Idiot's Guide to Whistler-40
Idiot's Guide to Whistler-40

Whistler. The name conjures up images even if you have never visited. It is probably the most widely known brand name in all of mountain biking, but what do we really know about the place?

From Dirt Issue 112 - June 2011

Words by Seb Kemp. Photos by Mattias Fredriksson.

What follows is a short how–to on visiting Whistler. Please excuse me if there is information missing that you think should be included. As is the case with Whistler itself, it’s not a case of what you can do, but what you don’t have time for (or space).

THE TWO WAYS

There are two ways to ‘do’ Whistler; you can scrimp and save for a short holiday, or you can jack it all in and do a season. If you choose the first route then I recommend at least ten days, perhaps two weeks, in order to add in travel time to and from, to get over possible jet lag, find your riding feet, explore the trails without time pressure, really start making the most of it and progressing your riding safely and efficiently.

Groupaction in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Groupaction in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

Bear Back Biking (www.bearbackbiking.com) is one company I could recommend based on their experience, friendliness, professionalism and the fact they are the only company of this kind that are legally tenured by the government to operate in the region. Their rates start at £385 per week based on two sharing an en suite room. Consider that even a moderate hotel will cost in the region of £75 per night and that includes none of the added features I mentioned above, especially food, which will bankrupt anyone who can not survive off nuts alone. Check out www.whistler.com for deals and further information.

If you go the second way then life is a little simpler. Things like cleaning yourself and eating will be less important than pounding laps, miles and Surrey girls. You will survive off dust from the trails and the carbs in beer. You have all season to find the trails so you don’t need a guide, until of course you get to the last few weeks of your season and you realize that for months all you have done is half–cut laps on Crank It Up and B–Line rather than exploring what is out there. A life of simple pleasures awaits, sort of... >>

Click through to keep reading...

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GETTING THERE

Richie Schley in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.
Richie Schley in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.

STAYING THERE

Idiot's Guide to Whistler-34
Idiot's Guide to Whistler-34

A rental will cost you from £250 per month (this is if you are either very lucky or don’t mind sharing the same bed with a bin man and someone who guts fish for a living) upwards to, well sky’s the limit. Luckily housing in the summer is more readily available than in the winter and most of the landlords are pretty laid back and just want to see the mortgage paid. You can try and find a room sharing with strangers, which can be a pot luck for you and them, or you can take on the lease of a property yourself and fill it with your mates or acquaintances.

Alternatively, if you want to be organized and have some piece of mind before getting out to Whistler then try Season–It (www.seasonit.co.uk), a local company set up by Englishman Alan Golds. He possesses numerous houses which he rents out on a room by room basis. The houses are all well maintained, well located and have secure bike storage. He will even come around to personally check that you have enough toilet paper.

Phat Wednesday in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.
Phat Wednesday in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.

WORKING

So you want to go for season riding in Whistler but you don’t want to work to save the money beforehand, that’s understandable, but remember one thing, unless you are a blessed ‘Trustafarian’ you will need to work when you get there. Every job in Whistler will require you to have a valid work visa or work permit. There is a new IEC (International Experience Canada) permit which amalgamates the previous Student Working Holiday Visa and the Holiday Visa into one and allows applicants to apply direct to the Canadian Government rather than through a second agency like BUNAC. If you are 18–30 years old, hold a UK Passport and are not a mad child molesting monster then you can apply for one of these and it is valid for one year. If you wish you can still apply through BUNAC (www.bunac.org) but they do charge a fee for simply pointing out to you that you need to sign a piece of paper that most window lickers would realize they needed to sign anyway.

If you plan to work then get there early, but don’t expect to actually start work and receiving a pay cheque for several months. Whistler is a town based on tourists and the peak seasons aren’t till mid summer. The months of April–June and September–Dec are considered the dead season and hours are cut everywhere. Make sure you have enough money to survive if you plan to sit it out through the shoulder season and just enjoy the riding time while you can.

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Town view in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Town view in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

THE RIDING

Garreth Buehler in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Garreth Buehler in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

This is by no means anywhere near scratching the surface, so find a guide to find the best. Once you have started to get to know these areas then the Valley really starts opening up. In five summers I still haven’t managed to ride every trail there is.

