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Dirt Designations: Part 1

The stories behind Whistler's mountain bike trails
Dirt Designations - Part 1: The stories behind Whistler's mountain bike trails. Story by Jeff Slack

[Editor's Note: With ski season frustratingly cut short this year, droves of antsy Whistlerites had no choice but to turn their sights from snow to dirt. And while COVID-19 has delayed the opening of Whistler Mountain Bike Park beyond its usual mid-May target date, nothing is stopping Whistler's two-wheeled warriors from hitting the rest of the valley's extensive network of trails. With that in mind, Pique is re-running a popular feature from 2015 that explores the often weird and wacky (and, let's face it, occasionally R-rated) stories behind the creatively named trails dotting the resort. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, when sports editor Dan Falloon will delve into the names of the many new trails that have been built or sanctioned in the past half decade.]

Variety, flow, inspiring views, minimal environmental impact, challenging and creative features, durability ... There are a number of factors that go into a great bike trail. Often overlooked, but no less crucial is the name bestowed upon the trail.

A good name sparks curiosity and fuels stoke. Looking to ride a new trail? Would you be enticed to go ride something like "Winding Forest Trail" or worse "Trail No. 28," when "Wizard Burial Ground" is an option?

The best trail names not only put a smile on your face, but tell a good story while they're at it.

Luckily for us, Whistler's burgeoning cadre of trailbuilders are not only dedicated, visionary and talented, they're fans of quirky, idiosyncratic trail names that add another layer of fun when ripping around through Whistler's forests.

The Valley's Trails

The Whistler Valley has an incredible and often underappreciated network of trails meandering through almost every nook and cranny of our valley. The first routes were mostly reclaimed from decommissioned logging roads in the early 1980s, but it wasn't long before more industrious folks began building them from scratch.

The vast majority of trails came through countless hours of solitary, unpaid, backbreaking labour by renegade builders who simply wanted a few fun trails for themselves—and maybe a few select friends. Their efforts have been largely vindicated, as many of these technically illegal trails have retroactively become recognized. Today, multiple builders are being hired and paid to create sanctioned routes.

Lost Lake Park: We begin where most riders are introduced to Whistler mountain biking, Lost Lake Park. This series of trails was built by Eric Barry. As we will see, musical influences often factor into bike trail names, and in this case, Barry decided to name each segment of the blue-rated trail network after a Frank Zappa song. With psychedelic names like Peaches en Regalia, Zoot Allures, Toads of the Short Forest, and Son of Mr. Green genes.

A number of less technical, multi-use trails pay homage to the logging industry, which played a major role in the early development of the Whistler Valley and whose decommissioned roads unintentionally formed the backbone of the hundreds of biking routes that ensued:

Tin Pants: A heavy waterproof, canvas-type pant that protected loggers from the elements and their chainsaws.

Molly Hogan: A technique for splicing together wire cables used by logging crews.

HookTender: The supervisor of a logging crew.

Donkey Puncher: The operator of the "donkey," a slang term for the steam-powered machine used to haul logs around camp.

Gypsy Drum: A big, strong breed of horse frequently used in logging operations.

The Rest of the Valley

Dan Swanstrom circa 1994. Whistler Question Archives

A River Runs Through It: This reference to the popular 1992 film was deemed appropriate because, well, a river runs through it.

Comfortably Numb: Whistler's official epic ride—it has actually been afforded the "Epic Ride" designation from the International Mountain Bike Association—a ride on this trail will leave your mind and body battered senseless.

The trail-builder, Chris Marble, was clearly a Pink Floyd fan, as one of the only escape routes along Comfortably Numb's 24-kilometre route is called Young Lust.

Danimal: This west-side classic is named after the trailbuilder Dan Swanstrom, who also built "A River Runs Through It," much of the "No Flow Zone" and several other local trails.

Danimal has the distinction of having possibly the most ostentatious trail sign on the planet. A solid granite plinth marks the trail's entrance, among others in the Stonebridge development high up on Whistler's west side. When work on this luxury neighbourhood was originally slated, anxiety beset the local riding community as it threatened a number of long-established—if not officially sanctioned—bike trails in the area.

