Tag Archives: Speaker Series

Making Mountain Bikes and a Mountain Town

From the 1960s to the 1980s Whistler really was a one season resort. Outside of the peak winter season many businesses were shuttered because there were not enough people to turn a profit throughout the summer months. During the 1980s investments went into golf courses, tennis courts and lakeside parks to increase summer visitation. Certainly forty years ago, as Whistler village was being constructed, nobody thought the turning point for Whistler becoming a four-season destination resort would come from running the lifts in the summer so people could ride down the mountain at astonishing speeds.

In the 1980s, technical displays of riding were held in Whistler village to help advertise the fledgling sport. This event was part of Labatt’s Can Am Challenge in 1989 which also included Cross-country, Dual Slalom, Uphill Climb, and Downhill Kamikaze race events, and the World Mountain Bike Polo Championship. Compare the bike in the photo to those commonly seen in the bike park today. Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

That started to change in the late 1980s. According to a letter to village information in the summer of 1987, Backroads Mountain Bike Adventures was in their third season of running commercial mountain bike tours in Whistler. The language clearly shows that the understanding of mountain biking was still limited for many people. “A couple of hours on a bike tour will open your eyes to the sport of mountain biking and show you the hidden beauty of this 4-season resort. Unlike conventional 12-speed road bikes, 15-speed all-terrain mountain bikes have knobby tires, upright handle bars, and a strong sturdy frame. This allows one to travel with power and finesse through forested trails and groomed gravel paths, typically found on Whistler’s backroads.” At this time, the daily rental rate for a mountain bike was $14.

The Uphill Climb during Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge. Many athletes participated in all events.

Riding the hundreds of kilometres of incredible bike trails around Whistler today on my 1998 Rocky Mountain Spice I can’t help but notice that mountain bike design has also changed. When my bike was released it dominated the trails. Now the tires that seemed wide at the time feel very small compared to those around me. When I was over-eager a month ago and hit Lost Lake trails in the snow, those with tires nearly twice the width of mine managed many of the uphill sections as I slid every direction but forward even on the flats.

Dual Slalom during Labatt’s Can-Am Challenge in 1989.

Bikes have certainly changed over the years. While you could get custom-built mountain bikes earlier, in 1981 the Specialized Stumpjumper was one of the first mass-produced and mass-marketed mountain bikes. With no suspension and cantilever brakes, an early Stumpjumper can be seen in the Whistler Museum. Much of the progression of technology can be highlighted in this one bike. Still manufactured today, but with 40 additional years of competition and innovation the current Stumpjumper comes with full suspension, disc brakes so you can stop when wet, and the tires are larger in width and diameter. The frame is popular in both carbon fibre and alloy. Similar progression can be seen in mountain bikes generally.

Today in Whistler we are spoilt for choice when shopping for mountain bikes, with many of the best quality and innovative bikes designed and constructed in our own backyard. This month the Whistler Museum Speaker Series brings you conversations with Mike Truelove, the mastermind who constructed the OG bike for Chromag and has gone on make thousands of frames. Join us on Friday the 27th of May at 7pm, tickets are available now for $10 or $5 for museum members.

The Downhill Kamikaze followed Blackcomb’s 15km service road. This race was saved for the end of the Can-Am Challenge, but it was so foggy that spectators could only see the racers right in front of them.

May Speaker Series with Mike Truelove

Mike Truelove has welded thousands of mountain bike frames (over 1,000 for Chromag alone!) and, though some things stay the same, seen a lot of changes along the way. We are very excited to be joined by Mike this month to learn more about the bikes we ride and the evolution of mountain bike design!

Event begins at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 ($5 for Museum or Club Shred members) and are available at the Whistler Museum or over the phone at 604-932-2019.

There will be limited tickets available for in-person Speaker Series in accordance with the capacity of the Whistler Museum. Speaker Series events will also be streamed live – contact us to register for the livestream at 604-932-2019 or events @ whistlermuseum.org.

