For a teen who lives in a mountain town, with North America’s biggest ski resort as a backyard playground, Dylan Marino has managed to put some miles on his bike even during the winter.
In January, he was riding trails in Vancouver; in February, it was Mount Prevost on Vancouver Island with the Commencal Co-Factory Team; and, by April, he was riding in the early-season, 45-kilometre Pemberton Enduro, placing 10th in his category.
All of it was with one goal in mind for this 15 year old who is sponsored by Commencal Canada: riding and racing downhill this summer.
Putting in those winter and spring laps has paid off, with his fitness level at a high as the downhill season kicks off today, Thursday, May 19, opening day of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, heralding the unofficial start of summer in the mountains (even when it’s raining and seven degrees out).
“That first chair up [of the season] is really exciting, knowing you’re going to drop into a fresh trail,” says Marino, who, like many local kids, plans to follow the unofficial Whistler rule of ditching class for opening day. (Like opening day for the ski season and those occasional precious pow days after a massive dump, Whistler teachers understand the desire to get into the mountains, Marino assures.)
He isn’t the only one counting down. With 23 seasons under its belt to date, the mass appeal of the bike park continues to grow. Male and female. Young and young at heart. Pro and beginners. There is something for everyone.
A family of riders and a fateful bike
Chris Wrightson clearly remembers a turning point in her passion for downhill. It was the end of the summer of 2015, and she had been attending Ladies Nights in the bike park all summer long and feeling her riding getting better every time she was in the park.
“That’s what I love about the park, I love that progression,” she says. “You’re so focused in that moment. It’s just you and riding.”
Keep in mind, Wrightson and her family had moved to Whistler just three years earlier and, prior to that, she wouldn’t even have called herself a confident rider, never mind a person who could rip laps in the downhill park.
That summer, however, there was a new bike hanging in the GLC that Whistler Blackcomb was giving away to mark the end of the season. Wrightson knew she wanted it.
Up until that point, she had been riding her husband Mark’s downhill bike. It was time to take her riding to the next level with her own trusty steed. There’s something to be said about setting your intentions. Winning that bike, Wrightson jokes, was one of the best moments of her life. Still.
“It was awesome,” she says.
It was also a game-changer, just like the Ladies Nights, which she continues to do every summer.
Every week, some years twice a week, she meets her coach and her biking crew for lessons in the park.
“That was how I started making friends in Whistler when I first moved here,” she says, counting some of those women from her first seasons of Ladies Nights among her good friends still today.
That GLC downhill bike was passed down first to her daughter Samarra and then to her daughter Georgia.
Wrightson often rides with Samarra, now a bike instructor with her PMBI certification.
“It’s just great to do something with my 16-year-old daughter,” says Wrightson. “She coaches me through the features.”
The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is designed with progression in mind.
Adds Wrightson: “As I woman who is 45, I just really love doing a sport and progressing.”
Unlike the Wrightsons, Michele Stalker wouldn’t describe her family of four as downhill riders. They ride bikes, naturally (they live in Whistler after all), but they don’t ride park.
Stalker is the exception to the family rule. “It’s just my thing that I do,” she says.
It started with a birthday present in time for Ladies Nights when she first moved here in 2013. While that was a great way to meet friends and progress in the sport, for Stalker, it’s all about getting out and enjoying the local park a handful of times each season for an evening ride.
“It’s right here at our doorstep,” she says.
At almost 50, she adds: “It’s now or never!
“It’s just something that I know my limits with.”
And that’s where the bike park pays off in spades. There is truly something for everyone, from the green styles of Easy Does It to the double black tech of Schleyer.
“You can challenge yourself however you want,” says Stalker.
For her, nothing beats those flowy berms on Earth Circus and Blueberry Bathtub. Nothing beats that feeling when you’re in the groove, leaning into turns, taking the berms high without any fear of flying over the edge.
“It’s your own little rollercoaster,” she says.
As a 12-year-old kid growing up in Manchester, U.K., the options were somewhat limited when it came to mountain biking. But there was a niche group of kids discovering the trails near Holcomb Hill, which is where Luke Taylor first caught the bug.
He was hooked right away.
Despite living thousands of miles away, Taylor knew all about Whistler.
He had seen the videos of A-Line, he had heard the legendary stories, he knew what Crankworx, the 10-day mountain bike festival born in Whistler, was all about.
“It was a place I always wanted to come to,” says Taylor.
He arrived, in the late summer of 2018, still in his early 20s.
Even with all that hype, the park lived up to every expectation… and then some.
But there was one thing that Taylor didn’t know from the videos. At the heart of this mountain-biking mecca is a community of riders with a shared passion for the sport, whether they’re double black riders or just getting into downhill. That’s what made all the difference for him—the crew.
“Everyone supports each other and pushes each other’s
riding,” says Taylor.
Progression, naturally, follows from this environment. And it’s not just the park, although that was what drew him to Whistler in the first place.
While he tends to ride in the park after work during the week, weekends are typically reserved for big cross-country rides around the resort, which do not disappoint either.
While Taylor recommends doing the Top of the World for the experience of riding from the top of the mountain to the bottom, he still can’t resist the pull of A-Line, that iconic Whistler trail that in many ways has helped shape all the rest.
Taylor can picture “a party train” coming down A-Line, friends going one after the other in a long line, all in sync, all flowing together.
“Not much beats that feeling,” he says.
Teenage dreams and the downhill circuit
The same can be said of coming home to Whistler after touring bike parks and downhill tracks across the province. This summer, like last, Dylan Marino is racing in the BC Cup Downhill Series with an aim to podium at each event he competes in.
He’s done the early-season groundwork this year, with his fitness the best it has ever been ahead of opening day.
“I don’t think people realize how much effort goes into one downhill race,” says Marino of pushing your physical limits for three to four minutes each race.
After riding in parks around the province, Marino, to put it simply, says nothing compares to Whistler.
There are good bike parks out there, says Marino, listing Silver Star and Big White among those ranks.
“Whistler is just so much elevation, so many different trails,” he says.
And nothing beats it when you find your rythym in a race.
“As soon as you get up to speed, it’s just so much fun,” he says.
As for those new to the park, Marino says it’s all about asking the lifties for help loading your bike if that’s intimidating, downloading the Trail Forks app on your phone to find your way, and most importantly, just getting out there.
“You just start working your way up,” he says.
The biggest, and arguably, best stop on the ever-growing Crankworx tour comes home to Whistler, where it all began, from Aug. 5 to 15.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, events are storming back this summer. All the old favourites are set to take place: Red Bull Joyride, the Canadian Open DH, the Whip-Off World Championship, the Pump Track Challenge, and so much more.
Check out the festival lineup at crankworx.com.
Whistler’s bike park by the numbers
9% Beginner trails
31% Intermediate trails
34% Advanced trails
22% Expert trails
4% Pro trails
4,900+ Vertical feet of lift—serviced trails
4 Zones:Fitzsimmons, Garbanzo, Creek and Peak.
(The Creek Zone is closed for summer 2022 as work continues on the new Creekside Gondola and Big Red Express chair.)