North American Bike Park Review Tour

WHISTLER BIKE PARK

It’s impossible to talk mountain bike destinations without bringing up Whistler Bike Park. It’s countless appearances in videos, photographs and magazines have given this park a legendary, even mythical status. If you’re a mountain biker who hasn’t been here yet, chances are, it’s on your bucket list. There is no denying this park has been our favorite for over a decade and we’ve even tried living out of the back of our van there more than once…But does Whistler still deserve its legendary status or have its glory days faded away as lines, prices and braking bumps increase. Find out how the world famous Whistler Bike Park stacks up against the competition and check out our tips to help plan your next or first trip to this mountain bike mecca.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

THE TRAILS

Whistler Bike Park has one of the most developed and extensive trail networks on the planet. The building at this park has truly set the bar and influenced the way most bike parks construct their trails. What makes Whistler’s trails truly unique however, is the combination of topography, soil and weather in the park. Few places have such favorable conditions, the means to make use of them, and the ability to realize it into a rideable bike park.

The mountain is divided into four zones: Fitzsimmons, Garbanzo, Creekside and Top of the World. The Fitzsimmons zone begins in Whistler village and can be accessed via the Gondola or the Fitzsimmons Express. This area has many of the famous trails you’ve seen like A-Line, Schleyer, Clown Shoes and Dirt Merchant. It’s also home to most of the green and blue trails that let riders build their skill and get acclimated to the park. Trails like B-Line and Crank It Up are perfect for warming up with the flow vibes. Too Tight and Ho-Chi-Min are great starter trails for those searching for technical terrain.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

From the top of the Fitzsimmons or “Fitz” lift, riders can access the Garbanzo or “Garbo” zone with 2,700 feet of vertical. If you want to seem like you belong, using these abbreviated names will help you fit in with the cool kids in the park. Garbo plays host to a long list of technical and flow/jump trails. You won’t find any greens up in this area, but for riders looking to do a bit more advanced riding, Garbo has some top-notch trails, cooler temperatures and shorter lines. Flow trails like Una Moss offer a great blue warm up before tackling the main course trails like In Too Deep, Freight Train, Goat’s Gully and countless others. If rocky, steep and technical trails are your jam, Garbo alone can keep you busy for the entire trip.

From there, riders can access a new area called Creekside. The new zone is to the spectator’s right as you look up from the main village. Creekside trails present access to new terrain and cheaper lodging away from the main Whistler Village. The Creekside zone has a host of blue trails and a solid selection of technical, rowdy blacks. Because it’s new, and a lower traffic area, trail conditions are similar to old Whistler, meaning you can still find dirt that doesn’t feel like concrete under your tires.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

Lift lines are also much shorter than the Fitz zone, especially during peak weekends or events like Crankworx. Standout blue trails include Earth Circus and Insomnia, both of which have a mind-blowing number of berms. If you want to work on your cornering, this is the place to go. For more technical trails, Sabertooth Horse and Delayed Fuse are both must hit standouts.

Another must hit is the Top of the World chair. For an extra $20 you can gain access to this black diamond trail that comes off the top of the mountain. It offers an incredible view of the surrounding area and is something that is worth doing once. The upper alpine section is entirely rock, and quite technical. Once the trail gets back into the trees, riders are greeted with swooping berms, pumps and a great mix of flow and tech. The trail and views from the top are definitely worth the extra cost.

Whistler has one of the most extensive and well built trail networks we’ve ridden in a bike park. You wont find janky corners, poorly constructed trails, or jumps that aren’t predictable in Whistler Bike Park. The building here is seriously top notch, with perfect radius berms, jumps and trails that are amazingly fun to ride no matter the skill level. One area that Whistler particularly excels above the competition is in the construction of jump trails. You’d be hard pressed to find a jump that didn’t have adequate speed or wasn’t built with perfect lips. More importantly, they’re all very predictable and you can guarantee that you’ll clear the next jump if you cleared the previous. That’s not something we can say for most of the other parks we visited this summer.

However, we can’t talk Whistler without discussing brake bumps and trail erosion. In peak season, trails like A-line will have more than 2,000 riders per day! That kind of traffic results in braking bumps, holes and wear that the 42 trail crew employees are constantly combating. On machine-built trails, holes can be filled easily, but on tech trails, it’s harder to remedy the erosion and the inevitable rockiness that ensues after thousands upon thousands of tires have skidded the dirt away. Many of our favorite tech trails have become unrecognizable from what they were a few years ago. If you’re a grumpy sentimentalist like Drew, you’ll probably complain and bring up the good old days when you could still find dirt on the trail. Nevertheless, erosion is a very real issue and trails have changed greatly, some for the better and some for the worse. It’s just the price to pay for a growing sport and increasing numbers of riders.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

ON SITE ACTIVITIES AND FOOD

Whistler is a global tourist destination and resort. As an Olympic venue it has all the amenities to keep the hundreds of thousands of people that visit each year entertained. Whether it’s mini-golf for the families, alpine hikes for the adventurous, or wild parties and bars for the 20-something’s, Whistler has you covered.

