Whistler Mountain Bike Park to open May 2 

Crews work hard to get ready in advance of early debut

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JUSTA JESKOVA COURTESY OF WHISTLER BLACKCOMB - Hit the trails Whistler Mountain Bike Park is set to open two weeks early for 2015. Opening day has been set for May 2.
  • Photo by Justa Jeskova courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
  • Hit the trails Whistler Mountain Bike Park is set to open two weeks early for 2015. Opening day has been set for May 2.

Stacy Kohut gave up his Paralympic skiing career and moved from Banff for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in 2002.

He'll have 13 extra days of prime Whistler living this summer.

The park is opening May 2, two weeks ahead of schedule and it's good news for riders like Kohut, a Nesters Market employee.

"Anytime you can get the rubber on the dirt 13 days before you're supposed to, for a guy like me who's been champing at the bit now for six months, I'm pretty excited," he said. "I usually start the countdown at Nesters at 100 days and I always announce over the PA system we're at 100 sleeps before the bike park."

Kohut's calculations, happily, have now been thrown off for the earliest opening in a decade.

"My whole life revolves around that bike park," he said. "We're maybe seven or eight days shy of a full six-month operation period, so that's really unique."

As excited as riders are, the adjusted schedule provides a challenge for staff.

"Now that it's official, I'm scrambling," bike park manager Brian Finestone said.

"It's been one of those tightrope walks where if the weather cooperates, we are on track and everything will look great. We didn't want to announce too soon because if the weather deteriorated and things got too wet, we would have to postpone and let everything dry out," he added. "So far, Mother Nature is cooperating."

The lack of snow and relatively warm conditions throughout the winter season has proved to be a disadvantage to the park crew. Without snowpack or an ice layer on the trails, water has run down the trails. This has eroded the riding surface on the trails and left them in rough shape.

"The fact that the snowline below 1,000 metres has been rapidly disappearing, it unveiled that the trails sustained quite a bit of damage this year," said Finestone. "We didn't actually have to burn diesel to remove snow, but we had to get on to every trail and really work the surfaces again."

Finestone figures staff will spend more time returning the dirt to its proper place as compared to seasons where snow removal was the major task in advance of opening.

"What typically happens is we shovel the snow off with machines and hand crews, then we crack the last bit of ice, which is usually right against the ground," he said. "We let it dry out and then once it's dried out, we give it a little bit of a shape tune-up and it's ready to go.

"This time, we didn't touch a single scoop of snow, but what we had to do was essentially rebuild the trail systems all the way along. It ended up being more involved earthwork than we've ever had to do."

Whistler Blackcomb VP of business development Rob McSkimming said there are a handful of improvements planned in advance of the park's opening.

"We'll have pretty much a reshaped, redesigned Crank It Up ready to go for May 2. We've had a crew from Joyride bike parks in there working on that since the beginning of April," said McSkimming. "That'll be a new and improved experience on one of our key trails. Right now, our crews are working on doing all the spring maintenance. We're giving A Line a full buff-up for the beginning of the season."

Finestone explained several changes were also brought about to make the park easier to ride, while catering to everyone from first-timers to bike-park lifers.

"What people will notice is there's a little bit of a different flow and vibe," Finestone said. "What we're really focusing on this year is trying to make it so there's much more of an intuitive flow — where do I start? How do I warm up? What comes next? What comes after that trail? (We want to) try to get people to a better continuum.

"It's still choose your own adventure, but it's got a bit better flow to it."

With hot and dry conditions causing challenges last summer, Finestone also explained the park is looking into better water-delivery systems through the Whistler Blackcomb snowmaking machinery to help combat any dry periods.

Passes for the park are now on sale and include more options for users. The park is now offering five- and 10-day passes, as well as Top of the World passes, which include one Top of the World ride per day (one Village Gondola ride and one Peak Chair ride). Those are offered in addition to the unlimited season passes and the twilight passes.

Finestone believes new riders will be attracted to the park.

"The number of people who are interested in the epic enduro-style riding, that's who the Top of the World pass was aimed at," he said. "Those types of riders, they might not want to spend the entire day in the bike park. They want to go up, they want to go out, they want to have more of a backcountry type of experience almost like when you're going touring, but on your bike.

"Or you could be riding all over the valley and your sunset lap could be you ride up the gondola system to the top of Whistler Mountain and the end of the day is an enduro ride off of Whistler of 5,000 feet."

McSkimming noted the five- and 10-day passes could be reloaded at a reduced rate.

The park has also extended its Saturday evening hours until 8 p.m. from May 16 until June 13, when the extended hours will be offered daily.

Early-bird pricing is in effect until June 12.

For more information, visit www.bike.whistlerblackcomb.com.



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