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Feature 2 - It's all downhill from here

Once little more than a handful of goat trails, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park will open a $250,000 Garbanzo expansion this week, knowing that the mountain biking world and other mountain resorts are watching


By Julie Lightfoot.

Rob McSkimming is standing at the edge of a busy highway – and the traffic is all bikes.

The route is called A-Line and not 24 hours earlier it was silent but for birds, essentially nothing more than a newly-dug-out dirt trail through the trees. Empty, untested, an experiment.

McSkimming watches mountain biker after mountain biker charge past and he knows they've done it now. Hit the jackpot.

"That was a pivotal moment," Whistler Mountain Bike Park's director says recalling the day A-Line opened a few of summers ago.

"Before that I didn't see it, but standing on the side of the trail that day I knew something was going on now. That's when I got a sense of how big this could be."

If lift-assisted downhill mountain biking had a timeline it would almost certainly be dated Before A-Line and After A-Line.

The four kilometres of natural rock challenges, machine-made berms and jumps merged BMX, motocross and downhill mountain biking in a manner not seen before and only now beginning to be replicated on many ski hills from North America to Europe.

Could mountain biking parks become big money-spinners in their own right?

That's the question Whistler-Blackcomb management is progressively assessing while park creators optimistically look south to Creekside and even north to Blackcomb.

No big announcements yet, or anytime soon according to a management team instead focusing on expansions in skiing for the Peak to Creek area, announced this month as part of a $14.2 million "liftless" development for the mountain.

Creekside does nevertheless feature in the current five-year plan for Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Provided downhill mountain biker numbers continue to grow, summertime bike carriers would be added to the Creekside Gondola for trails running in and around the base, close to Franz's Trail and in the vicinity of Peak to Creek.

"The terrain there would be absolutely incredible – the old growth forest, the dry south-west facing aspect, the nice slope angle would make it great to ride and much less challenging than Garbanzo to build," mountain bike park developer and long-time trail builder Dave Kelly enthuses.

He's spent five-and-a-half months with a crew of 10 to 16 workers creating the Garbanzo extension that will add another 2,200 vertical feet to the park when it opens this weekend and include trails blending old school riding with all the features that make A-Line such a favourite. The area's two spines will wind around Dave Murray, Pony Trail and Tokum, and further south close to Franz's Trail and Highway 86.