HIDDEN THRILLS - WHISTLER
Words / Photography: Ben Haggar
Riders: Braedyn Kozman & Laura Battista
Whether you’re a Whistler local or are just visiting for a few days, we all have our favourite go to trails - Dark Crystal, A-Line, Howler
- this could be a long list in a destination with over 1400km of trails. These are well trodden classics that we know, love, and find safety in. Not in the literal sense of the word, but we are safe in the knowledge that this choice yields the goods each and every time - and that’s why we keep coming back for more. Especially in the fall when the dirt is tacky, temperatures are comfortable, and your riding is at the top of its game.
But what if our trail selection was primarily guided by the drive for a new experience? This mindset could open up a whole world of possibilities. It does take some motivation - a new trail, the drive for a different experience or general curiosity to break free from a tried and tested routine. Unless, the end goal isn’t about riding the (subjectively based) best of the best trails, but is about finding something different and unexpected. This is where Whistler
delivers in spades.
Whistler has definitely cultivated the recipe that brews up a consistent smorgasbord of high quality trails. With ingredients like steep coastal terrain, golden dirt and a passionate roster of trail chefs, it’s no surprise that the number of 4-5 star rides are abundant. It’s easy to get lost in deliberation and overwhelmed by choice on this extensive menu. This is where a trust in the builders offers a confidence to try something different.
It’s not only the high quality level of building we’ve come to expect in the mountain bike mecca, it’s the attention to detail. Aesthetics are as important as line choice in crafting the overall experience of the ride. By hiding organic debris removed from the trail bed and replanting moss and ferns, it feels like the trail has been there for years or has just appeared out of thin air. Combine this with retaining a raw and rugged character while imperceptibly armouring high impact sections to be able to handle the number and intensity of riders is an art in balance that Whistler builders have down to a science.
There’s nothing like riding a new trail, but as well, a lot of enjoyment can be garnered from riding something that you haven’t ridden for so long that it actually feels like its a new trail - or in essence what we’re searching for here - a new experience. If you really want to dig deeper into the subtle character of Whistler and taste its unique offerings, you need to branch out further from the well trodden classics and sink your teeth into some of the more obscure delights.
All trails featured here are on the Traditional Territories of the St̓át̓imc Tmicw (St’at’imc), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and Lil'wat Nations.
Whistler North - Out There
Originally the Wedge area was only frequented by those with the steeliest of steel legs heading out to tackle the notoriously steep hike to the alpine paradise of Wedgemount Lake or to ride the meandering cross country test piece - Comfortably Numb
. Expansion into the this zone was slow until the creative eye of Tim Haggerty spied the clever mix of steep slabs, intricate technical climbs and a distinctly remote feel which now characterizes the area.Out There
was an instant hit with locals - technically challenging, ample flow and it was something new. With a creative approach, there are sneaky doubles and gaps, slab lines can be ridden in a multitude of different ways and the climbs can be enjoyed instead of feared.
Access for Out There
is either straight up the gravel road or for a more enjoyable and extended lap, head up the technical North Secret
single track climb which adds roughly an extra 2.8 km (compared to the road climb) and will also give you a little old school taste of classic Whistler technical climbing. The expansive views of Rainbow and Cougar mountains across the valley and further north towards the Soo Valley signal the end of the main climb as you begin your descent linking a series of chunky corners and cheeky airs through tight second growth forest. The real beauty of the line begins at the rock slabs which link seamlessly together through punchy climbs and intricate, natural looking rock work. If you don’t have the time to stop and look, take my word for it, these climbs didn’t build themselves and the amount of work that has gone into this masterpiece is extensive, but like any good build - imperceptible.