Speaker Series April 18

The Whistler Museum Speaker Series is back this month to look at freestyle skiing through the experiences of freestyle legends Stephanie Sloan and Mike Douglas.

Event begins at 7 pm (doors open by 6:30 pm). Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum or Club Shred members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

*There will be limited tickets available for in-person Speaker Series in accordance withe the capacity of the Whistler Museum. Speaker Series events will also be streamed live – contact us to register for the livestream at 604-932-2019 or events @ whistlermuseum.org.

Snowboard Park – No Skiers Allowed!

Blackcomb Mountain opened for snowboarders in the 87/88 season. While it would take Whistler another year to start embracing snowboard culture, Blackcomb was generally supportive of the ‘knuckle-draggers’ thanks to the persistence and passion of a few snowboarders on staff and in the community. Additionally, Hugh Smythe could see the strategic benefits of welcoming a new group of riders.

Before terrain parks were a common feature of ski resorts, snowboarders would travel from all around Canada and the world to take advantage of the many natural features of Blackcomb, perfect for sending big air and pushing the boundaries of the new sport. The natural quarterpipe and wind lip on Blackcomb featured in many publications and films, including the cover of Transworld SNOWboarding with Doug Lundgren. Before the official park, groups would also build their own kickers and crude halfpipes on the mountain. This sometimes involved trying to avoid the watchful eye of ski patrol.

The natural features of Blackcomb attracted snowboarders from around Canada and the world. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Sean Sullivan 1991.

Stu Osborne was instrumental to the snowboarding scene on Blackcomb. Stu started as an instructor and went on to become Snowboard Coordinator and then Terrain Park Supervisor, founding the first Blackcomb management-sanctioned halfpipe and snowboard park. While the Kokanee Snowboard Park officially appeared on the Blackcomb trail map in the 94/95 winter season, the first halfpipe and park launched earlier.

There was still a mentality of skiers versus snowboarders at this time and despite receiving approval to create the initial halfpipe, accessing the resources from the Blackcomb Operations team to build the park was a different story. To get around the lack of resources, Snow Ejectors, a private snow removal company, became a sponsor, providing custom-painted shovels for the build. The early halfpipe was created using these shovels and a little cat time.

During a competition featuring many of the world’s best riders, the Snow Ejectors’ hand-painted banner was larger than those of any of the other sponsors, much to the chagrin of Blackcomb management. The next year, more equipment and support was provided by Blackcomb Mountain. Before the opening of the Kokanee Snowboard Park, Blackcomb became one of the first resorts in Canada to get a pipe dragon, specialised grooming equipment that could carve out a uniform halfpipe far more easily than hand-digging.

A snowboarder takes flight near the Kokanee Snowboard Park. Blackcomb Mountain Collection, Dano Pendygrasse.

In the early days, ‘Blackcomb Snowboard Park’ was exactly that, a park for snowboarders. Rules had changed (in this one niche area on the mountain) and there was a big sign that specified ‘no skiers allowed’. Skiers would wait outside the snowboard park in groups, and bomb the park together in a train so they were harder to catch. It wasn’t long, however, until the park evolved to welcome both snowboarders and skiers as the more inclusive ‘terrain park’ that we know today. 

Originally, the park features on Blackcomb and other resorts in the Canada West Ski Area Association were rated like ski runs, with greens, blues, blacks and double blacks. As most people probably understand, riding a beginner feature would require different skills to a typical green run; however the system broke down when a visitor went off a jump that was far beyond their ability and sustained a debilitating injury. The resulting lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and, learning from this experience, the ratings in the terrain park were changed to those that we see today. Burton had just introduced Smart Style, the orange oval to indicate freestyle terrain. Whistler Blackcomb and the Canada West Ski Area Association went one step further adding S, M, L and XL sizing to keep it easy to interpret. Both features and parks are marked so people can easily choose where to ride within their ability.