Tag Archives: Doris Burma

Talking Shop: Whistler’s Early Mountain Bike Shops

Not only do we have a trail-rich valley to call home in Whistler, but we are also spoiled with choice when it comes to bike shops.  This wasn’t always the case.

When mountain bikes first hit the logging roads in the valley in the early 1980s, most riders had to head to Vancouver for any mountain-bike-specific parts and maintenance, according to one or our oral history interviews with local mountain bike pioneer Steve Anderson.

Mountain biking steadily became more popular in Whistler from the 1980s but at the beginning there were few shops dedicated to the sport.  Whistler Question Collection.

A couple of shops were starting to pop up around that time.  In the newly constructed village Jim McConkey’s shop sold bikes in the summer months and Doris Burma operated a small bike shop, Summit Cycles, out of a trailer right above the commercial loading zone at the Delta Mountain Inn (today known as the Hilton).  Doris was passionate about mountain bikes and famed for her Cheakamus Challenge precursor race called “See Colours & Puke,” a wild mountain bike race reportedly meant to be completed on mushrooms.

In the autumn of 1985 Backroads Whistler owner Eric Wight opened a bike shop  in the basement of Creekside’s Southside Diner.  A short time later, the shop moved to the first floor of a house in Mons.

The new location was in the centre of the local mountain bike scene at the time, not far from new trails in Emerald and Lost Lake.  The shop sold, fixed, and rented mountain bikes, even building a small trials track outside their door.  Eric admits the shops didn’t make much money in the early days, as most of the clientele were locals who could only afford parts using “local deals.”  Big things were to come, however.

Whistler began hosting bike races in the early 1980s, creating even more demand for maintenance and shops.  Whistler Question Collection.

In 1989 Eric’s shop moved to Whistler Village, finding a spot in the base of the Delta.  The location was off the radar for visitors, however, and the clientele was still all locals.  The shop finally surfaced on the Village Stroll in the spot where Jim McConkey had sold bikes (currently Showcase Snowboards) around the time Backroads began working with Whistler Mountain to begin mountain bike tours down the mountain.  According to Eric, the new shop had a Santa Fe theme, a mechanic shop in the back, rentals and tours, and plenty of snazzy lycra on sale out front.

As mountain biking continued gaining traction the 1990s saw bike shops that are still kicking it today start up shop.

In 1994 John Inglis and Peter Colapinto opened the Whistler Bike Co., also in the underground portion of the Delta, for the summer months.  In 1995 they brought onboard Giant Bicycles and they eventually expanded to Pemberton, the Village Gate location, and, most recently, their Marketplace location to accommodate a growing population of bikers in town.

Molson’s Whistler Bike Race passes through the Whistler Village, where some of the earlier bike shops in town can still be found today.  Whistler Question Collection.

Bike Co. is currently the oldest independent bike shop in town, followed closely by Evolution, which was opened by Jenine Bourbonnais in 1995.  Many more mountain bike shops have opened up as Whistler has become the mountain bike mecca it is today: Summit Sports, Fanatyk Co., Garbanzo Bike & Bean, Coastal Culture Sports, Arbutus Routes, Whistler Village Sports, The Fix, Comor Sports, Fineline, Gateway Bikes – the list is long and continues to grow.  Needless to say, Whistler’s mountain bikers (and their bikes) are now very well serviced.

This week we’ve been celebrating Whistler’s mountain biking history with the museum’s 4th annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week.  You can find a full list of events here and join us for our final event on Wednesday featuring Chris Allen of North Shore Billet and Steve Mathews of Vorsprung.

Dirt Designations: Whistler Mountain Bike Trail Names Part I

Variety, flow, inspiring views, minimal environmental impact, challenging and creative features, durability… there are a number of factors that go into a great bike trail.  Often overlooked, though no less critical, is the name bestowed upon a trail.

A good name sparks curiosity and fuels stoke.  Looking to ride a new trail?  Would you be enticed to ride something like “Winding Forest Trail” or “Trail #28” when “Wizard Burial Ground” is an option.