Close proximity to highway 99 allows for a quick lap if you’re pressed for time or it’s easily combined with a lap of Happiest Days
- another Haggerty classic with a very similar feel and difficulty level to Out There
. If you’ve still got some juice left in the tank after those, head back up Comfortably Numb
and traverse over to Young Lust
for some extra vertical and a few more leg burning climbs.Whistler North mountain biking trails
The Westside - Chipmunk Rebellion
The Westside is home to some of Whistler’s oldest trails and holds classics like Billy Epic
, the Danimal
trilogy, High Society
and Pura Vida
. Led by long time Whistler builder Dan Raymond, the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA) has put in a lot of work on the Westside in the last few years adding much needed connector trails and diversifying the climbs to access the heart of the trail network. Chipmunk Rebellion
is the welcome extension of Lord of the Squirrels (LOTS)
. Designed and built by Raymond and the WORCA trail crew, Chipmunk
maximizes the low angle terrain squeezing out every last ounce of goodness with swooping corners, playful airs, and short technical sections. Dan’s extensive snowboarding background shows through with his design ethos. Flatter sections are preceded by fast corners or steeper sections allowing you to maintain speed and playfulness which avoids excessive braking or pedalling through the flats. If you can break out of your tunnel vision descent, small touches like intricate rock armouring and excellent drainage speak to the expert craftsmanship that has gone into Chipmunk Rebellion
holds its own as one of the best blue descents on the Westside. Also, its position below the Flank
means that it melts out early (generally mid April - early May) and is suitable for dogs (as a rule of thumb, dogs are not permitted in the more sensitive area and grizzly / black bear habitat above the Flank
). If Chipmunk
is your main focus, there are a lot of options accessing the Flank
and traversing either north or south to the beginning of the trail. A recommended option though is from Alta Lake Road, hopping onto the gravel at the yellow gate at the Westside Powerlines
and climbing the freshly detailed Piece of Cake
, then south on Danimal Middle
, and up Industrial Waste
to the Flank
. This keeps the climbing mostly technical blue singletrack and leads through beautiful mature mossy forest.Westside - Sproatt mountain biking trails
Cheakamus - It's Business Time (Duncan's)
Cheakamus is another outlier slowly garnering more attention and new trails. Recent WORCA volunteer trail nights have seen progress on a new build Flash Back
which traverses the interprative forest from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead linking into the main network near High Side
. Classic trails in the Cheakamus / Whistler South zone include Kashmir, Kush, AM/PM, Tunnel Vision
and Heavy Flow
as well as Business Time
has been a popular ride since its completion in 2012. Originally designed and partially built by long term Whistler local and ski patroller Duncan MacKenzie, WORCA along with a large number of volunteers took over the completion after Duncan’s tragic passing in 2011. The diversity of terrain and challenges are what makes this ride something special. Despite its proximity to Function Junction, Business Time
feels remote as it winds its way along rock faces, past multiple view points and throws in a number of demanding climbs to keep you honest.
The trail is split into two distinct sections with the upper third being less technical with smaller rock rolls and slightly easier climbs with the option to forego the lower section in favour of a connector to AM/PM
. The lower two thirds challenge with steeper slabs, more sustained climbs and rooty technical descents and traverses.
When riding Business Time
on its own, access is via the steep but generally shaded Lower Microwave Tower Access Road
which climbs right from the valley. If you are adding Business Time
from the main Cheakamus area, access via Highline, Lower Babylon
or by traversing the Microwave tower road from above.Whistler South mountain biking trails
One of the added bonus features of Business Time
(and Chipmunk Rebellion
) is the quick pedal to Coast Mountain Brewing. Established in 2016, Coast has made a name for itself among the already stellar Whistler beer scene as an innovator with more experimental hop forward IPAs and sours, in addition to the usual year round suspects like Crystal Chair Pilsner, Valley Trail Pale Ale and Surveyor IPA. As a rule, keep checking back in as seasonal specialties like the Pakalolo IPA, Bloem Saison, Fruit Snack Blackberry Lime Berliner Weisse are only around for a limited time and are well worth taking advantage of. Just like sampling the new trails - a little taste for experimentation can deliver the most memorable experiences.
Local KnowledgeAbout Whistler, BC
You’ll find Whistler in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia just two hours north of Vancouver. This legendary resort is an international mountain sports mecca and a down-to-earth mountain town. Two side-by-side mountains spanned by the world-record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola give access to Whistler Blackcomb’s renowned alpine terrain, drawing hikers, skiers and mountain bikers in search of mind-blowing landscapes. At lower elevations, a coastal climate delivers a lush contrast to the volcanic alpine environment.The place teems with life.
In the spring, people continue to ski in the alpine, while hiking, biking and trail running, and other activities start as soon as the trails are clear of snow. Spring also brings longer days to enjoy multiple activities. In summer, Whistler attracts adventurous travellers from around the world. This place is magnetic. From the unmatched alpine landscape and the world’s premier mountain bike park to the endless options of the Village, its diverse offering of rugged West Coast beauty, passionate community and unrivaled selection of refined experiences make every summer day unique.
