Whistler is Heaven on Earth. This is what we found venturing on two wheels outside the Whistler bike park.
Whistler. Disneyland for mountain bikers. Home to downhill mountain bike heaven. The best bike park on the planet. We all know of this place, it’s not like I’m introducing anything new here.
Most of us have it on our bucket list, or have already been and want to go back. It usually conjures up images of lifts, and big bikes, and the huge berms and jumps on A-Line, and that one chute on in deep that everyone has to photograph. I’ve been to Whistler a number of times now, and I love it every time. It really is unlike anywhere else I’ve ridden. This time however, it was different. I found a whole new love for Whistler…outside of the bike park.
Plans for this trip came together quickly, and had to work around a number of other work and travel commitments. It ended up working out that Russell and I would have to fly there, both from different parts of the country. What this meant when it came down to it, was, 1 bike each – a trail bike. Now, you can still ride a lot of the bike park on a trail bike, but when we were there 2 years ago for the Enduro World Series, we got a little taste of the trails outside of the park, and decided that this trip, we’d only do 1 day in the park. This meant 8 glorious days of trail riding in Whistler.
Before getting into the trails themselves, here are some general thoughts about trail riding in Whistler:
1. If it’s your first time riding in Whistler, don’t feel bad if at first you feel demoralized (or in my case, want to cry).
You just have to understand, that there is a whole different scale here. What they consider an easy trail equates to what we would think of as an intermediate trail, what they call intermediate is considered a pretty darn technical trail in most places, and when they say a trail is advanced, you’d better be on your A game because it’s going to be rowdy.
2. You’re pretty much looking at straight up and straight down.
That’s not as true for some of the beginner trails, but if you want to access trails outside of the park that fall into the intermediate to advanced level, you’re likely looking at a climb that involves gaining around 1000 feet for every 2 miles of riding. Get used to the chest-to-bars position, butt wedged in the end of your saddle stance, or get used to hiking.
3. The trails in Whistler seem to be more on the tight and techy side than the fast and wide open side.
While we did ride a pretty wide variety of trails, and you can find what you’re looking for here no matter what it is. Short punchy climbs pepper even the steepest of downhills and those wide bars often have to squeeze carefully through the trees. Steep rock rollers and skinny bridges abound. I would say that riding in Whistler requires finesse.
Without further ado, here’s a summary of the trails we rode and what I thought of them. I’ll try to be honest and not just glow about how ridiculously amazing everything was. Most of the trails we rode were firmly in the advanced side of the spectrum. Blow your mind kind of stuff for those ready for a challenge, but not necessarily recommended for first time Whistler riders.
Huge trees towered above us, and everything just smelled fresh. I was glad we had stopped to take it all in. This is why they call it Beautiful British Columbia.
There are no lifts for bikes on Blackcomb, so you have to pedal to get to the goods. The 3 main trails we rode here were Microclimate, Hey Bud and Golden Boner. This was one of those rides with almost 4000 ft of climbing in 10 miles. But, worth it. Micro-Climate and Hey Bud were variations on the same, black and double black respectively. Where Micro-Cllimate was steep, Hey Bud was a little steeper, where Micro-Climate had a few short punchy climbs, Hey Bud had a few more. Both were littered with off-camber roots, but where there were no roots, there was this deep luscious loam. Once I learned not to brake on the roots, and that if I did start to slide that my tires would hook up as soon as I hit that glorious dirt, things went pretty smoothly. We stopped at one point, and just looked around. It was super quiet, with this deep green moss everywhere except for a perfect ribbon of black soil (and some exposed roots). Huge trees towered above us, and everything just smelled fresh. I was glad we had stopped to take it all in. This is why they call it Beautiful British Columbia. One advantage of not racing trails like these is that you really get to enjoy them.
These trails were tight and technical, as most we found in Whistler were. There were a few spots we had to scope before riding, and I had my only real crash of the trip on Hey Bud. Just a little too quick into a rooty section and got tangled up. It will be interesting to see how Hey Bud has changed now that the EWS has been run down it. It all seemed pretty fresh when we went down, but I imagine there are some more worn in lines now.
Golden Boner was less loamy (still more than most of us are used to) and more rocky. It was nice to mix it up with some loose rocks and it felt a bit like a trail you might find in Colorado. Not as magical feeling as the other two trails, but probably a little easier, a little more wide-open, and super fun.
All in all, the Blackcomb trails were a treat.
We accessed these trails via Kadenwood Road, but I think some of them are now accessible via the Creekside Gondola. The trails we rode over here were lower. Ride Don’t Slide, BCs, Kush, Heavy Flow and Tunnel vision – and another trail that I think is still somewhat top secret so I won’t share it’s name – even though it is one of the more awesome names.
