What it Means to Sponsor Whistler Bike Park
Presented by Ride Concepts
Photos by Yoann Barelli
As we tear into the lift line, it’s all smiles and high fives as we filter into the queue for another run. The lift line at Whistler Bike Park is like a fashion show for mountain bikers. It’s where riders judge each other, judge your girlfriend’s outfit and where brands come to study trends and what colors they should release next spring. If you’ve been to Whistler then you know just what we mean. It is the hub for all that is mountain biking, and having big visibility here often time means you’re on the track to success. That visibility isn’t always entirely vain however. Some brands choose to partner with the biggest bike park in the business for a different reason.
Whistler Bike Park is the Disneyland of the mountain bike world and that’s what makes it attractive to visitors. The trails are endless, built incredibly well, the scenery is beautiful, food and evening entertainment are bountiful, and did we mention, the trails? It’s no wonder that there are only two kinds of mountain bikers out there— those who have been to Whistler and those who are going to.
For those of us on the other side of the curtain, Whistler is the ultimate testing and proving ground. Media hacks bring test bikes to review, bike brands show up with unpainted prototypes to collect valuable data, and athletes come to train and develop skills. It’s still heaven, but it’s also transformed to a place of work.
One particular group of workers usually go unthanked, yet probably spend the most sweat and time laboring over the enjoyment we riders take for granted – trail builders. Whistler Bike Park’s trail crew is huge, employing 45 people that are outside day after day pushing shovels, rakes and heavy machinery. And when they’re not digging, they’re riding! Brands like Ride Concepts see a real benefit to working with Whistler Bike Park. As the official shoe sponsor of Whistler, Ride Concepts not only gets the public’s eyeballs when it comes to seeing lots of their shoes, they get something even more valuable — feedback.
If you’re a brand looking to make products that last and perform, it’s tough to pick a better group than hard working, value conscious trail builders! “A lot of these guys are getting a million feet of vertical per year, and these are the people we want helping us to make our shoes better,” says Rick Reed of Ride Concepts.
In total, the park has over 120 miles of trails within its boundaries and helping the full time crew of 45 are a hand-picked selection of contractors, like Gravity Logic. Who woulda thought that a bike park crew of 45 guys would need help? Once again though, if you’ve been to Whistler, you know.
Every day while thousands of people are enjoying these world-class trails, Whistler will have about 14-20 trail crew workers in the park, shaping and repairing trails. Beyond the impressive and ever-important hand work, Whistler also has two 5-ton shaping excavators, a 7.5-ton excavator for breaking ground, a small dump truck and countless other machines at their disposal. It’s one of the biggest bike park machine fleets on the planet, but all that equipment is necessary to keep up with the demands.
As the most visited bike park, Whistler will have plenty of days where there are over 2,000 riders on the mountain. A Whistler brand specialist informed us that, “2019 is the biggest year of the park ever. With the Vail acquisition, we’ve seen more people coming from the States, and more beginner riders than ever.” All those new riders and people required big changes in the park however. When you have thousands of people per day riding trails, building and construction techniques need to be altered.
Pete Matthews, bike park manager says that, “Everything has gotten bigger to accommodate more people. Four years ago, we redid A-Line and made landings and berms bigger and taller, and have done more to accommodate new riders. A-line will see thousands of riders per day and trails like Heart of Darkness see even more. In fact, Heart of Darkness is the most ridden mountain bike trail in the world. Originally it was a single track loop trail, but today it’s a 25 foot wide road with jumps. The bike park crew size has doubled in the last few years to keep up. Ten years ago Whistler was a ghost town in the summer. The amount of people visiting the park has completely changed the town, housing market, job market and more.”
The bike park has actually grown beyond what the Whistler Trail Crew can keep up with. New expansions like Creekside and Top of the World have only been possible with the help of Gravity Logic’s team of builders who are able to create new trail while the Whistler Bike Park crew are able to focus their efforts elsewhere. According to Pete Matthews, this is especially helpful, since, “Things don’t wear out in accordance to a schedule. We tried having scheduled maintenance, but things kinda just wore as they wore, so we’re always identifying trouble spots and repairing as needed.”
Each day, the crew has a meeting where they go over areas that need work in the park, or issues people have noticed while riding. They also go over safety issues with the park’s risk management team, which they use to identify spots that need changes. “Our safety team is able to identify hot spots of where things are happening,” said Pete Matthews. “We just re-did the jumps on A-line at the top right under the lift since it was a hot spot for injuries. We ended up widening everything out and making the jump and landing larger for overshoots and to be more forgiving for new riders. That’s been a hard thing. It was difficult to push the concept of bigger jumps actually being safer. Bigger landings and taller and longer is safer, which was always a hard sell for our safety team. They’re all on board now though and it’s been awesome.”