The Disney-like village has dining options ranging from cheap to world-class gourmet. Our recommendation however is to save money and get a place to stay with a kitchen. If you shop in Squamish and cook in, you can save enough to stay in Whistler for another couple of days. And who wouldn’t want to do that!? If you do go out, we’ve spent the last decade working on this list of spots for you.

Hot Buns Bakery in the Whistler Village a nice little breakfast spot. Just like a French bakery, this place churns out some incredible crepes, waffles, pastries, cinnamon rolls and coffee. This trip we promised ourselves we’d only go once, but ended up going three times because it’s just that good. It’s also just a short walk to the lift after getting a breakfast crepe. The Pemberton crepe and a cinnamon roll is our go-to! If you want something a bit healthier, slightly, check out Lift Coffee Company, it’s right next to the ticket office and lift lines and they offer some ready to go snacks, wraps and burritos that are quite tasty.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

For lunch, many riders tend to stick to the usual places close to the lift, but if you venture a little father into the village, you can hit Splitz Grill, a burger bar that makes a mean burger and has a full list of beers on tap, or milkshakes if that’s more your style. For around $10 you can fill up with a killer made to order burger and fries and be back on your way. Compare that to the bad $20 nachos you’ll find at the lunch places near the mountain and you’ll understand why we like this place so much!

For a post-ride stop, the GLC and Longhorn are the must hit tourist traps. While the beers and food are expensive, the views from the patio and the atmosphere make up for it. It’s the perfect place to meet up with all your riding buddies to share stories from the day and compare GoPro footy. The Longhorn is also a great place for a night out, with dancing, music and plenty of attractive company. Word of warning…If you really wanna get the Whistler party experience, all you gotta do is go underground. Once you’re there and in the mood for a wild night, do some poking around and you’ll find yourself deep in the mix.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

Dinner options are countless, but if you’re looking for something a little higher end, Earl’s is the place to go! Sushi Village is definitely a must-hit if you’re looking for a party meal. It’s got a full service bar, sushi bar and a kitchen cooking up some of the best Japanese food in Whistler. If you’re in town during Crankworx, Sushi Village is also the place to go to see your favorite pro riders and industry names hanging out. For those looking for something a little less busy, Nagomi Sushi in the upper Blackcomb village is also a great choice for a quieter dinner and is cheaper than the sushi in town.

Of course, not everyone (us included) can swing a sushi dinner, so thankfully there’s some great budget friendly options for food like El Furniture Warehouse. Everything on the menu is $5.95, meaning you can leave stuffed for under $12. It’s solid food and prices that are hard to believe in a resort town! If you want the cheapest thing in the village, Domino’s Pizza is the spot to go and can have your whole crew full for $20.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

WHAT BIKE TO BRING

Since most will be traveling via plane to Whistler, choosing the right bike to bring is critical. Renting is certainly an option, since it allows you to swap bikes and not put the wear and tear on your personal rig. What’s nice about Whistler is that the shops there are familiar with top level riding and equipment, so you don’t have to ride your typical park rental heap. Instead, shops like Evolution have fully decked demo fleets sporting the nicest and most current frames and parts. That being said, we’ve seen more than our fair share of clapped out rentals, so be aware not all rental shops are equal. Take some time to research offerings within your budget.

If you are trying to decide what bike to bring, keep in mind that Whistler has terrain that absolutely warrants a full-blown DH bike. Steep trails, rocks and large jumps will take you and your bike to the edge. The only catch is that a DH bike limits your abilities of enjoying the countless off-mountain trails like Dark Crystal, which are a must hit for a Whistler trip. If we could bring any bike, it would be a long travel enduro rig like the Trek Slash. A longer travel 29er or 27.5 enduro bike can pedal to the epicness Whistler Valley has all around it yet it can still handle the gnarliness of Whistler Bike Park.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

WHERE TO STAY

Whistler is an expensive resort town, and there’s sadly little you can do to avoid the expense when it comes to lodging. Camping options are not plentiful, and most require driving and paying to park in the village when it’s time to ride or eat out. Our cost-friendly method involves getting several friends together and renting a unit together. Creekside and Blackcomb are the cheapest areas to stay, and thanks to Whistler’s good public transportation and bike path network, it’s easy to get around. The resort was designed so that visitors would park their car on arrival and not need to use it again until they left.

