The amount of effort that went into the expansion of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park to include the Garbanzo Express is staggering.
The expansion began almost a year ago, with work crews putting in long days over the past few months to put the final touches on the main trails, No Joke and Original Sin, for the June 26 opening.
They had to work around the melting snow and endure a cold and rainy May, but at last all the work has paid off, according to bike park director Rob McSkimming.
"This is a really, really big day for us," he said, after opening the park to media, VIPs and freeride team members on Friday. The official opening took place on Saturday.
"To stand here, after a year of work, and to finally be able to open this incredible area up to the public is just incredible. Ive ridden it myself, and I never cease to be amazed by the effort that went into making this happen."
The Garbanzo expansion adds 2,200 vertical feet, 700 metres, to the bike park, bringing the total to 3,400 feet. It also doubles lift capacity, adding another 43 bike carriers to the Garbanzo Express line. Because the lift is so much longer than the Fitzsimmons Express, that means only one in every four chairs is a carrier, but that could change rather quickly if its justified by ridership numbers, according to McSkimming.
"If we get busy, we can have the carriers in two weeks," he said.
The Garbanzo area mostly caters to intermediate and expert level riders, further spreading out a growing number of mountain bikers while giving beginner riders more room to progress in the lower park.
It takes about 10 minutes to ride up the Garbanzo, and 10 to 15 minutes for the very top riders to descend. From top to bottom, Garbanzo to the village, the Bike Park now offers descents of 20 to 25 minutes.
Shaums March, an American downhiller who lives in Squamish, says the added vertical will make a huge difference to competitive riders.
"Its definitely good for your endurance," he said. "All that riding really builds up your upper body strength which makes you a better rider. A lot of people think that going downhill is easy, but its hard on the body.
"When you do a five or six minute World Cup downhill race its full on. Having a longer run on Garbanzo gets your endurance up, and gets you used to all the hard stuff, all the technical sections the drops, step-ups, steeps, everything. The park is amazing for that."
March was only one of dozens of pro riders that came out to ride Garbanzo with the media on Friday. The invite list included names like Ritchie Schley, Gareth Dyer, Dave Watson and Thomas Vanderham.
According to Bike Park manager Tom Prochazka, who oversees the day to day operations and construction of the park, the Garbazno expansion was made possible by roughly 4,500 man hours, 500 machine hours, and another $100,000 worth of materials. They milled more than 40 cubic metres of logs for the area with a portable mill set up in Lot 8.
"You could build about three houses out of that and all of thats pretty much all gone, its all in the park," said Prochazka.
"The last month was incredible. I cant believe how fast they put it all together."
There are four main trails off of Garbanzo, two of which are intermediate and follow ski runs. The main singletrack trails, No Joke and Original Sin, are the main arteries of the new park, and two new trails are planned for the end of the summer that will branch off these arteries.
Dave Kelly himself has a full-time staff of 23 trail builders this year. Although his trail construction has been praised in bike magazines and by his co-workers, Kelly credits the hard work to his crew of builders.
"It really isnt me," he said. "Right now we have 23 guys working as hard as they can, all day, every day, to get these trails done. They came up with a lot of the ideas and they deserve a lot of credit for that."
Kelly says No Joke and Original Sin are mainly expert trails, with some optional double black diamond sections thrown in for good measure.
The work is currently restricted to the riders left side of the Garbanzo Express as the mountains environment group completes a bear study on the opposite side.
"That still leaves us with a lot of options," said Kelly. "By the end of the summer we will have two new top to bottom trails completed. Theres the whole Dave Murray area, the area directly under the Garbanzo. Theres a lot more potential coming."
Not only are the trails long and technical, the Garbanzo zone has a different look and feel than the lower park.
"Our new terrain has a distinctly different flavour and feel from the trails on the lower mountain, and the two complement each other beautifully," said McSkimming. "The Garbanzo trails are much longer than trails on the lower mountain, the view of surrounding peaks are more spectacular, the forest is mostly old growth fir and hemlock, and the trails have an old-school singletrack feel.
"A top to bottom trip will take riders through several geo-climatic zones and different riding experiences."
When the park officially opened on Saturday, the first chair went to local passholder David Swanson, who won a contest for the most trips through the lower park during a 36-day period. Swanson rode the park on 26 different days, logging more than 250,000 vertical feet during that period. Even more impressively, he rode his hardtail on most of those days.
The Garbanzo expansion became necessary as park ridership has increased more than 500 per cent since 1999, breaking records on key days and weekends each successive year.
For more information on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park visit www.whistler-blackcomb.com/bike/.
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