Back to the Trails: Whistler, BC

Aug 25, 2020
by Brice Shirbach  

Back to the Trails

Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach

Presented by Tourism Whistler

Views: 1,827    Faves: 0    Comments: 0

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.

Photo by Chris Pilling.

Tourism Whistler Justa Jeskova
Credit Tourism Whistler Justa Jeskova
Photos courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova.

Photo by Chris Pilling.

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.

Credit Tourism Whistler Justa Jeskova
Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova.
No whistler trail ride is without its climbs
Photo by Chris Pilling.

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!

Pinkbike Rainbow Heli-drop

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.

Pinkbike Rainbow Heli-drop
Thomas Lemoine with a big ol whip during the mega train.

Credit Tourism Whistler Mike Crane
Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova.

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.

Whistler Bike Park

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.

Credit Tourism Whistler Mark Mackay
Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Mark Mackay.
Photo courtesy of Clint Trahan.

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

Regions in Article

Author Info:
briceshirbach avatar

Member since Dec 5, 2013
125 articles

  • 42 0
 I think someplace just realized it's not going to get any winter tourist visits this year and is wondering how it's going to get back in favour with the local customers it totally disrespected over the last few seasons.
  • 5 2
 wander if the mayor regrets what she said
  • 4 2
 @jaydawg69: She? Little out of touch there.
  • 4 0
 Yup - winter is gonna be unreal this year -No Brits, No Americans & Limited Ausies
Just those three alone should bring the crowds down 40 -50 %
  • 3 1
 @regdunlop: You're just stuck with those of us already with our foot in the door! Wink
  • 4 1
 ^^^^ This comment right here. As someone who lives in the Fraser Valley and frequented Whistler many many times over the years, Vail really messed the place up.
  • 3 1
 @Pilsner-power: I love pilsners
  • 3 0
 @Pilsner-power: curious what you feel that Vail did that made it that much worse? Day ticket prices in the winter definitely went up, but then again, seasons pass prices for the winter dropped significantly. The bike park hasn't gotten any worse (other than getting busier + some silly covid changes that don't seem to help anything), in fact they've significantly expanded it since they took over.
  • 1 0
 @paulskibum: I don't keep up to day on who's mayor but power to the "day trippers"
  • 1 0
 The 'Vail' has been lifted!
  • 6 0
 @jaydawg69: the old mayor (Nancy Wilhelm Morden) was the one who made the "brown baggers" comments about people coming to ski Whistler and not dumping huge money on the place being less welcome than people throwing money around like crazy. The current one (Jack Crompton) made some ridiculously hypocritical demands on the fossil fuel industry to pay for the climate change consequences of their businesses (he owns a transportation company).
  • 1 0
 @jaydawg69: The Mayor from three years ago?
  • 1 0
 @regdunlop: Yup and no tourists to support the local economy. Seems like a great plan.
  • 1 0
 @michaelrobinson: yes. It's still on her for her elitist ignorant views. But as I said previously I don't keep up on Whistler politics.
  • 1 0
 @michaelrobinson: Day skiers from the lower mainland will flock to Whistler this winter if La Nina shows up as forecasted. Whistler has to sell the rest of Canada to vacation there this winter - not the UK and US Epic pass holders like they have been for the last 4-5 years . Condos will be in demand - no shared elevator, no room service- ie cook yourself - keep your circle small.
  • 32 1
 Lol who wrote this? The Lil’wat (and all of the other unique First Nations that occupy territory north towards Lillooet) are Stl’atl’imx, not Coast Salish.

Nice job research team!
  • 3 0
 I guess they get points for intent and a C- for research. My impression is that the Whistler area was shared territory between Lil'wat and Squamish nations. Would be curious about your interpretation of this. Thanks for encouraging me to look further into the St'at'imc, I had been confused about the interplay between communities but Wikipedia has a good explanation.
  • 6 0
 @twinone: First, to clarify, I was pointing out the error in the blanket generalization of Squamish north to Lillooet as occupied traditionally by the Coast Salish peoples, rather than the specific area of Whistler referenced in this article.

