Whistler's alpine is the Top of the World

Aug 5, 2012
by Lee Lau  
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


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Anticipation


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!

Photo by Tom Pro and Adam Billinghurst

The challenges of building alpine trail in fall


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Reflections


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.

Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Gravity Logic hard at work on the fourth section of Top of the World


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Dropping


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.

Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

The more technical top section


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Railing the middle sections


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

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.

Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

The flowers! Smell them


Whistler s alpine is the Top of the World

Don't be afraid to play tourist







46 Comments

  • 24 1
 digging the hippy alpine vibe
  • 16 1
 Sweet!...Now don't do trail maintenance on that (as in filling in washed out dirt) and let the rocks come out. The trail will just get better and better :-)
  • 1 0
 That's true Man - it'll hopefully be nicely shredded by the time I hit it in the first week of September!! Yeah!
  • 4 0
 Some of you that are complaining that this trail sounds lame and just a bunch of fire trails should spend a week in the flatlands of the Midwest. You'd be begging to ride anything even remotely of this nature. Don't think it's worth it, don't ride it but be glad the option is there.
  • 2 0
 I just got done riding top of the world about 2 hours ago and I thought that it was totally worth the extra $15 for the experience and views, but once was enough for me. They're doing a good job integrating features into the park that may appeal to a larger crowd.
  • 1 0
 I totally have to agree....this is an experience, not a pinner ride. I loved it. Tremendous views, but much of the ride was rough single/double track on the fire road. Not at all disappointed, since I was really into the experience (particularly since I got to ride it on the 2nd day it was open, with the most incredible, clear weather). Well worth the extra $15 just to have an experience I can get nowhere else that I know of in North America. Wow. It's a trail I will remember for a long time. I love the park, but this was something really different.
  • 1 0
 Hit this the first day it opened and loved it ! the 'experience' is the idea here. A totally different flavour than the rest of the park but just as grand in its own right. Probably wont drop the extra coin again untill more trail sections are opened but no doubt I'll go back just to savour such a rare line... no, its not for everyone, but thats a good thing.
  • 1 0
 Looks good can't wait for the whole thing. And anything above treeline is considered the alpine. The Alps are mountains the alpine is the region of a mountain above treeline. Nicely done Lee.
  • 3 2
 Lee, a good read again, but this time, whistler was already on my bucket list. Think I can spare the $15 (2 less pints at the bar?) and savour the experience of the mountain from the top down. Smash some berms later brah
  • 11 8
 how is that a double black?
  • 28 1
 Because its long and in the middle of nowhere. You don't want someone who is riding downhill for the first time to go up there, come to something steep and freak the fuck out because they can't handle it. Or they stress out and their fingers slip off the brakes and they end up riding off a small cliff and killing themselves. It may be easy for experienced riders like you and I, who would cutty, drift and manual our way down down the mountain with ease but for others is wouldn't be so easy.
  • 2 1
 everyone i talked to who rode it wanted to demand their money back. said its 5 min worth of trail and then 20 of fire service road. sounds fun to me...
  • 2 1
 I've ridden from the peak before any MTB trail was put in, and granted it was a freebie courtesy of Race Face but as an EXPERIENCE it was great. We chilled out at the peak for a while looking at the views, taking photos etc and then ripped down the the fireroad. to RDS. Hell, even that was a good laugh OMG. Why would WBP put in a new A Line at the top of the mountain when there is already one nicely situated near the medical center.....?
  • 2 0
 I've talked to several people that said pretty much the same. A nice section of trail and then mostly fire road. Probably better to use it to access RDS or Khyber.
  • 2 0
 jan99 , thanks for your words of wisdom but we are talking about the word Alpine , not the Alps
  • 1 0
 I am planning to ride this trail soon. What would be the suggested trails heading down the mountain that could be fun on an AM rig?
  • 1 0
 About how long does it take to get down at a relaxed scenic viewing xc pace?
  • 1 0
 For just the trail that's completed say 20 minutes. Another section got added this week and it adds about a km of length
  • 3 1
 seriously,i really need to go to the canada..i will imigrate.
  • 2 1
 Me too
  • 1 0
 You have to bare in mind This is still a working progress so stop slating it til you've ridden it And it's fully complete
  • 1 0
 Rode this yesterday...super fun, and a truly epic alpine feel to it. Well worth the $15!
  • 1 0
 This trail looks mega rad! Does anyone know if they need an extra volunteer, or where to ask? I'd be happy to help...
  • 1 0
 Can you do Top of the World on it's own or do you also require a bike park ticket for the day
  • 1 0
 I'm actually not sure about that. I think you need a day bike park ticket but will check
  • 1 0
 You need a park pass plus peak ticket. But it is worth it!
  • 2 0
 That looks like fun.
  • 2 5
 Looks cool, but I cannot imagine paying extra to ride what appears to be an aestheticlaly pretty (semi-difficult) XC trail. That said, I go to Whistler for high speed flow trails with a lot of fun jumping. I'd hit it if it were part of the 'already paid for bike pass' but other than that.... no.
  • 1 0
 the video made me want to go out and ride! i miss riding my bike now.
  • 1 0
 hahaah, that video reminds me of an episode from ride guide!
  • 1 0
 I cant wait- looks good for some serious panoramic shots!
  • 1 0
 Would this trail be a fairly non-catasrophic ride on a dual sus XC bike?
  • 1 0
 It could easily be done...there are long road traverses that would be pretty devastating on your hands and legs on a smaller bike I imagine!
  • 1 0
 I'm in love with that scan girl at the gondola entry!
  • 1 0
 Why in F*ck does that glory have domains
  • 1 0
 That trail is so sick
  • 1 0
 that trail is dildotic
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