In response to lobbying from the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA), the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) decided to designate several trails as legal, and thus protected thoroughfares, and established a strong precedent for cooperation between the RMOW and the local biking building communities. Since Danimal was here to stay, Stonebridge's developer decided to embrace it and mark the trail in a manner befitting its swanky surroundings.

The "No Flow Zone": This collection of trails around Emerald offers a variety of frustrating, technical challenges. Many of the trail names in the Zone warn the rider of what lies ahead: Shit Happens, No Girlie Man, White Knuckles, Anal Intruder (your bike saddle, that is).

High Society: This double entendre refers to its proximity to both the posh Stonebridge development, as well as the pre-existing trail, Legalize It (a prescient name considering recreational cannabis was finally legalized in 2018).

Darwin's: Named in honour of the trail-builder Eric Barry's dog, who was a puppy at the time.

Tunnel Vision: This trail was originally built straight and fast, forcing the rider into this mental state.

Cut Yer Bars: One of the Whistler Valley's original bike trails, this classic ride used to be really tight, hence the instructional trail name.

Ride Don't Slide: This name is instructional—it is really steep and prone to erosion—although not as one might expect. It was originally built as a climbing trail for trials dirtbikes, as is the case for a surprising amount of Whistler's favourite mountain bike trails.

Lower Yer Saddle: Another instructional name, as this trail features mostly technical X-country-style riding, but with a few steeper features thrown in the mix.

Bob's Rebob: Built mostly from reclaimed logging roads, this trail is named after ex-WORCA President Bob Eakins.

Cheakamus Challenge circa 1994. Whistler Question Archives

See Colours and Puke: An old climbing trail that was later rehabilitated to work as a descent as well. Simply climbing this trail might mess with your mental state, but the name is actually a reference to a very early cross-country race organized by Whistler off-road biking pioneer Doris Burma.

The race was always a challenging slog, but many participants were already hallucinating before setting off; the physical exertion had nothing to do with it. This event was the predecessor of the Cheakamus Challenge, a gruelling endurance challenge in which the most common supplements are now energy gels and electrolyte powders.

Section 102: This title refers to a change made to provincial law that made unauthorized disturbance of the forest floor—which definitely describes most trail-building at the time—illegal.

Billy Epic: One of the oldest trails in Whistler, this was built by Bill Epplett.

Binty's Trail: Named after long-time local Vincent "Binty" Massey, who built this trail among others. Binty built this trail in the late 1980s, accessed by climbing up old logging roads that they had largely cleared themselves.

Mel's Dilemma: Binty and Richard Kelly are mostly responsible for this trail, with some help from Binty's preschool-aged son. At the time, the two trail-builders were big fans of Scarface, and for reasons long-since forgotten had taken to referring to each other as "Mel," a crooked cop from the film who meets an inglorious demise. The dilemma is simply choosing your route through this snaking maze of paths.

Golden Boner: Trail building can often be a lonely and thankless task. Rumour has it that the trail builder was going through a bit of a lull in his love life at the time.

Khyber Pass: This trail name was first applied to the backcountry ski zone the bike trail cuts through. Vincent Massey recalls how the name first came into use because at the time, long before Peak Chair was built on Whistler, this section of the mountain was a long hike from the top of the T-bars. "It was so far out there it was almost exotic, so we figured we'd call it Khyber's after the famous mountain pass in Afghanistan."

PhD: In the amount of time spent working on this long, steep, and challenging trail north of Whistler, the builder could have earned an advanced post-secondary degree. Most riders would agree that the trail was completed summa cum laude.

A Rockwork Orange: For this trail, builder Dan Raymond put the cart before the horse and actually had conceived the name before building the trail. This trail weaves its way through a particularly rugged west-side mountain slope, linking up a number of rock bluffs and slabs.

Korova Milk Bar: A multi-layered reference. The title is a direct reference to the mind-altering drinking establishment in A Clockwork Orange, thus connecting it thematically to the previous trail. Raymond chose this specific reference from the ultra-violent film because the trail was built in the same area as a long-defunct ride called Dairy of a Milkman, thus enabling a lactose-themed literary homage to its predecessor.

