Whistler has become a role model in the mountain biking world, prompting other communities to wonder how they can achieve the same — a massive mountain bike club with a huge membership, an active Whistler Cycling Committee, and a supportive municipality when it comes to developing and maintaining trails. While other communities have been dismantling trails or resolving disputes between user groups, Whistler has been building and expanding its network, adding more beginner and intermediate options, and connecting existing trails.
In the process Whistler was also instrumental in creating a set of trail standards and construction guidelines for safety, durability and environmental stewardship that are now in use around the world.
Grant Lamont, who worked with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts to develop the province’s trail strategy for Sea to Sky — a model that will be applied across the province — recently attended the B.C. Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium in Chase with cycling committee chair Frank Savage. The symposium was hosted by the ministry to showcase their new guidelines for trail development and management, and to encourage trail development as tourism.
“My presentation was on how to build mountain bike committees and clubs, and turning passion into policy,” said Lamont. “I gave a history of how the mountain bike community grew in Whistler, and how municipality employees have been plugged into the mix over the years to the point where biking is ingrained in our local planning process. People wanted to know how we worked together to create what we have, and how they could go home to create cycling communities of their own. Believe me, a lot of towns are very jealous of what we have.”
Frank Savage’s part of the presentation, which was called “Turning Passion into Policy,” was about Whistler’s future plans, and how trails fit into Whistler’s overall plans.
Although having the largest mountain bike club in the world helps — the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association has averaged more than 1,000 members a year for almost a decade, and over 1,100 members the past two years — Savage also said Whistler has an advantage by nature of being a resort town.
“Everybody I spoke to was concerned about funding and how you build a trail network, while we have the benefit of a resort hotel tax and revenue for our infrastructure… because we’re building amenities for visitors as well as residents,” he said.
Savage also noted that Whistler has included biking in its core planning, through the Whistler 2020 strategy. While other communities may not have the same strategy, he says the mountain bike has been identified as a priority in local planning.
“My advice to people in other jurisdictions is to find out what’s important to their community, and to build their mountain bike and trail planning around that,” said Savage.
The Whistler Cycling Committee’s recommendations, put forward in 2006, are starting to be implemented in Whistler. So far this year there have been new sections of Valley Trail, a new section of the Sea to Sky Trail connecting to the Cal Cheak Forest Service Area, new sections at the start and finish of A River Runs Through It, and upgrades to trails in Lost Lake and the Emerald Forest.
Last year work was concentrated on new trails in Lost Lake, improving Cut Yer Bars for beginner and intermediate riders, and maintaining other trails on municipal land.
As for local trails on Crown Land, Savage is encouraged by the province’s new Mountain Bike Tourism Business Essentials Guide, which complements the work that the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts has put into trail strategies.
“It’s actually quite exciting,” said Savage. “The conference was focused just on mountain bike tourism in B.C., and the real opportunities that exist. We know we have the product, so the next step is really marketing that product and increasing awareness of the riding opportunities in B.C.”
The Whistler Mountain Bike Park was also featured at the symposium, encouraging other resorts to develop lift-assisted mountain bike parks and trails.