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.
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.
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.