After almost no major changes in almost a decade, the municipality — after consulting skateboarders — removed the wood ramps at the entrance to the park earlier this year and replaced them with a wood "manny" pad with a wood deck, coping and a few options for drops and grinds.
Jarrod Au from the Whistler Skateboard Association says the change is only temporary, as the skateboard community gets organized and starts to raise money and support for a permanent (read: concrete) expanded park, as well as satellite parks to the north and south of the village.
"That (wooden) stuff was put up for an event originally, and they just kept it there afterward," said Au. "The wood features were pretty sick at the time, but over the years nobody fixed it and this year it was decided to tear it down. The final straw was that some kids had started stealing the Skatelite (wood surface) sheets off the top which are worth $100 each to use in their backyard parks."
Au said the Resort Municipality of Whistler offered to spend some money on repairs, but Au and other skaters had other ideas. "We said, 'don't do that, let's rip it out and build a new skate-able feature that's temporary until we can get the fundraising for many other projects,' which could take three or four years," said Au.
With $2 million in investment, Au said the skatepark in the village could be one of the biggest and best in the world, but even $500,000 would be enough to turn asphalt areas around the concrete into a much better skatepark. The existing features would likely stay, but may need some work.
Au has had experience building skateboard parks before, helping design the park in Calgary in 2001 before moving to Whistler. He had plans to build an indoor skatepark in the village underground near the movie theatres, but that fell through. He's currently consulting with Jim Barnum from Spectrum Sk8, whose company has built dozens of skateboard parks around North America including the parks in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton. While Whistler's skatepark was cutting edge when it was built, skateboarding has evolved and newer parks have a wider variety of features.
As well, Au said there is a need to build a few small satellite parks in Whistler, such as Creekside and Alpine, to relieve pressure on the main park on the village and serve communities. These would be small parks with a few features in schools or community parks, and he'd like to see the first ones go in within a year or two.
Right now there is no funding at the municipal level, although he said that could change once the community raises funds and puts together a plan for skating in the community. As well, he said the possibility of using RMI funds has come up, if they can make a case for skateboard tourism — and having one of the biggest and best parks in North America will attract some attention, he said, as well as events.
The important thing now, said Au, is that the community is working together, they are talking to the municipality and within the next few months they'll be ready to take some of their ideas to the public.
"We're at the first stages of skaters in the community meeting, and I'm sitting down with Jim Barnum next week to talk about things. After that we're going to open it up to the public and get their input," said Au. "It's shaping up to be a long process with a lot of meetings, lots of talking, lots of gathering skater input — and everyone has so many views," he added. "We need to combine that with data on usage, and the tourism numbers so we know how many are coming here that have an interest in skateboarding.
"But I'm really stoked that something is finally getting done. Since the park was built (in 1998) I don't think we've had a plan for skateboarding in Whistler, but we're looking to change all that."