When asked about how the crew builds trails, Pete emphasized that it’s all based on feel. That said, the mechanics under their construction have changed substantially. At this point, Whistler Bike Park essentially builds their trail bases like a roadway, with similar compaction methods and allowances for above and under ground drainage. Up top for the actual features though there is no pre-set arc or measured size elements. The new Dirt Merchant expansion for example, was made entirely through feel and the trail crew’s years of experience in trail layout and building.
It should come as no surprise that the guys on the trail crew (including the park manager Pete) shred harder than most of us ever will. Having the bike park in their yards, and being able to take a lunch break lap on their favorite trails means these guys rack up serious miles over a season. Collectively the crew will descend millions of feet each year. It makes them the perfect candidates for testing the limits of products that brands seek to improve – brands like Ride Concepts.
“The feedback of the Whistler trail crew has been invaluable for us— that’s exactly who we need testing our stuff so we can make a better product for the future,” says Rick. Yes, a company like Ride Concepts can have pro riders help them design and test, but it’s hard to beat a crew of 45 shredders putting a season’s worth of riding and digging in on their full line of shoes. It goes without saying that feedback is only good if you get it back. So, after a summer of use and abuse, Ride Concepts sent out a questionnaire to each and every member of the trail crew to get their input. Staffers were asked about breathability, comfort, grip, construction and so forth. This vital information is then taken in and analyzed by Ride Concepts in Truckee, California before a game plan is established on where the next generation of shoes can be improved.
Rick Reed of Ride Concepts went on to say, “The biggest take away from year one has been the fine tuning of the current models going into spring 2020. Some examples include: deeper heel cup fit on Hellion, softer, more compliant tongue on Livewire, slightly adjusted powerstrap on the TNT, attending to pressure points or areas of wear across the models. This is in addition to continuous QC improvements from our suppliers and factory to further solidify our product as the most durable and best performing on the market.
Ride Concepts isn’t afraid to show that their shoes aren’t perfect and after hundreds of thousands of vertical feet descended, countless hours digging, hiking and building, things happen. But, with the help of Whistler’s Bike Park Crew, consumers know that Ride Concepts will be working to make even better shoes year after year.
Having made the transition from Whistler visitor to industry insider has been an interesting one over the years. Back when we were young we always wondered why a brand would want to have their bikes or gear be in the demo fleet at a bike park as people would just get bad impressions after riding some clapped out, season old representation of what a brand offers. Now that we’ve had conversations with several companies, it’s easy to see that the feedback and sheer number of people riding your gear can’t be beat.
The feedback from the trail crew, instructors and more at Whistler is all carefully looked at. Rick and the team at Ride Concepts take it very seriously, whether it’s a complaint about fit, or a praise about durability. When you’re a small company like Ride Concepts that’s breaking into a tough market, quality feedback from real people riding some of the roughest trails on the planet is exactly what you need to improve and fine tune a product. If you know the trail crew, these aren’t exactly the weekend warrior types. They’re the the hard core, live, eat and breathe MTB guys that craft the best trails in the world by hand.
While an investment in sponsoring Whistler Bike Park comes with a serious financial and hard goods investment, it’s good to know that brands making this step are doing so in hopes of improving consumer’s experiences on the bike and value at the end of the day. It’s about more than paying an athlete to ride in your shoes and say they’re the best they’ve ever used. It’s about working with the most dedicated and talented bike park trail crew members on the planet and having them test, destroy and improve the product. Just add it to the list of daily duties these guys have to do. That said, we still don’t feel too bad for them as they work in paradise!
Here are two of the non-confidential questions from the survey Ride Concepts sent to every member of the Whistler crew who rode in their shoes. The responses are taken back and tallied up so improvements can be made.
Whistler Crew’s Most Popular Shoe?
The Wildcat was most popular. At the time of our initial shipment of shoes, all we had available was the Session series as we had just entered the market, so their initial choices were limited. However, the overall durability and mid top construction of the Wildcat makes it pretty ideal for trail crew nonetheless. It’s a burly chassis without being bulky or cumbersome. There were some initial comments on pedal feel from riders coming from shoes such as the Fiveten Impact VXi, but again, the Session series with DST 6.0 is built for durability, with rubber durometers higher than that of a shoe like Impact VXi that has such an incredibly short lifespan. That’s where the Powerline and TNT were introduced in July with our DST 4.0, to offer a softer, stickier option but still last you the season.
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