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The Comprehensive Guide To The Whistler Bike Park

If all you've heard of is A-Line's flawless jumps, you have reason enough to visit Whistler in the summer. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The suspension compress hard as I hang onto a rough landing on one of A-Line’s poppier jumps. Despite the rain, B.C.’s perfect dirt means the tires never falter in finding grip, and I high-line the two big berms that line you up for the biggest table on the trail–a 40-foot monster with a seemingly endless, ramping takeoff. Despite a steep drop-in after the last berm that rockets you to Strava-beating speeds, it still requires a pedal, and I just barely muster the balls to hammer a few strokes despite what already feels like a reckless amount of momentum. Stay off the brakes, stay off the brakes, and…. airborne. 

The flat table glides underneath me as the bike and I score enough hangtime to hear a flat spot in my rim spinning around the wheel. The quiet at this height in the air is mesmerizing, and it feels like a long, long time before the wheels finally connect with the ground again, proudly landing past the knuckle in the meat of the transition.

You’ve probably heard of A-Line–quite possibly the most famous bike park trail in the world–and yes, it lives up to the hype. If you’re comfortable in the air hitting some decent jumps, you’ll be tempted to join the legions of addicted locals who have tunnel vision in the  Whistler Bike Park and exclusively ride this 1,200 vertical-foot dream track of exquisitely-shaped table after table. The dirt, especially when it’s tacky like it is during this fall trip at the last week of the bike park season, seems impossibly grippy, even in the throes of mud-splattering rain. And once you start mastering the roller-coaster ride that culminates in the trail’s biggest table, the heroin of A-Line’s airtime highs will have you scratching your arms at the base, itching for more.

From flowy and bermed to rowdy tech, no bike park in the world can match Whistler's sheer diversity and number of trails for gravity-obsessed riders. Robin O'Neill/Whistler photo.

Being one of the few bike parks that offer a number and diversity of trails that match the ski offerings of the mountain they snake down, there are, in fact, other trails in the Whistler Bike Park that can, and absolutely should be ridden. Those looking to step past A-Line addiction can rally down Dirt Merchant, which ups the speed and hangtime with a mix of more creative step-ups and drops. Tech trails like the Whistler DH and blue classics like Samarui Pizza Cat are worth the chance to experience what British Columbia’s natural terrain can offer, with flowy berms throttling you off of root drops, over rock gardens, and rolling down the many huge rock faces.

Why Whistler?

Whistler Village and the bike park during Crankworx, when the entire mountain bike community descends on the Whistler Valley. Marcus Riga/Whistler photo.

If you ride a bike, especially a downhill one, the name just seems to instinctually come up in conversation. All who ride bow to Whistler as the be-all, end-all of lift-serviced mountain biking, but why? Part of it is that the management behind the hill, who first opened the bike park in the second half of the ‘90’s–right around the time the Macarena was destroying music sensibilities around the world–has been pushing mountain biking longer and harder than any other ski area in the world. 

The Whistler Bike Park now contains something like 74 marked trails, and is one of the only bike parks you’ll likely to visit in your lifetime where you feel like there’s as many places to rip down off the lift in the summer as there are in the winter. Broken down into three zones– Fitzsimmons, Garbanzo, and Peak–you also get to ride 4,900 vertical feet of Whistler Mountain including a riding experience up top, in the alpine, that you might usually only get in the Alps.

Jump #465 on Blue Velvet, an intermediate must-ride. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The other half of the Whistler’s reputation is summed up in the now omnipresent flow trail, a concept which Whistler and early bike park staff like Dave Kelly invented. Almost every smooth, machine-built berm and tabletop you now ride can be traced back to the Fitzsimmons Zone and trails like Dirt Merchant and A-Line. And still, this many years later, no one does it better. You’ll see swarms of A-Line addicts boosting the trail’s endless tabletops all day long just like you see Squaw Valley locals hot-lapping KT-22 until their knees fall off.

"Are those ENVE wheels??" Even the tourists can appreciate the crazy bike scene at Whistler. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The end result is that, on your visit to Whistler, you’ll be astonished to find not only a huge diversity of riders–old, young, male, female, in almost equal numbers–but people who’ve flown in from all over the world exclusively to spend the summer riding the lifts and beating the shit out of their downhill bikes; real life bike bums.

