Whistler's new Top of the World trail cracked for the public this weekend as early season snow finally melted out. Riders were greeted by blue skies and pleasant temperatures. Pinkbike already has an article written about this trail
which does not need to be recapped, so all I'll do here is include some facts about the Top of the World trail, the challenges of building it and pontificate about the wonder of riding a bike in the alpine.
First and foremost you should know that Whistler already has quite a bit of alpine infrastructure and has focused on building facilities (lifts, trails, huts/restaurants etc) that allows people of all ages and skill/fitness levels to access alpine hiking trails. "Top of the World" continues with that theme of allowing guests to experience the natural unique beauty of the alpine environment
. Its goal is to introduce riders to the sensory overload of scenic beauty that is the alpine riding experience.
Whistler's hiking trails
Observations from some riders has been that the Top of the World is too short and to be fair, after riding the trail myself they have a point. However, a conversation with Gravity Logic's
Tom Pro (GL was contracted to build this trail) discloses that Top of the World is a little more than half completed with the rest of the trail scheduled to be finished further down the Highway 86 connector to the rest of the Garbanzo Zone
trail network. Indeed we were among the first riders of a new section of the Top of the World to be opened (the third section) and viewed Gravity Logic's trail workers busily putting in the fourth section of trail; scheduled to be completed sometime this biking season!
Here are other fun facts about the Top of the World trail and how it got built straight from Tom and from Brian Finestone; manager of the Whistler Bike Park:
Construction started in September of 2011. Tom and his crew got chased off the top section in October with the early snow dumps and built the swamp bypass until snow fell in late October.
The plan is for the entire built trail section to be 4.3 km. The first week of operation ran only the first two sections which totaled 1.3 km of trail. The third section adds another 0.6km for a total of currently only 1.9 km. About 1.5 km of the Highway 86 service road will connect the trail to the rest of the bike park. Currently over 3kms of riding is on Hwy 86 which is way too much road riding for this writer!
The challenges of building alpine trail in fall
The plan is to build a further 1.4 km of trail this year; leaving the last section after the swamp on Highway 86 to be completed in 2013. Last year Gravity Logic completed the most difficult section (the upper section). It was the toughest section from a route-finding, earth-moving and laborious use of hand-tools perspective. This year work the section from the High Note trail crossing to the Peak To Creek crossing will be completed resulting in a trail that winds in and out of the terrain around Highway 86 pursuing contours around the mountain. Controlling vertical drop and leaving out fall-line will help reduce wear and tear, preserve viewing opportunities (the trail has amazing sightlines East, South and West into impressively large mountain ranges, and will allow riders of different ability levels to ride the Top of the World.
Four to six people worked on the trail last year. As mentioned the work in the high alpine section last year was the most labour intensive as it required the most work with hand-tools being on the steepest terrain. This year, the work crew will still be three to four people, but small machines can be used in some spots so the amount of work that can be accomplished will be roughly the same.
Gravity Logic hard at work on the fourth section of Top of the World
On the topic of trail rating, Top of the World is rated black because the top portion has some exposure and the most technical difficulty. While it's considerably less steep at the mid-points (and will be also less steep in the bottom portion) the rating reflects the length and possible weather elements.
Top of the World will funnel riders from Highway 86 into the bikepark. However, it will also allow riders to access Khyber Pass and Ride Don't Slide; two trails that are outside the bike park and will definitely be impacted. RDS is already a braided destroyed mess and in my opinion is beyond redemption, but being a trail builder and a rider I asked Brian about Khyber and the effects that Top of the World would have on trails outside the park. He had this to say. Even a few years ago when the idea of putting in a dedicated alpine bike trail was embroyonic, Brian realized that out-of-park trails would be impacted. In the last three years Whistler-Blackcomb spent about $ 40,000 on trail work on such trails (Brian was reluctant to toot the big corporation's horn, but WB's good intent should be recognized). Specific improvements include, for example, rerouting the top section of Khyber Pass, and this year's blowdown cutting and clearing on Khyber Pass and Babylon. Plans are to continue to put at least the equivalent amount of resources into out-of-park trails going forward.
The more technical top section
Railing the middle sections
Big bike or small(er) bike; Top of the World isn't a terribly difficult trail.
In summary, the Top of the World can be best thought of as an experience and not just merely a trail. If you're a rider who doesn't care much for externalities such as alpine views (not judging - just making a statement) and are motivated solely by the experience of riding a bike, fast, then the Top of the World's point will probably be lost on you and the $15 ticket price is probably wasted. Top of the World is a gateway to alpine riding; a rare experience for many people. Recall that not everyone lives in a place surrounded by mountains, or has the skill, fitness or time to embark on alpine expeditions. In my opinion the trail is best savoured like fine wine or good food. Drop in, ogle at the views, chill at intersections, count the glaciers spilling onto Cheakamus Lake; enjoy the experience.
If all this is too hippy dippy for you and all you really want to do is smash some berms brah... well then, as I said, A-Line and Dirt Merchant are in great shape and the dirt is as tacky as I've ever seen it. That's the beauty of the Whistler experience - there is and will always be something for everyone.
The flowers! Smell them
Don't be afraid to play tourist