So, as I sit on the world’s coolest bus (slightly less cool now its taking me away from Shred capital of the world), its time to reflect a little bit on what the last 10 days has been like, as well as unleash a bit of a rant about tips and insights to coming here that may be useful. Mind you, if you never intend to come and ride here this may be quite a pointless post, so proceed at your own discretion!
Firstly, I should get the obvious out of the way up front – This is a fantastic place. Not just the riding, but the whole Whistler village, area and set up that they have rocking here. The whole town loves it and is set up around an industry of having fun and good times, but without it feeling like a corporate machine. People here are stoked and it has a very international feel to it, courtesy of the myriad of long term residents from around the world (Australia dominates the population to be fair). Its a party town, but not in the way that gets up in your grill… and there is a huge respect for what the Mountain and the riding means around here, which is pretty cool. There is a very valid reason why this place is on a lot of riding bucket lists and why people come back year after year.
My following reflections, advice and tips are divided into semi logical groupings where possible, the caveat being if you want to come and ride here you’re already a competent Mountain Biker and want to come for 10 days to 2 weeks. Also feel free to take the below with a grain of salt as I think I am always right (shredders feel free to ignore):
1. The terrain – Mountain of Gnar
- This is BIG terrain… Even the Euro’s here will admit that they don’t have anything like it in terms of sheer size and variety of trails. Chances are you won’t be able to (or want to ) ride every trail here
- There is no place around that will let you develop or progress as a rider than Whistler, both due to the terrain, but also the uplift… Chair lift riding is epic and means you can get in as many laps as you can manage (see next section on this topic) in a day and hit as many lines as you want, perfecting a particular skill until you have it mastered
- In my 8 days riding I descended approx 27,000 metres! Hard to do on local trails
- Its gnarly… Its rough and gets rougher the longer you are here. There are easy trails, but you’ll quickly out grow these and predictably the best trails get cut up quickly as the weeks wear on. There isn’t a lot of variety terrain wise, it can be pretty rocky, but there is some awesome dirt here and a mix of open vs tree runs. Arrive feeling comfortable riding on loose rocky or gravel terrain, a big advantage
- Don’t let photos or videos of wide looking tracks fool you, this place is FAST and at terminal velocity those tracks no longer seem that wide
- This is one place where you need to heed the track gradings… You can get seriously in the shit quickly if you think Double Black isn’t really that bad… Always do a recon run slowly of a new trail before pinning it. Sure, not great on the ego to roll down slowly, but your collarbone will thank you
- There is something here that will test or push 99.9% of the MTB community, you can find anything you want to challenge you here and I can guarantee you will find your limits.
2. Preparation – Don’t bring a plastic knife to the tactical nuke exchange
- I can speak with semi authority on this one… As I have two examples to compare. 1) In 2011 I hit the gym on a weights programme for 4 months and did minimal mountain biking vs. 2) In 2013 I did no weights or prep and just relied on my mountain biking, specifically my TP trip a few weeks earlier
- I can say without a doubt that option 1 is the way to go! If you want to ride well here and pin it for a number of days, then you need to hit the weights and come prepared… Its NOT like riding at home. Maybe if you want to do a few runs every other day you’d be ok, but if you want to come for a shredathon or get the most out of it, then prepare properly
- You don’t need to get beefcake about it or become a weird tin smashing beast that yells at themselves in the mirror at the gym, but you do need to get some coiled steel action going on arms, shoulders and core
- Specific prep on hands also a bonus… I have no idea what that would involved, but fuck your hands get hammered here and will usually be the first thing to cause you problems, either through inflammation/pain or calluses from braking
- Do as much mountain biking as you can – Obvious really, but the more DH action you can jam in the better clearly
- I will elaborate on this below – But test and sort out all your gear well before you arrive… don’t turn up with untested kit… especially clothing and armour, as it will be found out here, so best to have everything well broken in and comfortable.