Whistler is a maze of trails and no map even comes close to being comprehensive enough once you are in the woods. If you really are stubborn and independent then pick up the well thought out Whistler Mountain Biking Guide (available in local bookstore and all bike shops in Whistler). It is laid out somewhat like a climbing route handbook, is full of information, but its downside is that there is no detailed full map of the Valley and with the constant evolution of the trails means it isn’t always up to date. For an online resource try www.whistlerbikeguide.co/trails

The Bike Park is split into two zones: Fitzsimmons is the lower mountain and contains a high concentration of varied trails from the gentle greens and blues like Easy Does It and B–Line to the infamous A–Line and Canadian Open. Garbanzo is the upper lift and has an entirely different feel. The trails are more natural (sort of), rough, exposed and provide the rider with a feeling of adventure and escapism. From the top of Garbanzo to the village is an impressive 1,100 m (3,600 ft) vertical descent; eclipsed only by the guided descents from the top of the Peak Chair, the highest accessible point on the mountain.

The Bike Park trails are well signed and laid out. If you have novice or beginner riders in your group then definitely hire a guide/coach to help them get their feet the first few days. Then after that hire a coach to smooth out your own riding, show you the hidden gems and the local hot lines. I promise it is worth it. Having a coach with you also means lift line priority so on busy days you can still pump out lap after lap. Top tip for Crankworx folks...

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LIFT TICKETS

Lift in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Lift in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

Riding the valley trails is free but do try to sign up to local MTB super club WORCA (www.worca.com) and go along to all the dig days you possibly can.

WHAT BIKE TO BRING

Idiot's Guide to Whistler-38
Idiot's Guide to Whistler-38

The kind of bike you bring will depend entirely on what kind of rider you are or how much riding you want to do. If you come to just do laps of the Bike Park then the only bike you need is a full downhill bike: triple crowns, a new set of good tyres, and sturdy wheels. If you really want to experience the real riding of Whistler during your holiday then you need a tough bike that pedals. Seriously, the climbs are long but the descents outside of the park are exceptional. The perfect bike for a Whistler holiday would have to be a 150–160mm bike with chain guide, 1x10, small ring (32 tooth), and dropper post. The kind of bike that doesn’t cripple you up the climbs and can be treated almost as roughly as a DH bike on the downs, and even get away with a few days in the park…7" tanks and flat bar 27 speed bikes need not apply.

GETTING FIXED

Inside a workshop in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Inside a workshop in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

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DRINKING

Restuarant in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.
Restuarant in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in August 2009.

EATING

Idiot's Guide to Whistler-35
Idiot's Guide to Whistler-35

The most important thing to remember is to ALWAYS tip your server. The standard minimum is 15%, and stick to that as a minimum. Don’t whinge about this state of affairs, it is the way things are there so pay for what you get. If you don’t think your service has been optimum then you must politely inform your server. There are a few snooty servers out there and if their service standards are pants then tell them. Don’t leave without tipping or saying anything as they will think you are just being a cheap and rude touron (tourist + moron = touron. Don’t be one) rather than realizing they need to buck their ideas up.

HOSPITAL

Get adequate insurance cover and get ready to make a claim. An incredible number of people axe themselves in the Bike Park and end up in the Medical Clinic. If you get pulled off the hill by Bike Park patrol they will take your bike with you and have it locked outside the clinic until you pay your bill or prove it can be paid. Even just seeing a doctor is very expensive, getting X–rays ramps the price up and then receiving care becomes somewhat like having the doctors empty your wallet with a vacuum. Most accidents occur on the first day of riding, and this is due to a combination of over excitement, travel fatigue and not respecting the trails. Trust me, go small before you go big and you will enjoy the whole holiday.

NOT RIDING?

If you do injure yourself then you are going to need to find a hobby whilst all your friends are hooting and hollering around the trails. Number one recreation is swimming and lurking at the lakes. Whistler Valley is made up of a chain of lakes, most of which are clean and serviced with showers, changing rooms, concession stands, and on warm days, a blanket of bikini clad ladies hanging on the shores. Number two would be walking a dog. Local pet rescue group WAG (www.whistlerwag.com) always need volunteers to walk dogs and this is a great way to explore the Valley with a new best buddy. Plus dogs are chick magnets. Number three is hiking up the mountains. Use your ticket and take the lifts to the top and take a giant walk around the hiking trails above the alpine. Also included is the Peak–2–Peak Gondola which is a magnificent piece of engineering. There aren’t many ladies up there so enjoy the peace.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END?

Sign in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.
Sign in Whistler, Canada. Photographed in august 2010.

For more information check out

www.whistlerbike.com

www.whistler.com/bike