In response to your question re: interpretation, Lil'wat as an example, shares cultural and kinship ties to the Stl'atl'imx, while traditionally having occupied territory that extends to the Pacific Ocean. What follows is completely anecdotal, however I have never heard of the Lil'wat people identifying as Coast Salish in any official capacity, and I have heard the term Interior Salish being used less and less in favor of Stl'atl'imx.

I am by no means an expert when it comes to the familial and cultural histories of the Lil'wat, however I am confident in saying that generalizing Squamish north to Lilloeet as traditionally Coast Salish is incorrect.
  • 4 0
 @sheldonuvic: Thanks. Coming at this from a point of curiosity and not criticism. You make an important distinction. Also had never really appreciated the distinction between Coast and Interior Salish until your comment inspired me to look more deeply. Looks like the St'at'imc would be one of the nations within the broader cultural group described as Interior Salish.
  • 6 1
 @twinone @sheldonuvic We have made an edit to reference both Interior Salish First Nations as well as Coast Salish.
  • 22 0
 What is this -- a PB article or paid advertisement???
  • 2 2
 It’s labeled “sponsored”.
  • 1 0
 Why not both?
  • 4 1
 @brianpark: Right -- had to dig hard -- see it now. Man I hate being tricked into reading ads like that. Shame on you PB.
  • 16 2
 @sheldonuvic: Hey thanks for reading! I definitely don't mean to offend by any blanket generalizations, so when I wrote that it was much more about the context of the Whistler area before it was actually named Whistler in the 1960's. I used this for some of the research: www.firstnations.de/development/coast_salish.htm My understanding is the Coast Salish itself is a term that refers to a large number of ethnically and linguistically related Indigenous peoples throughout much of BC, Western Washington State, and the northern portion of Oregon, but when you remove the modern context of Canadian and American territories, cities, etc, it can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated. My apologies if I got mixed up!
  • 15 2
 Is this article paid advertising?
  • 8 1
 weird - I thought I read recently that Bentonville was the mountain bike capital of the world or something...
  • 3 0
 probably not, its kinda flat
  • 7 0
 warning: they won't let you drink while axe throwing...Smile
  • 1 0
 At the beer festival we had axe throwing inside the festival boundaries!
  • 1 0
 Yeah but you have a couple before, a couple after - same same
  • 1 0
 Or just go throw your own axes, in the woods (make targets, of course).
  • 1 0
 they have an application into the RMOW and liquor board as of last month to change that
  • 4 0
 Trump marketing group? Whistler has changed since the "take over", and I miss going, but I Absolutely love Sun Peaks and the many other bike parks, and trails in BC that I've explored instead. That goes for winter as well.
  • 3 0
 well I hate the dude, so I can assure you that he had nothing to do with this Wink
  • 1 0
 @briceshirbach: tongue in cheek ...
  • 7 0
 Def paid for
  • 3 0
 Great read I enjoyed that. Believe it or not I live pretty close to whistler and only been once and in the winter. This makes me want to get up there and ride.
  • 4 1
 Hit donate on Trail Forks and give some love to the trails if you ride in Whistler. WORCA will thank you.
  • 1 0
 Two nights accommodation and two bike park tix for $103Can. per night, sweet deal if sleeping in a pod hotel is your cup of tea.
  • 1 0
 if you have been you know why!
  • 1 0
 What trail is that in those 2 Chris Pilling photos of the guys riding?
  • 1 0
 From memory they rode High Side to HiHi, Billy Epic and Crazy Train that day - so one of those (but they're all good).
  • 1 0
 @andrewdaly: The approach trail was the Flank to Billys and I think the trail itself was Billy's Epic - definitely one shot was the final chute
  • 1 2
 I'm pretty sure many PB articles are paid
  • 7 0
 You’re wrong. All articles that are sponsored are labeled “sponsored”, including contests and things like The Privateer. So far in 2020 they account for less than 3% of articles. And when it comes to tech editorial there is no pay to play or pay to win.
  • 2 0
 @brianpark: Thank you for your trasparency!

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