Quick tip: come here in the fall, when the crowds die down and the dirt is moist, join the Whistler Mountain Bike Buy/Sell/Swap Facebook group, and you may be able to score a sweet down on a sick bike from some Kiwi desperate to recover the funds to fly back to New Zealand before their visa runs out.

THE TRAILS

The monster sender on A-Line. Coach Duncan Mainland logs his airtime. Ryan Dunfee photo.

While you see “flow” trails everywhere these days–smoothed-out tracks with perfect, swooping berms, sculpted tabletops, and predictable speeds to clear everything–Whistler was the place where the idea first got started, and A-Line was the first laboratory. Because of this, Whistler’s jump trails–A-Line, Dirt Merchant, Blue Velvet, Crank It Up, etc.–get most of the hype when it comes to inspiration to visit.

Caleb Del Begio tackling the entrance drop on one of the few trails with a number of wooden features–Fade to Black. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The bike park trail map has a quick, very useful guide on the side of it to give you a sense of how to progress up the difficulty ladder, whether you’re looking to boost jumps or hammer tech, but most ripe beginners will start rolling down EZ Does It, quickly making their way to Crank It Up, an awesomely fun intermediate trail packed with a range of jumps, hips, wallrides, and small drops that will keep a lot of riders busy for lap after lap.

Whistler coach Duncan Mainland turns it up on Crank It Up, a hooter intermediate jump trail. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Crank It Up More was built as an extension this year, which bridges more of the gap between Crank It Up and A-Line as far as jump size goes.

Of course, nearly everyone coming to Whistler to ride downhill will want to check off A-Line before they leave. Dozens and dozens of perfectly-sculpted jumps link up, one after another, all the way down from the Fitzsimmons quad. You may have ridden jumps of this quality before, but likely never so many, back-to-back, and all with that magical British Columbia dirt that grips even in the middle of a downpour. Once you’re able to start clearing the main tables, you’ll no doubt become addicted to clearing the whole trail down to the monster 40-footer at the end, which requires enough confidence to hammer the pedals into and carry some serious speed. With a very gradual takeoff, however, and a forgiving knuckle, it’s something you can come up short on a few times before clearing the whole thing. Just don’t blame us if you damage your wheels in the process.

Blasting down Dirt Merchant. Robin O'Neill/Whistler photo.

Next up are trails like Freight Train and then Dirt Merchant, where the speed noticeably picks up as you try and clear the litany of step-ups, hips, drops, and gaps. If you’re truly a pro-level jumper, the legendary Crabapple Hits, host to the  annual Whip-Off World Championships every time Crankworx comes to town, will provide enough airtime for any bucket list.

Rallying into the big wallride berm on Blue Velvet. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Regardless of your skill level, don’t miss a few of the more intermediate classics. Blue Velvet, accessed from the top of the gondola or the Garbanzo Express chair, just seems to go forever, dropping you over countless tables, swooping berms, and around the trail’s monster wallride berm for what feels like twenty minutes. The drop is enough that when we rode it, we started in the sun, descended through a thick layer of fog, a rain storm, and then finished the trail under the clouds, dry again.

Railing super tight berms on Karate Monkey. Robin O'Neill/Whistler photo.

Off Fitzsimmons, the Nina Cougar-Karate Monkey-Samarui Pizza Cat-Ho Chi Min descent offers up loads of grin-inducing intermediate tech tied together with some incredibly tight berms that will have you testing your cornering skills all day. And while most will roll down the few obvious exit trails at the base of the park, like Family Cross and Heart of Darkness, keeping an eye out for the step-off for the  Dual Slalom is an awesome way to finish with a rapid-fire series of berms and little hits you can race your buddy to the bottom on.

Of course, while Whistler invented the concept of a downhill trail with flowing jumps and berms, if you’re coming from outside of the Pacific Northwest, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you avoided Whistler’s more natural tech trails. British Columbia’s natural topography is like a bottomless candy jar of terrain, with rock gardens falling into root drops that finish with giant granite rollovers and natural gaps and drops. If you’re used to riding mostly dirt, there’s a lifetime of technical trails here that will test anyone rider’s bike handling skills. Once you’re comfortable on the Ninja Cougar loop, drop into steeper and gnarlier trails like Monkey Hands, Upper Angry Pirate, and Lower Whister DH.

