One of the motivations behind our just-wrapped-up Whistler Mountain Bike Heritage Week was to connect with the local mountain bike community so that we can better celebrate what has become the leading summer pastime for the majority of Whistlerites.
We had a serious dearth of photographs, artifacts, and oral histories about the history of mountain biking in our community, and we are glad to say that this is now beginning to improve.
Among the few historical biking photographs we did already possess was a collection of mountain bike photos taken by local photography legend Greg Griffith from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Most of them were from a promotional shoot that showcased the riding of the day, including several gorgeous alpine shots high up on Blackcomb Mountain.
Also included were several shots from what looked like an epic competition that we knew very little about — until last Saturday night at our Speaker Series “Whistler MTB: Building a Community.” The evening began with local biking pioneers Grant Lamont and Charlie Doyle sharing stories about the early days, and paying tribute to the numerous individuals who were instrumental in the growth of Whistler into a mountain bike stronghold.
They were followed by Chris Kent, best known for his many feats on skis, but also an avid and long-time mountain biker. Chris also happened to be the organizer of the race in the Griffith photos, the Garibaldi Gruel.
First held in September 1994, the race was ahead of its time and almost like a predecessor to today’s wildly popular Enduro race format, in that it required competitors to complete major climbs and descend massive vertical in serious terrain. On top of that, there was also a leg of alpine trail-running, nowadays tagged with the trendy name of “Sky-running,” sandwiched in the middle.
The course climbed more than 1,100 vertical metres on service roads from the Village up to the Roundhouse Lodge, followed by an 8km run over to Harmony and back. Riders then got back on their bikes, climbed Pika’s Traverse to the Peak, then descended Highway 86 all the way back down to the valley. The course was so gruelling that Chris wasn’t certain that anyone would even bother entering.
His fears proved unfounded, with 120 entrants the first year — and roughly the same amount of volunteers. Kevin Titus, local marathon runner and multi-sport athlete won in an astonishing time of well under three hours, Mick Peatfield and Paul Fournier rounded out the podium.
The first year they enjoyed gloriously sunny weather, but the second running of the event was a different story. Heavy rain in the valley transitioned to full-on blizzard in the alpine. The weather forced the organizers to alter the route and forgo the climb up to Whistler Peak, and several competitors were forced to bow out early with hypothermia. Kevin Titus repeated as champion.
Unfortunately the event only lasted those two summers, but for those who participated the Garibaldi Gruel is fondly remembered as a challenging race that helped push the boundaries of what was possible on bikes in Whistler.
Have more MTB photos, memorabilia, or stories to share? We want to hear from you!