The best trail names don’t only put a smile on your face, but tell a good story while they’re at it.

Luckily for us, Whistler’s burgeoning cadre of trail-builders  is not only dedicated, visionary and talented, but they’re also fans of quirky, idiosyncratic trail names that add another layer of fun when ripping through Whistler’s forests.

The Valley’s Trails

The Whistler Valley has an incredible and often under-appreciated network of trails meandering through almost every nook and cranny of our valley.  The first routes were mostly reclaimed from decommissioned logging roads in the early 1980s but it wasn’t long before more industrious folks began building them from scratch.

The Whistler Valley in the 1980s didn’t have many sanctioned bike trails, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

The vast majority of trails came from countless hours of solitary, unpaid, back-breaking labour by renegade builders who simply wanted fun trails for themselves and may a few select friends.  Their efforts have been largely vindicated, as many of these technically illegal trails have retroactively become recognized.  Today, multiple builders are being hired and paid to create sanctioned routes.

Lost Lake Park – We begin where most riders are introduced to Whistler mountain biking: Lost Lake Park.  This series of trails was built by Eric Barry.  As we will see, musical influences often factor into bike trail names, and in this case Barry decided to name each segment of the blue-rated trail network after a Frank Zappa song, with psychedelic names like Peaches en Regalia, Zoot Allures, Toads of the Short Forest and Son of Mr. Green Jeans.

A number of less technical, multi-use trails pay homage to the logging industry, which played a major role in the early development of the Whistler Valley whose decommissioned roads unintentionally formed the backbone of the hundreds of biking routes that ensued:

Tin Pants – a heavy waterproof, canvas-type pant that protected loggers from the elements and their chainsaws

Molly Hogan – a technique used to splice together wire cables used by logging crews

Hook Tender – the supervisor of a logging crew

Donkey Puncher – the operator of the “donkey”, a slang term for the steam-powered machine used to haul logs around camp

Gypsy Drum – a big, strong breed of horse frequently used in logging operations

The Rest of the Valley

River Runs Through It – this reference to the popular 1992 film was deemed appropriate because, well, a river runs through it

Comfortably Numb – Whistler’s first official epic ride (it has actually been afforded the “Epic Ride” designation from the International Mountain Bike Association) a ride on this trail will leave your mind and body battered senseless.  The trail-builder, Chris Markle, was clearly a Pink Floyd fan, as one of only escape routes along Comfortably Numb’s 24-km route is called Young Lust.

Danimal – this westside classic is named after the trail-builder Dan Swanstrom, who also built River Runs Through It, much of the No Flow Zone and several other local trails.  Danimal has the distinction of having possibly the most ostentatious bike trail sign on the planet.  A solid granite plinth marks the trail’s entrance among others in the Stonebridge development high up on Whistler’s west side.  When work on this luxury neighbourhood was originally slated, anxiety beset the local riding community as it threatened a number of long-established (if not officially sanctioned) bike trails in the area.  In response to lobbying from WORCA, the RMOW decided to designate several trails as legal and thus protected thoroughfares and established a strong precedent for cooperation between the RMOW, the biking community and the local building community.  Since Danimal is here to stay, Stonebridge’s developer decided to embrace it and mark the trail in a manner befitting its swanky surroundings.

Dan Swanstrom emerges from the forest.

No Flow Zone – this collection of trails around Emerald offers a variety of frustrating, technical challenges.  Many of the trail names in the Zone warn the rider of what lies ahead: Shit Happens, No Girlie Man, White Knuckles, Anal Intruder (your bike saddle, that is)

High Society – this double entendre refers to its proximity to both the posh Stonebridge development as well as the pre-existing trail Legalize It (no explanation necessary)

Darwin’s – named in honour of the trail-builder’s (Eric Barry) dog, who was a puppy at the time

Tunnel Vision – this trail was originally built straight and fast, forcing the rider into this mental state

Cut Yer Bars – one of the Whistler Valley’s original bike trails, this classic ride used to be really tight, hence the instructional trail name