If you were brought up on this kind of riding, double blacks like Joyride, Crack Addict, and Canadian Open DH will see whether or not that’s really the case.

Top of the World gets you 5,000 vertical feet of bike park riding that starts with a bucket list ride in the alpine. Robin O'Neill/Whistler photo.

And of course, if it’s free of snow by the time you show up in town, the Top of the World trail, added in the past few years, adds to the deep forested mix of the classic B.C. experience by adding a huge alpine riding experience. Dropping from the highest lift on Whistler Mountain, the Peak Express, riders are gifted with 1,600 vertical feet of rock-strewn singletrack goodness that links back into the top of the Garbanzo Zone.

RELATED: Why the 14 miles and 4,300 vertical feet of the Downieville Downhill should be on your bucket list

Ridden top-to-bottom, a run from Top of the World gives you 5,000 vertical feet of some of the mountain biking in the world which, if you’re the fastest enduro racer on the world circuit, still takes a full hour at race pace to descend. Just keep in mind that riding the Peak requires an extra $18 add-on to your normal lift ticket, or you can get a single ride from the bottom to the top for $33. Reservations are strongly encouraged, since only 150 riders are allowed up to the top every day.

And, in Whistler’s latest ski area-sized addition to the bike park,  lifts will soon run from and trails descend to the Creekside base village on the other side of the mountain, opening up a whole new zone that Whis’ trailbuilders will surely be exploiting in the seasons to come.

CLINICS, COACHES, EVENTS, ETC.

Whistler's twice-weekly Women's Nights now attract hundreds of lady rippers all summer long. Justa Jeskova/Whistler photo.

The offerings on tap beyond the trails are also what makes the Whistler experience so rad. While coach Duncan Mainland suggests even advanced riders looking to make the most of their time in town get a guide for a few hours to get the lay of the land, there are camps, clinics, and races for all kinds of riders.

Most notably, the bike park runs Women’s Nights with Liv every Monday and Wednesday from 5:30-7:30, which have pulled in literally hundreds of ladies every week from everywhere from pure beginners to seasoned experts. And yes, there are Men’s Nights, too.

The park also runs Summer Gravity Camps, similar to the ski and snowboard camps operating up above on the Horstman Glacier, which offer week-long sessions in July and August for both kids and adults. Riders already comfortable intentionally going fast and staying off the brakes can try their luck at the weekly Phat Wednesday downhill race, and then promptly watch Rémy Métailler absolutely embarrass you (watch below).

And, following the explosive use of airbags and foam pits in freestyle ski and snowboard training, Whistler has its own indoor training zone, the Air Dome, with all kinds of skatepark-style features and a foam pit so you can dial in that whip or even dump a hair-brained 360 with no consequences.

WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO EAT

Fat Tony's Pizza, across the plaza from the bottom of the park, has a rad lunch special with an enormous calorie count. Ryan Dunfee photo.

BROKE? Whistler’s a resort town, not some podunk logging town shuttle zone, so prices reflect that reality. But bike skids can still make a trip happen by searching out deals at more lower-priced hotels like the Listel Hotel, Adara Hotel, or Executive Inn, or by camping closeby at Riverside RV Resort & Campground, or sacrificing some proximity for price and staying at the Whistler RV Park 20 minutes away. And yes, Airbnb can even find you a cheap spare bedroom to rent out up there.

RELATED: Park City might be the country's best mountain bike town

An easy tip for making your money go farther on your trip to Whistler is stopping by in Squamish on the way and stocking up on cheap groceries. You should also spend an additional week just riding the trails there, but we won’t get into that now. The IGA Marketplace is the biggest grocery store in Whistler, and is at the north end of the Village stroll near the Olympic Plaza.

On a budget? Get cheap groceries (and some absolutely unreal rides) in Squamish on your way up. Ryan Dunfee photo.

When it comes to eating out on a budget, try El Furniture Warehouse, Dups Burritos, La Cantina, Pasta Lupino, and Samurai Sushi. For a great deal on lunch while ripping laps at the bike park, check out Fat Tony’s Pizza right across from the bottom of the lifts, with a killer lunch deal on pizza, falafel, or shawarma.