Wizard Burial Ground: The final installment in this three-piece epic ride draws its name directly from a heavy metal song by the band Umphrey's Mcgee that Dan thought matched the intensity of the trail. The fact that the trail ends in the vicinity of the Whistler Cemetery made it even more thematically appropriate.

Whistler Mountain Bike Park

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park has been a major factor in the progression of freeride mountain biking for nearly two decades. One could argue that the names bestowed upon its several dozen trails have been just as influential. They would be wrong, of course, but that's beside the point.

Still, the titles found on the trail map are full of insight into the trails, and even more so the characters that brought them to life. As long-time park rider and trail-builder Pete Matthews puts it: "The best names always come up during trail-building. A lot of time for banter; everyone's tired, light-headed, dehydrated, cracking jokes." Not surprisingly, pop culture references, heavy metal, and playful ribbing at the expense of their peers feature heavily.

The trail crew's jokes and banter have a tendency to go a bit further than popular tastes might appreciate. There's a whole gaggle of unofficial trail names and other inside jokes that never made it onto the official trail map, and for obvious reasons, will not be included in this article. For those, you'll have to ask the builders themselves.

B-Line: B-Line is the name of a type of explosive detonation cord that can be used to link charges together, or used as an explosive on its own. When building this trail, a generous amount of explosives were used to remove a stubborn tree stump, and though early Bike Park visionary Dave Kelly confirmed that other explosives were used in this case, the name stuck. Also, as the trail was the bike park's new showcase, "Beginner Line," the name seemed apt.

A-Line: A machine-built flowy jump line that followed B-Line's suit, this name was an obvious choice for the new "Advanced Line."

Crank It Up: On this moderate but flowy jump line, you can maximize the good times by pedalling aggressively, hence "Crank it Up." A name starting with the letter "C" was appropriate as this trail could also be thought of as the "C-Line."

Ho Chi Minh Trail: This trail was designed and named by Eric Wight (owner of Whistler Backroads), who was the original mastermind and creator of lift-accessed biking on Whistler Mountain, operating there until Whistler Blackcomb took over operations in 1997. Sections of the trail ran down the middle of Lower Olympic, through grass up to 1.5-metres tall, reminiscent of scenes from the Vietnam War.

Heart of Darkness: This trail name builds on the Vietnam theme established by Ho Chi Minh. Plus, it can get fairly dark in the section along the creek where it is surprisingly intense for a flowy blue run.

Clown Shoes and Dirt Merchant: Both of these trails make references to the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Captain Safety: There are conflicting reports as to which mountain employee it was who had the healthy zeal for injury prevention—some say he was a mountain patrol higher-up, others a bike park manager. Either way, he took his job very seriously, sometimes to the dismay of trail crew. This trail is named after him.

Mackenzie River Trail: Named in honour of the late Duncan Mackenzie, an esteemed trail-builder and ski patroller who died tragically in an avalanche in December 2011.

Original Sin: Named by original Bike Park manager Rob McSkimming. Multiple meanings and wordplays are at work here, but it is also considered the original trail in the Garbanzo Zone.

Schleyer: Named after legendary freeride mountain biker Richie Schley, while alluding to equally legendary thrash metal band, Slayer.

Joyride: The name "Joyride" recurs often in Whistler. This trail was built in 1998 by local biking luminaries Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye, the latter of whom had founded his own trail-building company, also named Joyride. A few years later, a local mountain bike festival was created and called, you guessed it, Joyride. This festival was the predecessor of today's Crankworx, whose showcase event is a slopestyle competition which still bears this name, and Kaye's Joyride Bike Parks Inc. remains one of the leading mountain bike trail-building companies on Earth.

Del Boca Vista: In yet another pop culture reference, this trail's name is derived from the Florida condominium complex in Seinfeld where Jerry's parents, and for a time Kramer as well, had retired to. Life here would hopefully be relaxing, fun, and leisurely, just like this trail.

