Tag Archives: Jacob Heilbron

Racing Up Whistler

Summers in Whistler may be known for mountain biking today, but in the 1980s the sport was still young and Whistler was in the process of building its reputation as a site for races and events.

The first recorded mountain bike race in Whistler was held on June 20, 1982 and was organized by Jon Kirk. The race had few rules and lots of confusion. According to Jacob Heilbron, who came in third, the race may have been called the Canadian Championship, but, with no governing body for mountain bike racing in Canada until 1984, it would not have been officially sanctioned. The course began with a literal running start and some competitors switched between mountain and road bikes throughout the course.

Competitors cross a bridge in the 1982 race. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

By the mid 1980s, some of the races held in Whistler looked a little different from that first race. In 1985, Whistler hosted the BMX World Championships, which brought 680 riders from fourteen different countries to the resort still finding its way out of a recession. Unlike the earlier Canadian Championship, this race was associated with the International BMX Federation. Whistler also hosted the 1986 North American BMX Championships and CanAm Freestyle BMX Challenge, but the Whistler Question reported that the races were hampered by wet weather and poor turnout.

A team of BMX freestyler cyclists added to the weekend’s festivities and gave Whistler just a taste of what things will be like here next summer when the BMX World Championships come to town in 1985. Two young performers on BMX bikes travelled from Pitt Meadows to represent the Lynx factory team. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge, which was hosted on Whistler Mountain on July 5 & 6, 1986, did not have the same challenges. Over 70 racers entered the mountain race on the Saturday and the valley criterium race on the Sunday, with sunny but not hot conditions for both.

The mountain course followed an access road up to the Roundhouse (a climb of 1,200 m over 7 km) and then descended back to the valley. While those competing in the expert category completed the same course as the pro racers, those in the “sportsmen” category cycled only as far as midstation and then rode the Red Chair up to the top. The 40km criterium course took competitors on laps around the Lost Lake trail system.

Competitors appear to have enjoyed the Whistler Mountain course, comparing it favourably to the course in Crested Butte, CO. Jeff Norman, who raced for the Schwinn team, described it was “smoother,” while Tod Switzer of Ross Bicycles told the Question, “It’s much faster. Crested Butte is rocky and rutted. It’s definitely better here. I had a lot more fun.” Racers also commented on how their tires could hand on to the soil during the climb. One racer, upon crossing the finish line, even jumped off his bike to exclaim, “I like it, I like it, I like it!”

Paul Rawlinson cycles up the mountain during the Cheakamus Challenge a few years after the CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

By the end of the weekend, American teams for manufacturers such as Ross, Schwinn and Fisher had dominated the pro categories, taking home the cash prizes on offer. Despite this, Whistler riders were well represented in the expert and sportsmen categories. Merve Stalkie took first place in the expert category of the mountain race, followed closely by Paul Rawlinson, also of Whistler. Whistler rider Sharon Bishop came fifth in the women’s category and Eric Gunderson of Whistler took first in the sportsmen category.

The CanAm Mountain Bike Challenge marked the end of Whistler’s “Fat Tire Week,” which had begun with the BMX Championships. At the closing ceremony, president of the National Off Road Bicycle Association Glen O’Dell challenged Canadian racers to do better. O’Dell also hinted at Whistler’s future, referring to Whistler as “a mecca for the new sport.”

Whistler’s First Mountain Bike Race

This summer, as we made our way through digitizing the Whistler Question Photo Collection, I may have come across the Whistler’s first ever Off-Road Bike Race. The first race took place on June 20, 1982.

On that Sunday Morning, “seventeen keen competitors” lined up on the slopes of the Village Chair. The race course started on the slopes of the Village Chair. One competitor Mark Rowan recalled the race started “Le Mans” style, which meant competitors started from a standing position. “Racers ran down the lower part of the Village Chair before picking up their bicycles in Mountain Square,” Rowan recalled, noting that this was roughly near where the Longhorn Saloon is today.

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Chaz Romalis leads the pack during Whistler’s first ever  MTB race. Photo: Whistler Question/WMAS.

“The racers then headed out to Lost Lake and to the power line road which runs along the east side of Green Lake. From the Wedge Creek turnoff they headed back via Mons and the Lost Lake trail again.”

Jacob Heilbron said “The Whistler Race may have been called the Canadian Championships but there was no governing body for mountain bike racing at the time. As far as I know it was the first mountain bike race held in Canada.”

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Photo: Whistler Question/WMAS

It wouldn’t be until 1984 and the formation of CORBA (Canadian Off-Road Bicycle Association) that the first official Canadian Championships would take place on Vedder Mountain.

Heilbron said, “There were no rules, so I switched to a road bike and picked up around 3 places on the section of highway heading back to town. Then I switched back to a mountain bike as we crossed back into local trails and tried to find the lightly marked trail on the way back to the finish.”

The first prize was $1000 as recalled by both Chaz Romalis and Jacob Heilbron. The organizer of the race was Jon Kirk. Chaz mentioned “he was responsible for the Deep Cove Daze, which brought thousands of spectators to watch a crit race in the late 70s and early 80s.”

Heilbron also recalls “There was definitely some confusion about who had completed the entire race and what place they had finished.”

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Photo: Whistler Question/WMAS.

Chaz Romalis, owner of the Deep Cove Bike Shop in North Vancouver, recalls “ I was in second place and I was descending the hill from the Microwave Tower when I crashed out of the race.”

Mark “Straight-Ahead- Fred” Rowan unfortunately didn’t finish the race. He said, “I rode a cyclocross bike and my front tire caved in and I injured my face.”

The original article, appearing in the June 24, 1982 issue of the Whistler Question, mentions the winner of the race, “Tony Starck, 22, from Victoria had purchased his bike only 3 weeks prior.” Starck was the first Canadian Champion of Off-Road Bicycle Racing.

Second was Russ Maynard and third place went to Jacob Heilbron.

Enjoy Crankworx!

 

By John Alexander