Prices in the bike park also go down after September 8th, or you can save a little money pedaling around Whistler’s immense  Valley trail network–legendary in and of itself, and many Whis locals simply forego the bike park altogether for these trails–and then getting the Extended Play ticket, which gets you in the bike park from 3:30-8:00 pm.

MIDDLE CLASS? Stay at the Crystal Lodge & Suites, Summit Lodge, or Aava Hotel, and eat at 21 Steps, Beacon Pub & Eatery, The Brewhouse, Caramba, Creekbread, or Dubh Linn Gate.

Even the Four Seasons has accommodations for riders who do their own repairs. Ryan Dunfee photo.

BALLER? If you’ve got a Black Card to work with, ball out at the Four Seasons, Fairmont, or the Nita Lake Lodge. Even many of these swank hotels will still have bike washing and maintenance stations outside–you can see a full list of what kind of bike services each hotel offers here.

Balling out on a mouth-satiating steak at Sidecut. Ryan Dunfee photo.

If you’re the kind of executive who celebrates clearing tabletops in your spare time instead of a stellar short game, treat yourself to dinner at Araxi, Alta Bistro, Bearfoot Bistro, Grill & Vine, or get some world-class red meat at Sidecut at the Four Seasons. We were graciously treated to a steak there, and were saving morsels in our teeth for days afterwards.

QUICK TIP: If you come in the spring, all of May Whistler and most of the businesses in it host the Indulge in Whistler promotion. The upper zones of the bike park might not be open, but you can get great deals on restaurants along with down day activities like golf.

Also, whatever you do, and no matter your budget, get yourself to Sushi Village. Trust us.

Tickets, Deals, and When to Go

The bottom of the bike park is a busy spot no matter what day of week it is. Ryan Dunfee photo.

Single-day lift tickets are approaching the prices ski tickets used to be, starting at $67 for adult walk-up tickets, but there's plenty of ways to make it cheaper. Come after September 8th, when things get cheaper for the last month of the park season, or get an unlimited five or ten-day pass for $289 or $459, respectively. Or ride the Valley trails all day and get the Twilight Season Pass, which gets you season-long access to the park from 5-8 pm everyday for $259.

Ride Whistler's equally amazing Valley trails during the day and get a cheap Twilight season pass if you're in town for awhile and on a budget. Ryan Dunfee photo.

As well,  booking your rooms through Whistler/Blackcomb opens up multiday packages as well as other discounts.

The fall gives you cooler temps, less crowds, tackier dirt, and better options for a cheaper trip. Ryan Dunfee photo.

When planning your trip, keep in mind that while the early season in May opens up some deals, the upper reaches of the bike park won't be open yet, as lifts are still running for late-season skiing til early June. Mid-summer can get hot, dry, and extremely busy–this is, after all, the most popular bike park in North America–and Crankworx can either be overwhelmingly insane or pretty empty on the trails, with most people standing around at the events. Really, your best bet is to come in the fall, when the crowds die down a little bit, the temps cool, and more moisture comes in to keep the trails tacky. The bike park is still fully open, as well, although Top of the World gets more limited.

The BOTTOM LINE

Simply put: if you like riding bikes downhill, you have to go. Robin O'Neill/Whistler photo.

If you're read this far, you're already sold. As much as Whistler is just incredible riding, it opens your mind to the idea of what a fantasy bike park could be in your neck of the woods. Loaded with an incredible variety of trails, from tech to flowy to hangtime-intense to high alpine, with incremental steps in trail difficulty working their way up from day-one beginner acceptable to trails a seasoned pro's dream are made of, there is a lifetime of riding to be had off of Whistler's lifts in the spring, summer, and fall. Go once, and you'll be instantly tempted to made it an annual pilgrimage. 

Big thanks for Andreas Bang, Mike Crowe, Duncan Mainland, Jeremy Cole, and Jessalyn Pechie for setting up a badass trip!

From The Column: The Bucket List

Looks fun as shit!

Whistler is addicting.  Don’t go unless you’re ready to make it an annual tradition.  Just got back from our fourth annual trip.  Like no other place.  Every awesome section of trail in one place times 1000!

    No shit! So bummed I couldn’t make it this fall :(

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