3. The kit – Bike & gear
- Bring a Downhill bike… Lets not fuck around here… Its DH bike territory in the park if you are wanting to go big or do days back to back. I could get away with the Nomad on a few trails, but wouldn’t want to do it for more than a day. The fun factor with a DH bike can’t be overlooked either. Don’t go half measure, go all out. I would recommend a carbon frame with clutch rear D, nice and quiet and will absorb more Gnar to aid freshness…
- Armour – At a minimum its full face helmet, neck brace, knee guards and full fingered gloves. Feel free to continue adding defensive plating, I would recommend spine protector and elbow guards as well… from there you can add as much as you want!
- Thoroughly run everything in before you get here… try the armour on and make sure its comfortable to ride in… Sounds obvious but it can be a painful experience when it starts to rub you to bits
- Brakes and ergonomics are key – Bring the best brakes you can get your hands on and make sure lever positioning is perfect is critical, helps to minimise stress on the hands. Not a parking lot test either, make sure the set up is perfect on the trail. Run 203mm rotors.
- 2.5 inch tires minimum… Everyone here seems to run Maxxis, DH tubes also don’t hurt as I found out
- Bike shops here are awesome, so don’t worry about spares, but don’t expect too many deals as its a captive audience. Mechanics are also great here as you’d expect.
4. While you are here – Active management
- Ease into it – Don’t end up the person at the bottom of the lifts on the picnic tables in plaster watching their friends come down the hill because you blow your load on day one… Ease into it and find out what its about… Trips are easily ruined on day one!
- Graduate up – Start on green… then blue and eventually black runs over a few days. Respect not everyone is into this, but depends on your level. Also pays to have a few days in the Fitzsimmons zone before heading up to Garbanzo.
- This especially applies to jumps – They are endless in supply here… Jumps are like men in cars with candy, don’t get into them unless you know them first. Learn the jumps and go bigger and bigger as the trip rolls on
- Rest days… Critical, but harder than it sounds to do to be honest. 4 or 5 days on and one off seem to be a good recipe, but also depends on how much you are doing each day. Riding after a rest day is always good, so take some time out and explore the lakes
- Sleep in – Lifts start at 10am and run until 8pm (until later in the season), so do yourself a favour and chill… sleep off that hang over, get a coffee, hit the pool… Even starting at 2pm you still have 6 hours to shred and here, that is a LOT of time!
- Crashing – you will crash at some point, its inevitable… May not be a big one, but if you’re here for a while you will make a mistake or go down from pushing limits. Don’t obsess about it as it will fuck you up and hold you back, just take it as a fact its likely to happen at some stage and have a first aid kit or good bandages on hand. The Pharmacy here is amazing and has everything you will need, I am sure the MTB scene is an epic revenue stream for them!
- Actively manage yourself here, ice sore hands/bumps and use voltaren etc. You need to keep on top of things if you want to keep carving over a longer period… recovery is key, as is stretching
- Han Solo vs a Squad – you can get away with rolling solo here, but contrasting my last two MTB trips I would highly recommend coming with a crew… its the people you ride with that makes the trip, so I would suggest getting a like minded posse together. Make sure you’re of similar ability if possible. If you want to come solo, maybe check out the Summer Gravity Camp, looks awesome
- No matter your level, perhaps think about a day of coaching/guiding – As Andrew Shandro said “everyone is doing something wrong” and if you can cure a niggly habit early on it will improve the trip
- Most importantly – Relax and have fun… there will be moments of fear or bad runs, just relax and don’t fight the mountain as it will always win. Take the arvo off and regroup.
- Best time to come I think is early July, after the rain and thaw but before Crankworx or when the trails are getting ripped up, watch the weather and get the sweet spot window for riding and conditions
- Perimeter coaches is the best way to get from Vancouver airport to Whistler, awesome service and buses with Wifi, rad.
Well, that’s it from Whistler… I am no doubt missing a whole lot of stuff, but these are a few musings and ideas I wanted to pass on. Its an awesome place and I think anyone who likes to ride an MTB down a hill should come here at some point for a treat, get pumped, go riding.
Next up is Italy in a weeks time – Road riding and <gulp/fart noise> the Charly Gaul Gran Fondo on Sunday week… 140km’s and 4000m of climbing, hmmmm… drinking beer and riding DH for 10 days not the most ideal prep, so could be an interesting day that one! Its going to be a month of extremes.