The Lost Lake trails network will get a workout this spring when Whistler hosts the B.C. High School Mountain Bike Championships on May 27.
This is the first time that Whistler has hosted the event, but championship co-ordinator Les van der Roest believes it could be one of the biggest yet. Last year’s event attracted close to 400 competitors from around the province and the Lower Mainland, and some events have had close to 500 racers. The exact numbers will be decided when schools submit their teams in March, not including coaches, parents, and other supporters.
"We’re really excited to be finally coming up to Whistler," he said. "It’s a world class venue with world class trails, and I know the kids are going to want to stay here to ride the mountain the day after the race."
Whistler was not the original choice as host. The race was expected to return to Coquitlam, but the local zone representative declined. The representative for the area including Whistler stepped forward before the Christmas holidays to suggest Whistler as an alternative, and the championships were confirmed last week.
"It was always the goal to move from venue to venue and expand throughout the province, and we’ve tried to do that. Last year the race was on the Sunshine Coast, we’ve had it in North Van, Squamish, Coquitlam – Whistler is a little further out of the Lower Mainland, but it’s not that far, there’s no ferry to get there, and we’re coming to a strong mountain bike community with WORCA," said van der Roest.
Now that the venue has been confirmed, organizing the event is the next step. The RMOW and Whistler Secondary will help to put the event together, along with the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association. WORCA will also be setting and sweeping the course, as well as providing marshals and other volunteers to the effort.
The courses are set based on the expected length of time it will take different age groups to complete. Senior students should race for about an hour, while younger high school students will race for around 45 minutes.
There’s no shortage of trails in Lost Lake Park, but the loop will start at Spruce Grove and include doubletrack, easier trails like Tin Pants, and long singletrack sections.
While participation in provincial cross country mountain bike events has been declining in recent years, van der Roest believes that the level of grass roots participation is actually increasing. He now gets almost daily requests from around the province for information on starting school teams.
"At the grass roots of the sport there is still a lot of participation, and at our level the sport seems to be growing in a big way," he said.
Only two Whistler students took part in the 2005 B.C. High School Championships. Brandon Semenuk won his category, while downhiller Alex Prochazka finished third in the big bike category. Previously, no Whistler athletes had ever taken part in the championships.
The organizers will be putting a call out in the next few months for local sponsors, including accommodation food, prizes, and race day support.
"We’ve always relied on sponsors to help keep our prices low," said van der Roest. "It’s only $15 to race, and that includes a meal, the course preparation, the awards. The idea was to make it a good deal for kids, and to keep the turnout high."
Whistler Secondary will also be looking for students to represent the school in all of the age categories.
Participants race against other students in their grade, starting with a mass start. The boys and girls race separately, and within each category students with bikes over 35 pounds can opt to compete in the big bike category.