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Bringing the mountain bike world to Whistler

More experiences needed to open region to wider markets

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Chris Winter has been biking in the mountains his whole life. Back in 1972 his parents started one of the first North American companies to offer bike tours in Europe. He still goes there to guide tours, which have gotten more extreme over the years with long alpine trails leading from hut to hut, village to village.

Winter has also been part of Whistler’s own mountain bike story, organizing events that showcased the extreme terrain of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

Now that he is the owner of his own mountain bike adventure company, Winter hopes to raise Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor’s profile by offering a variety of experiences to a wider audience. While Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton have a lot of trails to appeal to younger, more aggressive riders, there’s also a lot in the area for older riders who are more into long rides and scenery than rock drops.

Most of the pieces are in place, he says, but more partnerships and promotions are needed to pull them together.

"Looking at the demographics, it’s a good time for this idea. A lot of the baby boomers are retiring, and they’re generally pretty fit, they have some disposable income, and adventure travel is more and more popular," said Winter.

"At the same time we have this echo generation, which is why the Bike Park is going off the Richter. I can honestly say that there’s nothing like it in the world.

"I’ve been to Eurobike for the last couple of years, which is the biggest industry trade show over there, and it was all the Lycra crowd, people into cross-country.

"There were maybe three companies there offering freeride two years ago, and we were one of them. They’re starting to catch on because it was a lot bigger last year.

"Whistler is part of the reason for that. There’s a buzz out there, and things are poised to just explode, especially in places like Germany and the U.K. that already know all about this area," said Winter.

Winter has met with Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler, and was given the go-ahead to represent the resort of Whistler at Eurobike this year. The goal is to promote the whole area, including the bike park, emphasizing all of the different styles of riding that are available.

"Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb recognize that the there is a lot of potential here. Honestly we have the potential to eclipse Moab, which is the closest thing in the world to a mountain bike destination, just by what’s available. There’s great riding from the North Shore to the South Chilcotins, and a lot of it is concentrated in Whistler," Winter said.

Both Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb also recognize that the appeal of Whistler to mountain bikers is not limited to the bike park; it includes the other trails in the valley and surrounding area.

"The Bike Park is hard core, maybe a little too hard core for people who are getting a little bit older, but they’ve done a great job of adding beginner and intermediate trails for the people who are not as hard core. It’s the ultimate place to learn," said Winter. "I think most people who come here should spend a few days in the park before heading out. After you ride a few trails you go out and you’re a rockstar. Then there’s the trials park, the jump park, a full progression of trails."

Winter’s own company, Big Mountain Adventures, is starting to offer tours of the region this year, and has permission from Whistler-Blackcomb to use the park for guests. His company also offers tours in the region that will be tailored to the skills and preferences of riders, making use of the literally hundreds of trails and roads between the North Shore and South Chilcotins.

His company also offers more specialized tours, with trips scheduled for destinations like the Swiss Alps, Morocco, and Costa Rica this year that appeal to international clients as well as Canadians.

Whistler will be promoted alongside these trips, as a premier destination for mountain bikers.

While Winter’s is one of the only companies in the world offering North American cyclists trips to Europe, Central America and Africa, he says the number of companies offering guided tours around Whistler is increasing every year as the industry takes off.

"Personally, I think it’s a good thing that we have a lot of companies in Whistler offering mountain bike tours, and that they’re all a little bit different," said Winter. "In the end the more people we get to Whistler to ride our trails, the better it’s going to be for our reputation around the world. I think it’s about to explode. People already know our name, we just have to give them more reasons to come here."

Big Mountain Adventures will be featured in a Globe and Mail travel article in the next few weeks. Winter even managed to get Whistler into an article in Bike magazine about riding in the Swiss Alps by using local mountain bikers to tell the story.

"We do need to be careful how we promote ourselves. If everything coming out of here is pictures of guys hucking off of cliffs, we’re going to lose the attention of the older crowd and the cross-country riders," said Winter. "The rest of the mountain bike world needs to see what we can offer them."