If you’re flying into Vancouver you can either book a private shuttle or hop on a larger bus for a more affordable passage. If you’ve got the dough and want a once in a lifetime experience, there is a float plane service that will fly you to Whistler and it’s pretty awesome. Before you book your shuttle/bus ride do some research as it seems fees for bikes and extra bags come and go. Some are more accommodating than others, so a quick search or phone call can save you a couple hundred bucks. If you’re traveling from out of the country, we’d also recommend having your bike shipped to your hotel or condo instead of flying with it, as that is typically a big money saver and avoids he hassle of airport searches through your carefully packed bike box.

The past two years we’ve used Airbnb or a similar site to find a condo to rent in Blackcomb or Creekside, and it’s helped us save money compared to staying in Whistler Village itself. This time we rented a condo in Woodrun Lodge at Blackcomb. The short bike ride to the village each day was more than worth the cost savings. The best part is our place still had all the amenities, like a hot tub and bike storage room, but was very reasonable when split between five people. Check out the condo we rented here.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

LOCAL INFO

Even though the riding at Whistler Bike Park will keep you busy for the full duration of a trip, every now and then you have to take some time off to let your hands recover. Our favorite way to relax between runs is to ride out to Alta Lake or Lost Lake and beat the mid-day heat with a swim in the cool water. Both are a short pedal from Whistler Village and offer gorgeous blue water and views of the mountains. There are also some fun trails and little jibs to hit on the way if you’re riding a bike.

One of our favorite off mountain runs is called Dark Crystal. You can check out a POV run of it here. While it does require a substantial pedal to the top, you’re rewarded with an incredible descent on a trail that receives only a fraction of the traffic of the bike park trails. In fact, we’d go as far as saying a Whistler trip isn’t complete without riding some of the historic local trails since many of them are truly one of a kind. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can even hire a helicopter company to fly you to the top of a peak before descending some amazing backcountry trails. Prices depend on timing during the summer, but it’s actually quite reasonably priced for the experience!

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

Still want more riding? There are also dirt jumps, two pumptracks, a skill building area, and a skatepark just below the village and on the way to Lost Lake. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced rider, the skills park and dirt jumps have something for you to ride. It’s a great place to just hang out too. The locals will definitely humble even the best riders with their skills on the jumps. It’s not uncommon to see 13-year old kids doing tricks that would have been winning slopestyle runs ten years ago.

Alternatively you can also take the chair to the Top of the World and walk around while soaking in the impressive summit views. The Peak to Peak gondola ride is also a once in a lifetime experience as you span the world’s highest gondola of its kind.

If hiking is more your thing, you can take some time to hike to one of the many snow melt lakes in the Whistler alpine. There’s also a farmers market, and countless shops with clothes, bike gear, art, chocolate and pretty much anything else you could want in the village. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, check out Whistler Bungee or the zipline.

North American Bike Park Review Tour - Whistler Bike Park

THE WOLF’S LAST WORD

Whistler Bike Park’s 150 miles of trails are easily the most ridden and lusted after in the world. Sure, the lift lines are long, the cost of lodging is high and the braking bumps are enough to rattle your teeth loose if you’re there on a busy weekend, but for $54 US and $71 CAD you can experience what is one of the best built bike parks on the planet. Nothing is perfect and we’d love to see Whistler make some changes to improve trail design and maintenance to reduce braking bumps and alleviate traffic at the bottom of the mountain, but ultimately, we realize the crowds and traffic are there because Whistler is a magical place. From the moment you get into town, the vibe is almost surreal. Often called Disneyland for mountain bikers, this town lives and breathes mountain bikes like nowhere else, and seemingly everyone gets it here. One of the best tips we can give is to avoid Whistler at peak season. While the hustle and bustle of the village during events like Crankworx is fun, if you’re looking for the best riding, a late season trip in the fall is the way to go. Lines are short and the trail conditions are all time with few braking bumps and tacky, wet dirt. Early season will also reward you with primo trails, although upper trails may still be snowed in.

As a result of Whistler’s exceptional terrain and building, beginner and advanced riders alike will find themselves improving in ways they didn’t think possible. After a week in Whistler, you’ll either go home in a cast, or go home with newfound skills and confidence that you can use to tackle your home trails twice as hard— trust us, we’ve done both!

To learn more about Whistler Bike Park, visit Whistlerblackcomb.com

THE FINAL SCORE

TRAILS: 9.5
AFFORDABILITY: 8
FOOD: 9.5
NIGHTLIFE: 9.5
LODGING: 8
CAMPING: 4
OFF MOUNTAIN: 10

Lift tickets cost $71 CAD or $54 USD at the time this story was written in the summer of 2019.

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