Whistlerites bring expertise to Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium 

Two days of talks at Williams Lake focus on collaboration

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - that's a wrap Mountain Bike Tourism Association executive director Martin Littlejohn concludes the Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium in Williams Lake on Oct. 4.
  • Photo BY Dan Falloon
  • that's a wrap Mountain Bike Tourism Association executive director Martin Littlejohn concludes the Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium in Williams Lake on Oct. 4.

WILLIAMS LAKE — The mountain-biking scene in Whistler is in a good place right now.

Long lines to get up into the Whistler Mountain Bike Park are common, even with the Creekside Gondola being opened and the park being expanded this summer. Trails in and around the resort are busy, too.

Some might think the success would cause Whistler to circle the wagons and keep the secret recipe under lock and key.

But, ultimately, the stronger the sport becomes across the province, the greater the potential for it to improve here as well.

Collaboration was a major theme at the Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium held in Williams Lake from Oct. 2 to 4, and was a practice stressed by bike park manager Brian Finestone during his Sunday morning keynote speech.

During the speech, Finestone talked about the progress of the park, celebrating its successes and passing along advice from its failures. In particular, Finestone explained the opening of the Magic Chair for younger riders in 2005 was not well done at the time. However, he feels with the sport's development in the subsequent decade, something similar to that beginner bike park could be viable today.

Being the second time he attended the conference, Finestone had a better idea of what to expect, and he feels the movement is headed in the right way.

"I had a much better idea of what was coming my way this time," he said. "What I really liked about this one, and the direction they're going, is the connectivity of these different regions of British Columbia in that we all complement each other, each one is unique and different."

Finestone said his biggest takeaway from the weekend came from Saturday afternoon's keynote speech from Chief Joe Alphonse, the tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government.

"To me, that was the most important thing," he said. "If there's a way that we can connect Aboriginal tourism and mountain bike tourism, I think the two are so unique in British Columbia and are both flagship reasons for people to come here, if we can open up dialogue and work with local First Nations and learn more from them, that will benefit the land and that will benefit the culture and it will benefit Whistler Valley as a whole."

On the whole, though, the weekend was more about fostering connections than about providing direct advice to others, as Finestone stressed each region must celebrate its own traits as opposed to mimicking some place else.

"It's so difficult to apply what people are doing because we are the more urban, more close to the border, so a lot of what we're doing and what they're doing don't really apply," he said.

Another expert in town for the symposium was Alpine Bike Parks project manager and designer Daniel Scott. Scott spoke for 40 minutes about master-planning and some of the challenges associated with the practice.

On the theme of collaboration, Scott noted that when he begins the process of creating the master plan, he sometimes walks into a situation where plenty of community consultation work has already been done. That's not always the case, though.

"In some cases, really diligent clubs have already done a fair amount of public engagement. It always helps to ask the hard questions of who wasn't asked or what local biases need to be examined," he said. "Is there an argument between mountain bikers and a rancher, or is there an argument between the quadders and the mushroom pickers? Those kind of hard questions need to be asked so we can begin to break down those walls."

"The master-planning process is a collaborative process, not only with land management, but also with land-use stakeholders and the three levels of government, including First Nations," Scott added.

In addition to getting the government to agree to any project, Scott stressed the importance of also having the community buy in.

"You can get all the best trail builders in the world to come and build your trail system, but once the ribbon is cut, they go away," he said. "Having a strong club that believes in having a sense of ownership over the trails will allow you to foster and maintain it, to be the eyes and ears for it."

One important development Scott has seen in recent years is for communities to create trail associations or outdoor recreation associations, where stakeholders are already brought together and have decided on an approach for the area to be developed.

"At the end of the day, recreational stakeholders have more in common than apart, and, as a unified voice, they come to the table as a stronger voice when talking with industry," he said.

Mountain Bike Tourism Association executive director Martin Littlejohn was pleased overall with how the conference went, noting 30 B.C. communities were represented over the weekend.

"It was a great opportunity to gather stakeholders virtually from every corner of the province," he said, adding delegates also attended from Ontario, North Carolina and Switzerland. "The key topics, certainly, were collaboration and First Nations. It was really important there to see. A lot of the other issues are just ongoing ones, but these are issues where we really have to stop just giving it lip-service and we have to start doing something significant to benefit a greater number of people and increase the number of experiences that are out there."

Littlejohn said he was encouraged by what he saw between the different delegations at the conference and is excited to see what might develop in advance of the next meeting in two years' time.

"It's all about the interest in mountain biking, and the mountain biking community itself really does seem to want to help one another," he said. "There is that spirit of collaboration already whether it comes to working on the trails together or riding together, there is a lot of togetherness."

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