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A quarter century of spinning fatties



RMOW Policy and Program Development

For 25 years, Whistler has been on the cusp of a fat tire revolution which has helped crank the evolution of this valley from a sleepy summertime ski town to a bona fide, four season mountain resort.

This was no happy accident, though. Through a committed continuum of cosmic coincidence which combined stunning Coast Mountains geography, easily accessible Crown land, cycling citizens who built trails and rode them, smart business moves and a local government made up senior staff and politicians who just love mountain biking, Whistler has gone from a ski town that rides to the town that rides when it comes to mountain bikes.

Long-time local Ian Bunbury, who owned one of the first real “mountain” bikes in this real mountain town, a 1981 Specialized Stumpjumper, says it’s easy to see bikes are big in Whistler. “Last week there was a Loonie Race après happening at the base of the mountain with an industry party nearby… it was wild to see more bikes than people filling that little square in the village.”

While the image of bicycles taking over the resort may be far-fetched, Whistler has managed to create quality, accessible trails, bike friendly design and avant garde action when it comes to mountain biking innovation. Early on in our spin to four-seasondom, golf was billed as Whistler’s summer saviour, but it’s mountain biking which has helped our town roll quickly on a four-season path toward success and sustainability. Whistler’s warm weather mountain messiah didn’t ride into town on a golf cart — she hammered in on a Kona.

A 2006 Sea to Sky Mountain Biking Economic Study, conducted by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association showed clearly the value created by bikes. The trail systems of the North Shore, Squamish and Whistler, are estimated to have collectively generated $10.3 million in spending from riders that live outside of the host community over the period from June 4 to Sept. 17, 2006. Spending by visitors to Whistler accounted for just under two-thirds of the total, around $6.6 million, excluding the Whistler Bike Park.

Bunbury’s Stumpjumper was one of the first mountain bikes in Whistler and he says some folks scoffed at the thing. Soon, local trials motorcycle riders started an off-road trail network so they could ride, well, off-road to protect their uninsured butts from the man. Then in 1983, Whistler’s first homegrown bike shop, Summit Cycles, opened and the fat tire bikes caught on with the local population and pedals became pre-eminent in the woods around Alta Lake.

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