Sarah Leishman can save some travel time beginning next week.
The Cheakamus Crossing resident and mountain biker is thrilled with Whistler Blackcomb's announcement that the Whistler Mountain Bike Park will open access via its Creekside Gondola beginning Aug. 7. The move was announced on July 29.
"It's good for locals like me who live south of the village and I think it's really good for the development of our sport in town," she said. "There's really nothing bad about it."
Leishman explained that not only will she have easier access to the park, but also she will be able to train more specifically for her specialty on her downhill bike if she's not pedalling it halfway across the resort before even getting up the mountain.
"To get ready for races and just to ride, I'll ride my trail bike up to the village so that I can do Top of the World and ride back home," she said. "This new program means I can ride my downhill bike and not have to ride my trail bike, or I could just go straight up from Creekside. There are so many choices now and it opens up a ton of terrain."
Fellow rider Adam Billinghurst, who spends the bulk of his free time in the park, is pumped to see the changes as well. Though as a Brio resident, the added access won't benefit him quite so greatly, as he'll still opt to "coast to the village," he's open to the idea of popping into Dusty's to wet his whistle after a day of riding.
"I heard about it for awhile, maybe this was going to happen. I think it's great," he said. "I look forward to every expansion of the Whistler (Mountain) Bike Park and I just hope they keep expanding."
Whistler Blackcomb vice-president of business development Rob McSkimming said the possibility of opening the gondola in the summer has been bandied about for quite some time now.
"We've, for a while, realized that we've needed to add to our lift capacity," McSkimming said. "We certainly get to a point in the summer out in the village where a combination of mountain bikers and sightseers creates quite a bit of traffic, crowding, (and) line-ups. We feel that if we bring Creekside on, we can alleviate a little bit of that."
Access from Creekside will not be recommended for all riders, however, as two of the three trails leading into the existing park are the advanced-level No Joke and Freight Train, while Lower Expressway is an intermediate option. As well, the two trails leading back to the Creekside base will both be designated as advanced trails. Intermediate and novice riders will still be expected to access the park from Whistler Village.
No hiking or sightseeing will be offered from Creekside, as McSkimming described the current setup as a "dead end" for those activities.
"We need to spend some time there upgrading the whole zone to make it work from a sightseeing standpoint," he said. "It's something that's possible down the road."
McSkimming said on July 27 crews were just finishing the process of cutting trail down Lower Franz's that will be dubbed Upper and Lower Dusty's Downhill.
Riders approaching the bike park from the south, be they locals or day-trippers from Squamish or the Vancouver area, will access free parking in Creekside.
With a revitalization plan for the neighbourhood being recently announced as well, McSkimming hopes the additional cycling traffic will do its part to give Creekside a shot in the arm.
"By having some of our mountain biking happening at Creekside, it'll breathe some life into some of that end of town," he said.
The gondola will be accessible from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Aug. 7 to Sept. 7, after which it will only be open the following two weekends before shutting to prepare for ski season. The Can-Ski location in Creekside will offer guest relations services, bike rentals and repairs.
McSkimming explained practical considerations kept the announcement from being made earlier - 20 bike carriers needed to be ordered and installed onto cars, trails needed to be prepared and the appropriate signage posted. As well, amenities like bike racks and bike washes had to be installed.
"It takes a bit to get it up and operational," he said. "In a perfect world, we would have actually had it open a little bit earlier.
"It's just taken until the 7th to get it organized. For us, the biggest month in the summer is the month of August and certainly the weekend in August with Crankworx and traffic in the resort as a whole is super busy."
For her part, Leishman feels the opening day - which coincides with the kickoff of Crankworx - is more than appropriate.
"I have friends coming from all over the world to race and ride their bikes during Crankworx," she said. "To have Creekside as a new option is something I'm pretty stoked about."
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