For believers the Whistler Bike Park is kind of like Mecca: you have to visit at least once before you die. It’s an awesome place and like all exotic destinations you have to be well prepared to make the most of it. Injury and expense stalk the unwary traveler at the bike park, but plan ahead and you’ll go home with a stack of stories and a desperate desire to return.
A rider’s biggest concern is injury. A vacation can be ruined in a split second of distraction or miscalculation. When you ride the park, injuries likely happen late in the day and to riders unfamiliar with the trails. Being mentally or physically tired is the easiest way to go down. Pace yourself: take breaks and make sure to call it a day before you start feeling drained. Don’t force yourself to ride until the last bell, or to help with the patrol sweep at the end of the day, go sit on the GLC patio with a nice, cold beer and watch the action in the Boneyard. Pay attention to your hands. There’s an elevation difference of 1,000 m between the top of Garbonzo and the village and it’s all downhill. Even on a DH bike that will put a lot of strain on the tendons in your hands. Push yourself and you’ll be sliding your hands sideways off the grips when you get to the bottom and slowly massaging the life back into them. Push too hard and all you’ll be holding for a day or two is a beer stein. Lastly, if you’re superstitious you never call your last run of the day before you take it, instead you just call it another run and then call it a day when you’re safely in the village.
It’s important to take time to get to know the trails: jumps that are long, lips that are kicky and good lines through the rough sections. Once you get familiar with the trails you’ll know which sections to take fast and which ones to take slow. If you’re finding a section hard to ride just find a safe place to pull yourself and your bike off the trail so you can watch how other riders take it. There are plenty of high-level riders and racers at Whistler and they know the park inside out; you won’t have to wait more than a couple of minutes for someone to show you how it’s done.
A day ticket will run you $53, though you can save money by buying a triple-play pass if you’re going to be staying for more than a few days. If you’re riding on a budget you should be aware that parts and service in Whistler Village might be a little more expensive than what you’re used to. However, there are plenty of shops in town to choose from, all very competent, and all are super happy and willing to help you get back on your bike. If you know how to fix your own bike, bring some of the essential parts as you’ll most likely need them. Derailleurs get eaten for lunch when you’re doing 6,000 vertical meters in a day. Not to mention tires, so show up with a fresh set if you’re planning to stay for more than a few days.
It pays to ride early. The lifts open at 10 AM and on a dry, sunny weekend you can get in as many runs in the 2 hours before noon as you will in the 3 hours after. A lot of people show up at around 10:30 to stand in line to buy a pass and by 11:30 the lifts out of the village will be rammed. If you’re a confident rider you should be riding the Garbonzo lift by noon because most beginners will be avoiding it. The Garbo zone trails are more challenging, and you’re a long way from the bottom if you get a mechanical that you can’t fix by yourself, so it weeds out the weaker and less-experienced riders.
A mid-week lunch break is a great time to rest your hands, hang out with friends and chill on the patio, but on a busy weekend lunch planning can be a more strategic decision. The patios at the GLC and the Longhorn get packed quickly and your server will have their attention divided between several busy tables. If you’re aiming to talk bikes and watch riders ride the Boneyard then treat your lunch break like a trip to a restaurant: relax, check out the menu and if you’re going to be there for a while, order a drink. If you’re looking to maximize your riding time you need to be efficient so order without waiting for the menu and ask for your bill when the food arrives. This might limit your choices to ‘a burger’ or whatever the server recommends and you might not know exactly what the price will be, but it’s a question of priorities: ride or relax. If riding is your priority you stick to drinking water. Beer can slow down your reflexes, or make you over-confident. Keep it under control. If you’re really on a budget, pack a lunch. The full-on budget method is to park in one of the free lots and eat there or you can buck up for the pay parking so you can be at your car in less than 5 minutes, eat your lunch and be back at the lifts super-fast. You’ll need to pack a cooler with sandwiches or fixings, but if you’re concerned about money, it’s a great strategy.
Whistler is an amazing location and a great place to step up your game and ride trails like you’ve never seen before. Any day you don’t fall is a good day, so play it safe so you can enjoy every day that you’re out there.