive work of art. Whistler’s Bike Park is comprised of 4 “zones” which include Fitzsimmons, Creekside, Garbanzo, and Peak zones. Fitzsimmons is Whistler’s original bike park, where you’ll find A-Line, Crabapple Hits, and many other freeride favs. Creekside is the latest addition to the vast network of trails throughout the bike park and is generally recommended for advanced riders and up. Garbanzo was completed 16 years ago, and added a couple of thousand feet of vertical to the existing Fitzsimmons zone. If roots and loam are your thing, check out In Deep or Goat’s Gully, both of which can be found in this section. Note: there are some closures due to operational limitations stemming from COVID-19, which includes the Peak Zone. Be sure to check online to see what’s open. Bike park closing dates are as follows: October 12 (on Whistler Mountain) and September 7 (Creekside Gondola). The resort is offering a steal as well: 2 nights of lodging and 2 adult full-day bike park passes from $103 CAD per person, per night. Don’t be silly: get on it.

Outside of the bike park is where Whistler truly opens up and blows minds, particularly in the Autumn when the trails have less traffic and the prices reflect the “off-season”. The density of trail in and around town is overwhelming, so WORCA managed to break the region down into several zones which include Whistler North, Whistler South, the Westside Trails, Blackcomb Trails, and the Cheakamus Trails. Whistler North is perhaps the smallest of the area’s trail networks, but it is home to some classic trails and is most ideal for expert-level riders. Whistler South has a bit of something for everyone. Much of the trail reparations in recent years have been funded by Whistler-Blackcomb, and this is where you’ll find some iconic rides such as the Kashmir to Kush loop. The Westside trails are among the oldest in all of Whistler, and many of the trails were built by some of the area’s most iconic trail builders. The more willing you are to climb, the greater your reward. The views only get better as you ascend, as does the descending. The Blackcomb trails were originally rogue trails that have since been adopted by Whistler-Blackcomb and they even assist in their maintenance. These trails are located in a unique sub-alpine forest and are built along low angle fall lines, with high speeds, amazing dirt, and are largely expert-only in nature. Cheakamus has trails that cover the full spectrum of ability levels, and this zone is also dog friendly!
What’s New:
Whistler has introduced enhanced safety protocols so guests can visit the resort and ride the trails and bike park with confidence. If you’re planning a trip to Whistler or are in-resort, check out the Doors Open Directory. It provides a comprehensive look at which businesses are open and the policies they are implementing to keep everyone safe and healthy. Additionally, most transactions are contact-less, so if you are able to, do as much purchasing in advance of your visit. It’ll save some time and with more limitations in place due to social distancing, will help you ensure you’re able to partake in all of the good times you’re traveling to Whistler for in the first place.

A trip to the bike park means that face coverings are required, even with that shiny new full-face you’re so eager to show off. All indoor spaces and lift lines require face coverings. There are no cash transactions at the bike park, and lift tickets are available online and should be purchased in advance.

COVID has also had an impact on riding itself and the community asks a few things of you while riding with your pals. First, please stay home if you’re sick. The trails will be waiting for you once you’re better. Also, keep the circle tight, meaning the only people you should be close to and hanging with are those who are in your household or people you’ve had regular contact with over the past several months. Otherwise, keep at least 2 meters between yourself and others. Finally, stay within your limits as a rider. While everyone loves a good “Friday Fails” moment, the truth is that there’s no reason to jeopardize your health and well being during a time when the healthcare system has plenty on its plate including, you know, things like global pandemics and such.

It’s also smart to stay informed about all alpine closures and updates, and you can do so by checking out the alpine trail network page.

Local Bike Shops:
Well, it is Whistler, so it stands to reason that if you are looking for a bike shop, you won’t have to look far. Here are some shops to consider: Arbutus Routes, Coastal Culture Sports, Comor Sports, Cross Country Connection, Cycle Whistler, Garbanzo Bike & Bean, Evolution Whistler, Fanatyk Co Ski & Cycle, Premium Mountain Rentals, and Whistler Bike Company.

Local Mountain Biking Clubs:
If you’re not familiar with WORCA (Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association), they’re Whistler’s mountain bike advocacy powerhouse, and without them there’d be virtually nothing to ride on in and around town. WORCA works with a variety of land managers, as well as private landowners, government agencies, utility companies, and perhaps most importantly First Nations in order to manage non-motorized access to the bevy of trails in Whistler. Formed in 1989, WORCA now has a board of directors comprised of 13 people and a membership base of over 1,700 individuals. They sanction weekly rides and races, and maintain hundreds of miles of trail in the Whistler Valley. Consider coming out to a trail day or supporting their maintenance and construction through a WORCA membership or trail supporter pass on your next visit.

Restaurants and Accommodation:
While many people prefer to celebrate post-shred with food, drink, and high fives, the truth is that things are quite obviously going to look a bit different this year. Still, if you’re keen on having a celebratory drink with a friend or watching riders come down from the base of the mountain, check out establishments like Dusty’s Bar & BBQ, and the Longhorn Saloon.

A complete list of all bike-friendly lodging options can be easily found here.

Must Dos:
Did you know that Whistler offers up bear viewing tours? Anytime you’re ever in a place where bears are abundant, it’s important to be smart and avoid approaching or feeding them unless you want to end up in the news for all of the wrong reasons. Enter Whistler Photo Safaris, who offer a guided experience that gives you the opportunity to see bears in their natural habitat at dawn or dusk from the comfort of a 4X4 Jeep.

Autumn in Whistler is something pretty special as it’s truly an idyllic time to come and see this place, particularly if this is your first trip. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is the first of its kind, with both beautiful First Nation communities coming together to share their history, art, and culture with the rest of the world. The Squamish (Sk̲wxwú7mesh Úxwumixw, Coast Salish), and the Lil’wat (Líl̓wat7ul, Interior Salish) Nations have designed a centre to embody “the spirit of partnership between two unique Nations”.

For more information on the biking experience in Whistler, and to book your vacation visit Whistler.com/bike.

Whistler mountain biking trails

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