What a difference a little sunshine makes. The past few seasons, Whistler Mountain Bike Park trails crews have had to literally move mountains (of snow) to get trails open for opening day, carving tunnels through snowpacks that were deeper than normal and melting slowly.
The 2013 season is at the opposite end of the spectrum with warm temperatures and a lower snowpack clearing out trails earlier than before. The end result is that the Whistler Mountain Bike Park will open on May 17 with access to most, if not all, of the trails open on the Lower Mountain and mid-season riding conditions.
"The weather has just been cooperating (this year)," said Brian Finestone, Whistler Mountain Bike Park manager. "The last two years we've had record snowpacks — the highest ever at mid-mountain in 2011 and then we had a record March snowfall in 2012. We also had record colds in May and June in 2011 and 2012. But we don't have those challenges this year which is great, and so things are moving right along."
Crews did use some heavy equipment to clear snow in areas where the bike trails pass through ski runs, but Finestone said the deepest snow was around a metre deep while last year entire sections of trail were buried under three metres of snow.
With those kinds of conditions to work with, crews have been able to focus more on the trails themselves.
"We have the same number of man-hours to get the park open, we just get a lot further with those hours," said Finestone. "The end result is that we've had a bit more time to buff up the trails and fix things we didn't get to at the end of last year. There's less water running down the trails as well, which means the trails will be riding better, or will require less maintenance when they do open. The biking experience is essentially what you would expect in mid-to-late June."
Crews haven't looked up the mountain into the Garbanzo Zone yet, but Finestone is hoping that the early season melt is progressing uphill as well and crews will have an easier time getting that area open.
"One thing we hope to do is (clear snow from) Freight Train and Blue Velvet a little early if we have the opportunity and let them dry out so we'll have a better riding surface and better maintenance once they're open and running."
The decision over which trails to open will be made before opening day, and crews are hard at work to make that happen. It's a big job, said Finestone, and crews have a long list of check boxes to fill in before trails are deemed safe and ready to ride. It may not be possible to maintain every trail in the process of getting them open, but Finestone said crews would go back and work on those trails at a later date.
The bike park is also planning its work program for the upcoming season. At the top of the list is opening new routes to the bottom of the mountain to spread out the traffic a little more evenly.
"The early spring has given us an opportunity to create more options in the lower park for different ability levels so people aren't coming down on one of the two main arteries," said Finestone.