By Andrew Mitchell
Although growth rates have slowed since the early days when bike park rider numbers doubled from year to year, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park still experienced double digit growth for 2006, before closing on Thanksgiving Monday.
According to Rob McSkimming, vice president of business development for Whistler-Blackcomb, numbers are up approximately 10 per cent this year over 2005, aided by a strong finish to the season.
“It was another record season, so we’re happy about that, and that’s from a great finish after kind of a slow start,” he said. “It was a really late finish to winter this year, which impacted everything we did in the park in the early season, but things picked up more and more as the season went on and this Saturday we had about 1,200 riders — which I think is probably the biggest 10 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) day we’ve ever had.
“We’re really happy that it continues to grow and prosper, and that we’ve started a neat trend here. It’s always been our vision that over time we can help make mountain biking a reason for people to visit Whistler… and certainly from our preliminary data we’re seeing we’ve attracted more people from further away than ever before.”
To help grow the industry, the Whistler Blackcomb Bike Park launched the Gravity Logic program this year, providing advice and technical assistance to other resorts looking to offer lift-assisted mountain biking. Bike Park employees even worked at other resorts this summer, designing and building trails. Two weeks ago Whistler hosted a Gravity Logic conference that attracted bike park operators from across North America and around the world.
“It was overwhelming, actually, to see the size of the response we got,” said McSkimming. “The forum aside, just the number of people who contacted us and the places we’ve gone to work is beyond anything that we expected. If anything the challenge now is to make sure we’re still able to devote enough time to Gravity Logic and also to continue to do the work we’re doing here. The demand was higher than we anticipated.”
Construction of trails was also challenging this year for Whistler-Blackcomb, with the late winter pushing back construction projects. The Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival also diverted mountain resources, as well as the number of on-mountain summer improvements and Olympic upgrades undertaken this year. The hot, dry weather didn’t help either.
“After Crankworx we expected to get down to work, and then the fire bans pretty much shut us down,” said McSkimming.
The park plans to pick up where it left off next spring. Some of the projects include new sections of Freight Train, completing Crank It Up, building an intermediate trail on Garbanzo, and improvements to the skills centres.
“Next year we’ll continue to concentrate on developing more intermediate experiences and trails, and we’re looking at a few things we can do on the lower mountain as well. We’ll solidify those plans in the next two or three months,” McSkimming added.
The Air Dome foam pit and training centre remains open but may close after the weekend as resources are pulled away for a project with the municipality. McSkimming says the goal is to get it back up and running, and from there to figure out how the facility is going to be used through the fall and winter. Suggestions run from leaving it as a bike training facility, to adapting it for skiers and snowboarders.