Whistler Blackcomb has started work on a major expansion to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. After years of planning and approval, crews have broken ground on five new trails in the Creekside Zone. All trails are expected to be active by the time the park opens for the 2018 season next June and bike park manager Brian Finestone said sections will be made accessible as they are completed.
"As soon as there's an open corridor, we're going to get people on it," he said.
Finestone explained the bike park crew is working on the main trail to allow the other crews, namely the Joyride and Gravity Logic teams, to access other parts of the mountain. The main focus right now is planning with its environmental assessment team, plotting the best ways to traverse creeks on the mountain.
Finestone's Whistler Mountain Bike Park Crew is using machines to create an intermediate trail while also working with Gravity Logic on a low-footprint singletrack trail while the Gravity Logic team is also working on two other singletrack trails — one hand-built section and one that can be accessed from Highway 86. Joyride Bike Parks is taking on the fifth trail, a machine-constructed intermediate freeride option.
Finestone is excited for the trail he and his squad are putting together.
"The new trail is going to be an excavated, flowy, freeride trail similar to what we just opened in the main bike park called Blueberry Bathtub," he said of his crew's major addition.
"Everybody's working on something a little bit different."
Connectivity is a major reason for the expansion, as the bike park as it currently stands has a number of bottlenecks and leaves too few options for the increasing number of riders.
"In the bike park, we have the classic Whistler Blackcomb situation where we have all these trails at the top and then they all flow into a single trail or two trails at the bottom," Finestone explained. "With our numbers and the popularity of the park, it's time to expand.
"There's enough demand for the lifts that Creekside is our next (build)."
Finestone said bears and other wildlife will be able to travel through the new trails fairly easily, but Get Bear Smart Society executive director Sylvia Dolson expressed concern over the expansion, noting the potential for more bear-human conflicts while also decreasing bear habitat.
"Further expansion into bear habitat is not ideal for bears," she said. "Bikes and bears don't mix, period.
"We have a ton of mountain biking in bear habitat already and as I've learned from Ironman and so on, bikes coming in on bears is not accepted by the bear. They tend to react defensively."
The bike park was the site of a bear-human interaction on the weekend during the Canadian Open Enduro as local rider Conrad Murdoch collided with a black bear during the fifth stage of the Aug. 13 race.
"I was having a great run and then two-thirds of the way down Golden Triangle on a long, straight section, I see a little black head poke out from the side of the trail," he said. "I didn't really clue in for a second and then all of a sudden, a big, black bear jumped out in front of me."
Though Murdoch initially thought he would have an opportunity to get around the bruin, the animal made an unexpected move and his bike slammed into the furry obstacle.
"I thought I would make it with enough space on the right side. He was going straight and I thought he was going to run back into the trees, but I was wrong. He bolted to the right, directly in front of me. I had enough time to slam on the brakes and not hit it too hard, but the front wheel went right into his ribcage," Murdoch said. "He ran into the bushes and I ran the other way and kept going. I was in shock for a little while, actually. It took me a little while to realize what actually happened. After that I just moved onto the next thing and focused on the trail."
Somewhat presciently, Murdoch said he had been wondering about riders crossing paths with bears just before dropping into the stage. While he'd seen the creatures on course before, it was always from a distance.
"At the top of the stage, I was thinking to myself, 'I wonder if there's ever been an encounter with a bear in a race like this.' There's so much noise happening on the trail that you would think that they'd stay away. I'm not sure why they're so attracted to the trails, but it's definitely a bit of a hazard. I got lucky but not everyone will have the same luck. There definitely could be an incident."
In other trail news, the long-awaited Lord of the Squirrels and Into the Mystic trails opened for use over the B.C. Day long weekend. The trails, which mark the first phase of the Sproatt Alpine Trail Network, officially opened for use on Aug. 4 after three years of hard work by the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA). The club will hold an official opening to mark the achievement on Sept. 2.
The seven-kilometre Lord of the Squirrels trail boasts a 200-metre climb and over 900 metres of descent, while Into the Mystic, a trail machine-built by the Resort Municipality of Whistler, is over eight kilometres with about 750 metres of climbing and nearly 100 metres of descent. Into the Mystic connects On the Rocks, Happy Hour and Lord of the Squirrels.