Angry Pirate: Trail-building entails more than just crude jokes and high fives—it also involves a lot of backbreaking work and the potential for some serious bodily harm. One builder received this nickname after an especially unfortunate series of events while working on this trail. First, while walking through the woods he stepped on a wasp nest and angered the hive. During the ensuing chaos, he tripped and stumbled downslope, injuring his ankle, but not before he got stung by a wasp very close to his eye. These mishaps left said trail-builder with an eyepatch, a heavy limp, and a sour mood.

Devil's Club: While building this trail, the park crew had to contend with this infamous coastal bush which grows dense, tough, and covered in nasty thorns.

The "Asian Trilogy": All three of these trails were named by trail crew veteran Andrew "Gunner" Gunn:

Samurai Pizza Cat: Named after a popular '90s Japanese anime series that was also adapted for North America.

Ninja Cougar: The trail crew liked to joke that Jesse Melamed—one of the trail-builders—required this special type of bodyguard due to his esteemed political position as the then-mayor's (Ken Melamed) son.

Karate Monkey: This trail name maintains the "martial arts/animal" theme with the other two trails, but whether there is any deeper meaning is unclear.

Blue/Black Velvet: Simply put, these trails were designed to ride as smoothly as possible.

Blueseum: This trail was built through the same section of forest as a long-neglected trail full of derelict wooden structures. Riding this new trail gave the impression that you were passing through a freeride bike-stunt museum. The trail is blue-rated, and this creative portmanteau title was conceived.

Afternoon Delight: The park crew was on fire this day, building most of this trail in a single afternoon.

Funshine Rolly Drops: Simply the most playful, friendly-sounding name the trail-builders could brainstorm.

Duffman: Duff is a term used for the soft, thick layer of organic material often found on a Coastal forest floor. When working on this trail, the park crew had to contend with an especially thick layer of duff, and thus took the opportunity to shout out the highly enthusiastic beer mascot of The Simpsons fame.

Detroit Rock City: Some trail names come easy. This trail features a long, committing rock ride, and thus borrowing the title from the famed KISS song seemed appropriate.

Fade To Black: Named after the classic Metallica song, this trail was intended to demarcate the transition from blue-rated to black-rated single-track. Let's say the trail-builders got a little carried away with this one, including a sizeable, mandatory road gap that is most definitely double-black material. Some riders prefer to call it "Fade to Pro Line."

Freight Train: The name refers to the freight container stunt that bikers can jump on and off of, but the title has been further vindicated by the fact that riders have a tendency to ride this fast and flowy jump run in tight formation, like a freight train running down the tracks.

Tech Noir: Evidently some trail-builders are fans of Arnold "The Gubernator" Schwarzenegger, as this is also the name of a bar in the original Terminator film. Cover charge is optional.

Dwayne Johnson: Another memorial to the musclebound. This trail features a huge rock, and thus was a perfect opportunity to honour everyone's favourite wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The Manager: An optional pro line in Duffman named after then-bike-park-manager Tom "Pro" Prochaska.

D1: The various models of excavating machines used to build the trails are named according to their size: "D35," "D50" and so on. This trail is named after the smallest excavator in the park crew's arsenal, the shovel, because this seemingly machine-built path was built completely through manual labour.

Too Tight: As the name suggests, this trail is very narrow and winding. Countless riders over the years have face-planted after catching their handlebars on an adjacent tree trunk.

Little Alder: This short run cuts through a picturesque alder grove.

Fatcrobat: Among the diverse array of characters who have worked for the Bike Park over the years, one particular gentleman went through extensive gymnastics training in his youth. As his years progressed, he lost his trim figure, but retained a surprising amount of his athletic talent. This trail is named in honour of this rotund gymnast.

Drop-in Clinic: Named after the steep rock roll "drop-in" entrance to this short connector trail.

Top of the World: This name is self-explanatory, as the first bike park trail from the summit of Whistler Mountain, a ride down here leaves one feeling elated. If this name doesn't convey the same tone as the other bike park trails, it is because the park crew didn't come up with this one. This trail's construction was an exciting new attraction, and upper management wanted to convey an inspiring image to attract more visitors.