Kush might be my favorite trail in Whistler. We rode this one 3 times throughout the trip, and by the last time I cleared everything on it. Seems like this one maybe hasn’t gotten the traffic that some other trails have, or maybe it’s just super well built. Either way, it seems to have kept its tightness and the dirt seemed extra good even for Whistler standards. Maybe we just got lucky and hit it at the right time. More loam, more roots, more steep rocky, rooty chutes to get your heart racing. Similar to Micro-Climate and Hey Bud, but personally I found it to have more flow. Definitely some tricky spots I had to do a few times before I figured them out properly, but it seemed more consistently downhill which to me is a desirable trait. Watch out for holes and lay off the front brake on this one though.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ride don’t Slide was maybe the least favorite trail we rode, despite having been told it would blow my mind by the random waitress who once recommended this to us. Even though it is apparently easier than it used to be, I think it was still a bit over my head. I probably did more sliding than riding on this one. It’s one of those trails, that if I lived in Whistler, I probably would want to master, and would be really satisfied if I did, but for a visitor, it’s a bit much, especially if it’s wet at all. I would think a downhill bike might be more fun for this one.
The other trails on this side of the mountain were a little easier and a little more high speed. If you’re looking for a trail that you might equate to a black at most mountains in the US, these are probably right up your alley. Still enough tricky features to keep you on your toes, but few moments where you aren’t sure you’ll be able to hold on. BC’s was described to us as “more of a flow trail” by some Whistler locals, but I am not sure they know what most people consider a flow trail. I don’t recall seeing any berms or jumps. Anyway, it was still fun and spits you right out at Dusty’s where you can grab a quick bite and a pitcher of beer at the end of your ride. Not too shabby.
I was going to write about the whole West Side Story, but Howler seemed to stand out on it’s own. It’s a bit of an expedition to get to – I think it was 2 hours of climbing/hiking with a brief stop to dunk our heads in a river – and had a bit of a different flavour than the other rides we did over here. On the way up, I’d encourage you to keep going past the start of the trail, and keep climbing up to the lookout. You’ll have likely been hiking your bike a fair amount by this point anyway, so you might as well go the extra mile or so to the top. From there a huge rock outcropping gives you an incredible 360-degree view of the Whistler valley and the surrounding mountains. An excellent spot for a snack and some sunbathing. Plus, the ride down from the lookout to the trailhead is actually really fun as well.
I felt a bit more at home on Howler, as it’s terrain was more familiar – loose rocks, steep, and dry (in our case). Most trails I ride like this are short and sweet though whereas this went on for what seemed like forever. In reality, it dropped around 3000 feet in under 4 miles. My hands were exhausted from braking, and I welcomed a quick mechanical stop halfway down. Super fun trail, with some really fast bits, but again, technical and not for the faint of heart. Unless I suppose you’re a Whistler local, but I don’t think being faint of heart while living in Whistler are really compatible.
The rest of the west side of the valley seems to be literally covered with mountain bike trails. The main connector for everything is called Flank Trail, and there are just a million options to drop into from mellow all the way to sketchy. Here you’ll be able to find a few more pleasant climbs if you seek them out, and some good options to progress into the harder trails.
Top of the World to Kybers to Middle of Nowhere to Kashmir to Kush
I highly recommend this route to the strong, fit, technically skilled rider. Amazing. Is that my first time using the word amazing? That in itself is kind of amazing. You’ve likely heard of Top of the World, the trail starting off the Peak of Whistler. Well, the rumors are true, this trail is a rocky, high alpine gem. It’s very different than much of the other riding we did, in that it’s above the tree line and covered in rocks instead of roots. Not only is the trail one of the best, the views are also pretty spectacular. Just don’t take your eyes off the trail to look at them or you might find yourself in trouble. Plan to stop!
You can take this trail all the way back into the park, but we took a hard left and dove into the trees for Kyber’s trail. From here the trail gets wild and steep and the trees start to encroach closer and closer the further you get down. I find myself wanting to let it go in some sections, but know I will run out of arm strength to hang on in the steeps if I get too fast and loose. I am constantly having to remind myself to look ahead and lay off the death grip, but still smile somehow.
About ¾ of the way down, a new trail breaks off to the right. This is Middle of Nowhere, and it’s more of a traverse through the trees than the downhill shenanigans you just survived. You may find yourself wanting to rip your goggles off your face due to exhaustion and heat as you navigate the punchy ups and loamy flats through the forest. All in all a great piece of singletrack if you know what’s coming, but if you attack it like it’s going to be all downhill, you’ll find yourself quickly hot and out of breath.
Somewhere in this bit of rainforest, you come across a small pond, and this is where you intersect with Kashmir. The trend begins to head a bit more down, but some small climbs still await. By this time, if you’ve been riding somewhat continuously, you may want to be careful as you’ll want to be on your game for what this trail throws at you. We were lucky to ride this in the dry. I can only assume it gets more deadly in the rain. Even dry, we had to session a few spots before we got them down. Lots of high fives on Kashmir. From there we continued down Kush and Heavy Flow back to Kadenwood. Ecstatic exhaustion is how I would describe my feelings after this ride. A must do.
While you don’t have to be as exclusive as we were on this trip, the bike park is not to be missed, especially if you’ve never been. If you’re making the journey to Whistler and have the luxury of a little time, take an adventure outside of the park. Don’t go with the delusion that you’ll be able to ride everything, and don’t expect not to earn your turns, but do expect to experience some of the most unique and challenging trails of your life, and leave with a serious stoke migraine.
One more thing: a quick shout out to the trail builders in Whistler. You are far better at naming your trails than anyone else on the planet. Thanks.
Now go ride your bike.
Be Whistler Ready
Traveling With Your Bike
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