Mountain biking is a big industry worldwide, and there's no question that Whistler deserves a lot of the credit.
Although Whistler Blackcomb was not the first resort-based company to let bikes up its lifts, it did invent the modern bike park experience with the Whistler Mountain Bike Park's machine-built trails, wood and dirt features and skills progression. Whistler Blackcomb even created a company called Gravity Logic to share its knowledge of trail design and trail-building with other resorts, which in 2008 spun off into a busy private company that has done work across North America, in Sweden, France, Norway, Scotland, Finland, Spain, Ukraine, Italy and Czech Republic.
Why share that knowledge? Because Whistler Blackcomb ultimately wants more riders out there, riding local mountains and looking forward to the day they can make the pilgrimage to Whistler and ride what's recognized as the best park of its kind in the world. Rather than an interesting side attraction for summer visitors, Whistler Blackcomb set out to create a whole new category for sport and recreation.
Judging by the Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival, July 15 to 24, it succeeded.
While there may be longer-running mountain bike events out there - the Sea Otter Classic in California turned 21 in the spring, for example - Crankworx has pushed the limits of freeriding further than any other festival. For example, Crankworx invented the freeride slopestyle format that the entire Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour is based on, arguably the most popular mountain bike event these days. Upwards of 20,000 spectators are expected to pack Whistler Village on July 23 for the next step in the slopestyle evolution, Red Bull Joyride, and at least that many - and possibly three times as many people - will be watching the event unfold online.
And Joyride is just a single event, one of a dozen other events taking place through the Crankworx festival. All the freeride bases are covered, with trick and slopestyle events, races of all descriptions, trials riding and even pump track racing.
The business of burliness
Crankworx is good for business. It fills hotel rooms, restaurants and stores, and draws media attention from around the globe. In fact, Crankworx has taken the title as Whistler's biggest festival, with high occupancy rates from start to finish.
For the last Saturday of the festival, which features the slopestyle event, resort occupancy was around 94 per cent in 2010 - easily the biggest night of the entire summer, including long weekends. It was also a record week for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and for sightseeing on Whistler Blackcomb.