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West Side Wheel-Up marking 25th year

Original organizer recalls early days



The first edition of the West Side Wheel-Up, original organizer Les Clare recalled, had two winners.

That's not meant to be a heartwarming metaphor and there wasn't any incredible athleticism to force a tie.

"The guy winners came in from two different directions," he said. "Rich (Hamilton) came up from the railway tracks and Craig (Koszman) came on down the road, the only way he knew how to get in there.

"When they both arrived at the same time, we said 'Look who's here.'"

Koszman's cabin was the finish site that first year, Clare explained.

The race's origins were simple — Clare and his buddies wanted to challenge each other on trails they liked while also raising a few bucks to thank those who built them.

"I don't think you could ever envision anything could be that long," he said. "We just wanted to go and ride a bunch of technical trails over on the West Side Road."

In the intervening years, the event branded as "Whistler's coolest mountain bike race" has seen a community grow around it.

"There's a real family core of people that show up here every year," said Clare. "Some people come to compete in the race but there's a lot of people there for the afterparty and who enjoy the whole atmosphere of the gathering."

When Clare broke his neck and had to bow out of organizing the race, Phil Chew stepped in and ran it for the next 16 years. It was initially a fundraiser to benefit Clare, but now primarily supports the BC Para-Ski Team, which Chew used to coach.

"It really helped us out," Comox-based Clare said. "It just took a lot of work to get back to the state I'm in now and I really look forward to coming back there and having four days of fun with my old friends."

Clare was particularly impressed with Chew's ability to grow the race, securing a season's pass as a draw prize when he had difficulty getting one himself as an employee.

"Everyone wanted to win a mountain pass by going on a $20 mountain-bike ride, and help out a fella who'd just broken his neck who used to be a pretty good friend of everyone in Whistler," Clare said.

Last year, the pass was also central to the fundraiser as the draw winner raffled it off and gave the $1,200 proceeds to organizers, who in turn gave it to a para-skier. With only 54 participants last year because of torrential rain, the generosity ensured the race did more than break even.

This year, Whistler Blackcomb has donated a 10-day Edge card as a draw prize.

Chew is also planning to step aside as the organizer after this year's race as the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) is looking to fold it into its mass of races.

"Because of me being 65 and the race being 25 years old, it's a good time for Chewy's last stand," said Chew, who hopes to see about 100 riders come out.

Chew noted the race has changed immensely in his years at the helm, finding itself on the right side of the law while maintaining some of its outlaw attitude.

"In the beginning, we started without getting a liquor license. It was so local that we started it as a party and then it morphed into what it is today, totally legal and above board," he said. "It used to be an outrageous local mountain bike party."

This year's race is slated for Saturday, Sept. 16 at noon. Registration runs from 10 a.m. to noon at Whistler Brewing Company, is $20 and riders must be WORCA members.

Chew noted that in a connection to the origins, Koszman would be marking the course.

Ssponsorship and volunteers are still needed. Those interested in helping can call Chew at 604-932-2110.