Tag Archives: Eric Wight

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’s Mountain Bike Trails Part II

In a previous post we shared the stories behind the names of some of the bike trails in the Whistler valley; today we’ll be sharing some more stories, this time focusing on the trails of the Whistler Bike Park.

Whistler Bike Park

The Whistler Bike Park has been a major factor in the progression of freeride mountain biking for nearly two decades.  One could argue that the names bestowed upon its several dozen trails have been just as influential.  They would be wrong, of course, but that’s beside the point.

Still, the titles found on the trail map are full in insights into the trails and, even more so, to the characters that brought them to life.  As long-time park rider and trail builder Peter Matthews puts it, “The best names always come up during trail building.  A lot of time for banter; everyone’s tired, light-headed, dehydrated, cracking jokes.”  Not surprisingly, pop culture references, heavy metal and playful ribbing at the expense of their peers feature heavily.

The Whistler Bike Park, shown here in 2000, has changed a lot in the almost two decades for which it’s been open.

The trail crew’s jokes and banter have a tendency to go a bit further than popular tastes might appreciate.  There’s a whole gaggle of unofficial trail names and other inside jokes that never made it onto the official trail map and, for obvious reasons, will not be included in this article.  For those you’ll have to ask the builders themselves.

B-Line – B-Line is the name of a type of explosive detonation cord which can be used to link charges together or used as an explosive on its own.  When building this trail a generous amount of explosives were used to remove a stubborn tree stump and, though early bike park visionary Dave Kelly confirmed that other explosives were used in this case, the name stuck.  Also, as the trail was the bike park’s new showcase Beginner Line, the name seemed apt.

A-Line – a machine built flowy jump line that followed B-Line’s suit, this name was an obvious choice for the new “Advanced Line”.

Crank It Up – on this moderate-but-flowy jump line you can maximize the good times by pedalling aggressively, hence Crank It Up.  A name starting with the letter “C” was appropriate as this trail could also be though of as the “C-Line”.

Ho Chi Minh Trail – this trail was designed and named by Eric Wight (owner of Whistler Backroads) who was the original mastermind and creator of life-accessed biking on Whistler Mountain, operating there until Whistler Blackcomb took over operations in 1997.  Sections of the trail ran down the middle of Lower Olympic through grass up to 1.5 m tall, reminiscent of scenes from the Vietnam War.

Heart of Darkness – this trail name builds on the Vietnam theme established by Ho Chi Minh; plus, it can get fairly dark in the section along the creek where it can get surprisingly intense for a flowy blue run.

Clown Shoes and Dirt Merchant – both of these trails reference the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Captain Safety – there are conflicting reports as to which mountain employee it was who had the healthy zeal for injury prevention; some say he was a mountain patrol higher-up, other a bike park manager.  Either way, he took his job very seriously, sometimes to the dismay of trail crew.  This trail is named after him.

Mackenzie River Trail – named in honour of the late Duncan Mackenzie, an esteemed trail-builder and ski patroller who died tragically in an avalanche in December 2011.

Original Sin – named by original bike park manager Rob McSkimming.  Multiple meaning and wordplays are at work here but it is also considered the original trail in the Garbanzo Zone.

Schleyer – named after legendary freeride mountain biker Richie Schley, while alluding to equally legendary thrash metal band Slayer

Joyride – the name “Joyride” recurs often in Whistler.  This trail was built in 1998 by local biking luminaries Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye, the latter of who had founded his own trail-building company also named Joyride.  A few year later a local mountain bike festival was created and called, you guessed it, Joyride.  This festival was the predecessor of today’s Crankworx festival whose showcase event is a slopestyle competition which still bears this name, and Kaye’s Joyride Bike Parks Inc. remains one of the world’s leading mountain bike trail-building companies.

Del Boca Vista – in yet another pop culture reference, this trail’s name is derived from the Florida condominium complex in Seinfeld where Jerry’s parents and, for a time, Kramer had retired to.  Life here would hopefully be relaxing, fun and leisurely, just like this trail.

It’s possible to get injured in many different ways in the bike park, including on Angry Pirate, though most of the time an actual bike is involved.

Angry Pirate – trail-building entails more than just crude jokes and high fives; it also involves a lot of back-breaking work and the potential for some serious bodily harm.  One builder received this nickname after experiencing an especially unfortunate series of events while working on this trail.  First, while walking through the woods, he stepped on a wasp nest and angered the hive.  During the ensuing chaos he tripped and stumbled downslope, injuring his ankle, but not before he got stung by a wasp very close to his eye.  These mishaps left said trail-builder with an eyepatch, a heavy limp and a sour mood.

Devil’s Club – while building this trail the park crew had to contend with this infamous coastal bush which grows dense, tough and covered in nasty thorns

The “Asian Trilogy” – all three of these trails were named by trail crew veteran Andrew “Gunner” Gunn:

Samurai Pizza Cats – named after the American adaptation of the anime series Kyatto Ninden Teyandee which originally aired in Japan

Ninja Cougar – the trail like to joke that Jesse Melamed (one of the trail-builders) required this special type of bodyguard due to his esteemed political position as the then-mayor’s son

Sun’s out, tongues out on Karate Monkey.

Karate Monkey – this trail name maintains the “martial arts/animal” theme from the other two trails, but whether there is any deeper meaning is unclear

Blue/Black Velvet – simply put, these trails were designed to ride as smoothly as possible

Blueseum – this trail was built through the same section of forest as a long-neglected trail full of derelict wooden structures.  Riding this new trail gave the impression that you were passing through a freeride bike stunt museum.  The trail is blue-rated and this creative portmanteau title was conceived.

