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Mountain bike festival sets summer records



Whistler’s appeal as a summer destination is increasing every year, with more visitors making the trip up Highway 99 to enjoy everything from beaches to bars to bungee jumping.

Mountain biking has always been part of that appeal, and the RMOW, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb have worked over the years to develop and market the resort as "one of the top bike towns in North America, with world-class trails and with international, national and regional biking competitions," according to the RMOW’s Vision 2002 planning document.

If there were any doubts about the viability of mountain bike tourism, the Whistler Summer Gravity Festival which wrapped up last weekend should go a long way towards erasing them.

The number of spectators for the national mountain bike championships and events like the Joyride Bikercross and Shimano Slopestyle were in the thousands, and exhibitions like the trials competition and the North Shore’s Flow RIDERS packed the village from morning until afternoon.

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park had a milestone day on Saturday, July 19, with 1,115 rider visits, not counting the national downhill competitors. It was the first time in its history that the park had broken the thousand rider mark.

Other businesses, including hotels, restaurants and rental shops, also saw an increase in business over the weekend compared to past years, according to festival producer Richard Juryn.

Although Tourism Whistler is still collecting numbers from hotels, Juryn said he was told that the occupancy in the village was the highest it has ever been outside of long weekends.

So far the feedback has been positive, he said, and the organizers and sponsors are considering the event a success.

"What really brought it home for me was a conversation I had with Hans Rey, this internationally famous trials rider. He has travelled all over the world with his bike, and he was just freaking out. He rode the bike park a couple of days, he went for a ride on A River Runs Through It, he watched the events, and his comment to me was that what’s happing in Whistler is un-effing-believable. He said we were probably three years ahead of anyone else in the world when it comes to bike culture," said Juryn.

One of the reasons Whistler’s biking stands out is because of the passion of the local riders, said Juryn, building and maintaining trails around Whistler, both on the mountain and off.

"How many other communities have a group like WORCA (Whistler Off Road Cycling Association) with a thousand members? Nobody has that," he said.

While the festival has obvious appeal to mountain bikers, and the nationals are guaranteed to attract a good crowd, Juryn says some of his most positive feedback came from people who know nothing about the sport.

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