The legendary flow of the Whistler Bike Park
draws mountain bikers from around the world and is the perfect setting for guests to discover the exhilarating pull of gravity on the trail. If you’re looking for adventure at a different speed, breathtaking glacier-fed lakes, lush forests of towering trees and waterfalls are all linked by a network of paved trails, so you can discover Whistler at your own pace. From the deeply intense to the profoundly relaxing, summer is a season of endless choice.Fall
is an ideal time to ride, with moderate temperatures, superb conditions, fewer riders on the trails and great value through off-peak pricing.Getting There:
Our legendary resort town is just a two-hour drive from Vancouver
along the awe-inspiring Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99). It's a short, 120 kilometre (75 mile) drive from Vancouver to Whistler, and one of the most scenic routes in the world. The Climate:
Whistler enjoys a temperate coastal climate with summers generally sunny with moderate precipitation and an average temperature between 20-25°C (68-77°F). Fall brings cooler temperatures and more precipitation with November as the rainiest month of the year. Beautiful mountain vistas, ancient forests, crystal clear lakes and rivers, and fresh, clean air. Much of what makes Whistler such a unique and memorable destination lies in its awe-inspiring and pristine natural surroundings. The Whistler community cares deeply for the environment and strives to preserve the area's natural beauty during all four of the distinct seasons by taking meaningful steps towards the resort's vision of sustainability. Bike shop and repairs: Arbutus RoutesCoastal Culture ComorEvolution WhistlerEvo Village SportsFanatyk Co Garbanzo Bike & BeanSummit SportsWhistler Bike CoFineline Bike Shop The Fix Local Mountain Bike Clubs:
Whistler has everything from easy green trails to endless technical ascents and descents through old-growth rainforest and alpine meadows. Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA)
is the local non-profit cycling group responsible for maintaining many of Whistler’s mountain bike trails to the highest environmental standard possible, as well as advocating for mountain bike trail access.Support the Trails
The trail network that exists in Whistler today would not be possible without WORCA, who rely on volunteers and the support of member fees to keep things rolling. 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.Food and Drink: Coffee & Breakfast:Mt Currie Coffee Company Elements WhistlerGone EateryPurebreadLa Cantina
(Breakfast at Nesters location)The Green MoustacheHundo P Smoothie BarForecast Coffee Camp Coffee Cranked Espresso BarAlpine CaféLunch/Apres/Dinner:Pizza AnticoHunter GatherCoast Mountain BrewingMust Dos: Biking in WhistlerWhistler Cross-Country Mountain BikingWhistler Bike Park including Top of the World PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola and 360 ExperienceScandinave SpaZipliningVallea LuminaBike Friendly Accommodation:
When you’re serious about riding, you don’t leave your bike just anywhere. Here in the mountains, we know how to take care of our rides, that’s why numerous Whistler hotels
offer services that specifically cater to cyclists. Rest easy after a day of riding and know that your bike is as comfortable and safe as you are.Getting around Whistler:
Whistler Village is pedestrian only, with restaurants, shops, hotels, chairlifts and other amenities located within walking distance. Other neighbourhoods, lakes and beaches are all connected by the Valley Trail
and buses, so getting around Whistler
is easy without a vehicle.
With the majority of trails within striking distance of town, you don’t need a car while in Whistler – summer and early fall is the perfect time to explore on two wheels. Rent a bike and ride the Valley Trail, a gentle network of paved, multi-use paths connecting Whistler's neighbourhoods. Stretching 40 km through Whistler’s valley, the Valley Trail connects all neighbourhoods with a paved, accessible and scenic path that’s perfect for biking and sightseeing. With five alpine lakes and numerous parks all within pedalling distance of the Village, the Valley Trail provides days of entertainment and allows you to pedal, paddle and picnic all summer long.
The Sea to Sky Trail is a non-motorized, multi-use trail that runs through the Whistler area. While this is an extensive project and some sections of the trail are not yet complete or still under construction, there are several large sections that are ready to ride. When complete, the 180 km trail will connect Sea to Sky communities from D'Arcy to Squamish. To learn more about the project and plan your ride, please see the Ready to Ride Guide
Whistler Village is the beating heart of the valley. Here, the energy of a social community is palpable, driven by locals who bring their up-for-anything attitude to every shop, restaurant and sun-soaked patio. The Village is both a jumping-off point for adventure and an epicentre for cultural events and festivals, with something new around every corner.
There’s an endless list of reasons Whistler is a mecca for outdoor lovers and cultured travellers alike. If you have a passion for nature’s dramatic beauty and a thirst for refined experiences, its pull is magnetic. When you come here, you feel it in your soul. There’s a good chance that feeling will have you coming back.