Sports » Features

The culture of Crankworx

A Whistler Bike Park seemed like a good idea, and the rest of the mountain bike world is still trying to catch up



Rob McSkimming wanted a bike park. This was in the late 1990s, when mountain biking had broken through cult status and had gained a steady following. As rival entities until 1997, Whistler and Blackcomb had been facilitating independently-owned mountain biking ventures. McSkimming, vice president of business development at Whistler Blackcomb, thought a bike park was a no-brainer for the community.

So, in 1999, he helped construct what was at that time a modest-sized bike park - small potatoes really, with a miniscule budget and little fanfare. It attracted around 10,000 visitors that year.

Two years later, the A Line trail was built and the number of visitors tripled. And it grew. And it grew some more until, eight years later, Whistler Mountain was teeming with mud-soaked riders hurling themselves down the trails. The skill centre was crawling with kids on $7,000+ bikes. Sixty-five-year-old riders were taking casual rides around Lost Lake park on Wednesday nights.

And there was that behemoth inflatable Kokanee can at the base of the mountain signifying the triumph of Crankworx - Whistler's biggest and most popular summer festival.

"I had no clue where it was headed or how big it would all get," McSkimming says. "When we first started (the bike park) it was really quite small. We hoped that we'd be able to get it bigger, certainly in those early years.

"It has surpassed anything I imagined going in, for sure."

Crankworx, now in its seventh year, is the apex of Whistler mountain culture. This year alone has attracted 800 unique riders. Thousands of people fill the hotels. They drink the beer and tip the servers. They give the local economy a strong enough jolt that the municipality welcomes the event with arms wide open, year after year. The Crankworx festival has been so successful that Whistler Blackcomb - who runs the event - has licensed the name to a similar event at Winter Park, Colorado for four years straight. (Winter Park is operated by Whistler Blackcomb's parent company, Intrawest.)

The top riders travel here from around the world for the festival. Jeremy Roche, general manager of Crankworx, says mountain bike enthusiasts are "literally star struck" when they see the top riders strolling through Whistler Village, as if these riders are the Rat Pack on bicycles.

"What we're finding with industry representatives is people aspire to be sent to Kokanee Crankworx," Roche says. "It truly is one of the places where business and pleasure goes right along a line. That talks about how we operate in Whistler, both as bikers and business people."

He's speaking to Pique between sips from a Kokanee bottle at the GLC. Out the window behind him, riders are whizzing down the GLC drops in blurs of green and white, red and yellow, black and blue.