Ride Don’t Slide – this name is instructional (it is really steep and prone to erosion) although not in the way one might expect.  It was originally built as a climbing trail for trials dirtbikes, as is the case for a surprising amount of Whistler’s favourite mountain bike trails

Lower Yer Saddle – another instructional name, as this trail features mostly technical cross-country style riding, but with a few steeper features thrown in the mix

Bob’s Rebob – built mostly from reclaimed logging roads, this trail is named after past WORCA President Bob Eakins

See Colours and Puke – an old climbing trail that was later rehabilitated to work as a descent as well.  Simply climbing this trail might mess with your mental state, but the name is actually a reference to a very early cross-country race organized by Whistler off-road biking pioneer Doris Burma.  The race was always a challenging slog, but many participants were already hallucinating before setting of.  The physical exertion had nothing to do with it; this event was the predecessor of the Cheakamus Challenge, a gruelling endurance challenge in which the most common supplements are now energy gels and electrolyte powders.

Section 102 – this title refers to a change made to provincial law that made unauthorized disturbance of the forest floor (which definitely describes most trail-building at the time) illegal

Billy Epic – one of the oldest trails in Whistler, this was built by Bill Epplett

Binty’s Trail – named after long-time local Vincent Massey, who built this trail among others; Binty built this trail in the late 1980s, accessed by climbing up old logging roads that they had largely cleared themselves

Mel’s Dilemma – Binty and Richard Kelly are mostly responsible for this trail, with some help from Binty’s pre-school-aged son.  At the time, the two trail-builders were big fans of Scarface, and, for reasons long-since forgotten, had taken to referring to each other as “Mel”, a crooked cop from the film who meets an inglorious demise.  The dilemma is simply choosing your route through this snaking maze of routes.

Golden Boner – trail building can often be a lonely and thankless task.  Rumour has it that the trail builder was going through a bit of a lull in his love life at the time

Khyber Pass – this trail name was first applied to the backcountry ski zone which the bike trail cuts through.  Massey recalls how the name first came into use because, at the time (long before Peak Chair was built on Whistler) this section of the mountain was a long hike from the top of the t-bars.  “It was so far out there it was almost exotic, so we figured we’d call it Khyber’s after the famous mountain pass in Afghanistan.”

PhD – in the amount of time spent working on this long, steep and challenging trail north of Whistler, the builder could have earned an advanced post-secondary degree; most riders would agree that the trail was completed summa cum laude

Trail builder Dan Raymond poses with tools of the trade. Photo by Bike Pirate courtesy of WORCA

Rockwork Orange – for this trail, builder Dan Raymond put the cart before the horse and actually had conceived the name before building the trail.  This trail weaves its way through a particularly rugged westside mountain slope, linking up a number of rock bluffs and slabs.

Korova Milk Bar – a multi-layered reference, the title is a direct reference to the mind-altering drinking establishment in A Clockwork Orange, thus connecting it thematically to the previous trail.  Dan chose this specific reference from the ultra-violent novel and film because the trail was built in the same area as a long defunct ride called Dairy of a Milkman, thus enabling a lactose-themed literary homage to its predecessor.

Wizard Burial Ground – the final instalment in this three-piece epic ride draws its name directly from a heavy metal song by the band Umphrey’s Mcgee that Dan thought matched the intensity of the trail.  The fact that the trail ends in the vicinity of the Whistler Cemetery made it even more thematically appropriate.

Lord of the Squirrels. Photo courtesy of Dan Raymond

Alpine Dream Trail – this is the working title of WORCA’s major, multi-year project to build an intermediate-rated, climb-and-descend loop to the Sproatt Mountain alpine.  This title adequately expresses the trail’s epic potential, though some may consider it a tad generic.  In related news, Dan Raymond, the trail builder, is a strong believer that “the builder should be allowed to name a trail no matter who is paying for it.”  If he gets his way, Whistler’s next epic ride may very well be called, in typically cryptic fashion, Lord of the Squirrels.

Coming up: Trail Names of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park

Article by Jeff Slack