Afternoon Delight – the park crew was on fire this day, building most of this trail in a single afternoon

Funshine Rolly Drops – simply the most playful, friendly-sounding name the trail-builders could brainstorm

Duffman – duff is a term used for the soft, thick layer of organic material often found on a Coastal forest floor.  When working on this trail, the park crew had to contend with an especially thick layer of duff and thus took the opportunity to shout out to the highly enthusiastic beer mascot character of The Simpsons fame.t

Detroit Rock City – some trail names come easy; this trail features a long, committing rock ride and so borrowing the title of the famed KISS song seemed appropriate

Fade to Black – named after the classic Metallica song, this trail was intended to demarcate the transition from blue-rated to black-rated single-track.  Let’s say the trail-builders got a little carried away with this one, including a sizeable mandatory road gap that is most definitely double black material.  Some riders prefer to call it “Fade to Pro Line”.

Freight Train – the name refers to the freight container stunt that bikers can jump on and off of, but the title has been given further meaning from the fact that riders have a tendency to ride this fast and flowy jump run in tight formation, like a freight train running down the tracks

The bike park has grown considerably since its beginnings and even more trails are underway.

Tech Noir – evidently some trail-builders are fans of Arnold “The Gubernator” Schwarzenegger, as this is also the name of a bar in the original Terminator film.  Cover charge is optional.

Dwayne Johnson – another memorial to the musclebound, this trail feature a huge rock and was a perfect opportunity to honour everyone’s favourite wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

The Manager – an optional pro line in Duffman named after then-bike-park manager Tom “Pro” Prochazka

D1 – the various models of excavating machines used to build the trails are named according to their size: “D35”, “D50” and so on.  This trail is named after the smallest excavator in the park crew’s arsenal, the shovel, because this seemingly machine-built path was built completely by manual labour.

Too Tight – as the name suggests, this trail is very narrow and winding; countless riders over the years have face-planted after catching their handlebars on an adjacent tree trunk

Little Alder – this short run cuts through a picturesque alder grove

Fatcrobat – among the diverse array of characters who have worked for the bike park over the years, one particular gentleman went through extensive gymnastic training in his youth.  As his years progressed he lost his trim figure but he retained a surprising amount of his athletic talent.  This trail is named in honour of this rotund gymnast.

Drop-In Clinic– named after the steep rock roll “drop-in” entrance to this short connector trail

Top of the World – this name is self-explanatory.  As the first bike park trail from the summit of Whistler Mountain, a ride down here leaves one feeling elated.  If this name doesn’t convey the same tone as the other bike park trails, it is because the park crew didn’t come up with this own.  This trail’s construction was an exciting new attraction and upper management wanted to convey an inspiring image to attract more visitors.

Article by Jeff Slack

The Origins of the Whistler Bike Park

It’s as good  time as any to look back at the origins of the Whistler Bike Park.

One of Whistler’s first mountain bike operators was Whistler Backroads, started by local resident and disillusioned breakfast server Eric Wight in 1982. They offered mountain bike rentals, sales and guided tours, operating from a number of different locations throughout Whistler during the 1980s.

As early as 1985 Eric approached Whistler Mountain about the potential of using chairlifts for summer trail access within the resort. It was obviously a great idea, but a little ahead of its time. There was still too much of a disconnect between what the average biker on the average bike could handle, and the experience that Eric was trying to provide.

Early mountain biking on Blackcomb Mountain. Greg Griffith photo.

Early mountain biking on Blackcomb Mountain. Greg Griffith photo.

Sometime around 1990 (dates can get a little fuzzy after a few decades) Whistler Mountain approached Eric about the possibility of taking over the guided bike tours they had been offering for the last few summers. Eric agreed, secured permission to build bike-specific trails (including Bear Cub), and within a few years (definitely by 1993) he finally succeeded in convincing the ski resort to run the chairlifts in summer for bikes. Blackcomb Mountain also experimented with lift-accessed mountain biking for a few years during the early 1990s.

The genius of Eric’s idea was becoming apparent by 1996 when opening weekend in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park drew more than 500 opening weekend riders. Yes, some riders will always appreciate the physical and technical challenge of a good uphill slog, but the comfort and convenience of a chairlift became a surefire driver of growth in the mountain bike world, just as it had for skiing decades earlier.

An early design for Whistler Bike Park ad, courtesy Whistler Backroads. Circa 1996.

An early design for a Whistler Bike Park ad, courtesy Whistler Backroads. Circa 1996.

Lift-accessed trails started from Olympic Station, most running down ski runs, while “two of the new routes even [took] riders right into the forest, with designers opening up old logging roads for the two-wheeled, knobby-tired set.” Also in 1996 in a separate guided tour for advanced riders, Eric’s guides invited guests to “bike the peak” by climbing access roads from the Roundhouse all the way to Whistler Peak. It wasn’t until 2012 that the Whistler Bike Park began offering lift-access to Whistler Summit and the new “Top of the World Trail.”

Despite this early success, Whistler Backroads was forced to change paths in 1998, when Intrawest purchased Whistler Mountain. Their contract was not renewed, despite the considerable efforts invested in building trails and growing the operation. They continued to offer guided mountain biking throughout the valley, but over time their focus shifted to water sports, especially guided canoe and kayak descents down the River of Golden Dreams, which they still offer to this day.

 

Next Wednesday May 18th, see Eric, WORCA trailbuilder Dan Raymond, and others discuss the past, present, and future of MTB trail-building in Whistler at “Dirt Masters: Whistler Trail-building through the Decades.” This is the opening event of our first ever Whistler MTB Heritage Week.