The Whistler Experience Part 1: Not all big hucks, bro-brah, flat brims and Red Bull

Cycling culture runs deep in this British Columbia mountain biking hotbed

The weekly "Toonie" race regularly draws a big crowd. Photo Courtesy Tourism Whistler/Ro Davies

The weekly “Toonie” race regularly draws a big crowd (click to enlarge). Photo Courtesy Tourism Whistler/Ro Davies

On your marks. Get set. Pedal straight up the Whistler Mountain Bike Park! Those weren’t the starter’s exact words. (I think he actually used a whistle.) But that might as well have been the instruction that preceded the weekly “Toonie” race in early June that’s a staple of the town’s vibrant cycling scene.

Every Thursday in the spring and summer, members of the local trail advocacy group (Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association or WORCA) gather for a little friendly cross-country racing action. The difference between this throwdown and your typical weekday world’s is that WORCA has about 1200 members, and around 500 of them showed up for what ended up being a 4.7-mile straight-up-straight-down leg smasher with roughly 1,000 feet of climbing. Fast folks were done in about 27 minutes. Mid-packers (yours truly included) took about 35.

Check out part 2 of our Whistler Experience series here and read about Outerbike Whistler here.

Bike parking at the Toonie race after party, which this week was held at the Whistler Golf Club.

Bike parking at the Toonie race after party, which this week was held at the Whistler Golf Club (click to enlarge).

But this isn’t a race story. It’s about community. A community that embraces mountain biking — in all its forms. Before that whistle sounded I looked around at my 500 new best friends and saw a little bit of everything. Up front was the smooth-legged, Lycra-wearing hardtail crowd, power meters ready to measure watts. Further back, a twenty-something in a sleeveless T-shirt sat low on his long travel Giant Reign spec’d with toothy trail tires. Right next to me was a 12-year-old boy on a 24-inch Specialized. He was smiling and chatting with his mom. She was racing, too.

And that’s when it struck me. The common perception of Whistler (and its rightfully world famous mountain bike park) is a mishmash of Crankworx big hucking mayhem, and flat brim wearing, Red Bull (and sometimes vodka) chugging adolescents gone wild. And don’t get me wrong, if you’re single, in your early 20s, and like to ride mountain bikes, Whistler is heaven on earth. But turns out it’s also an amazing place for 40-somethings with kids and a spouse and no real burning desire to clear a massive tabletop unless it’s covered in sushi. Indeed, the Whistler mountain biking experience is one of great diversity where experts, newbies, young and old can all find two-wheeled thrills.

This is the image most oft associated with Whistler. But there is much more to this place than big air. Photo courtesy Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

This is the image most oft associated with Whistler. But there is much more to this place than big air (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

This was just one of the conversations I had later that evening at the Toonie post-race party, which as it turns out was one of the best of the season. The way it works is each week all the participating WORCA members pay $2 (or “two loonies” in Canada’speak) for race entry, plus a plate of food and a beer. These parties are hosted by a rotating group of local sponsor businesses (the Whistler Golf Club in this case) who in turn gain notoriety and goodwill from the cycling community.

“The bike culture here is phenomenal,” affirmed Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb’s VP of business development and a regular Toonie racer. “You see it here how the whole community comes together. Cycling is the predominant sport in the summer.”

The notion that cycling is No. 1 during Whistler’s summer season is not a novel idea. But exactly what that means may surprise you.

Continue to page 2 for more on the Whistler Experience »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • spacelord says:

    Is their trail rating system compiled into a document or trailmap somewhere online?

  • Bokchoi Cowboy says:

    One of the best vacations my family ever had was one that ended up at Whistler. My wife, daughter, and I had driven north from Sacramento California to explore and visit family in British Columbia. We had planned spending time in Victoria, Vancouver, and Richmond to visit relatives. After a week of visiting relatives my wife was wanting to have some time to ourselves to decompress. I suggested driving from Richmond up to Whistler. We went with no reservations, just wanting to check it out and were prepared to drive back to Richmond if it was booked up.

    When we got there Crankworx had just ended the day prior. Due to the event being over there were a lot of hotel rooms for the choosing. We found one my wife liked and explored the village. Once settled in my wife suggested my daughter and I take our bikes and go ride (so she could get some reading and relaxing done).

    My kid was junior high age and our bikes were more xc oriented so the bike park was not a good idea. The hotel desk advised us to ride over to Lost Lake. They gave directions and off we went.

    We spent the afternoon and half the next day riding the multitude of trails around the Lost Lake area. It was very fun, saw lots of other families on the trails. Everyone was laid back and friendly.

    My daughter, now starting college, habitually asks if we can go up there and ride those trails again. It is one of her best memories of mountain biking.

    Whistler is certainly a destination for more than just the bike park.

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