After four years of decline, the membership for the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association is nearing the record set in 1998 when there were more than 1,000 members on the register. With months to go before the season is over, WORCA currently has 975 members up from 570 last year.
WORCA president Tony Horn attributes a large part of that growth to the groups partnership with Whistler-Blackcomb, whereby members receive $10 off the cost of a day pass to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, plus discounts on summer seasons passes, camps, retail and rentals with their benefits cards.
"A lot of our success this year has to do with the success of the bike park, its just been a huge bonus for new members and the people who would have joined anyway," he says.
The social aspect of the club, notably the weekly Loonie Races, is also having an impact on the club membership. Turnout to events this year is almost double compared to last year, with more than 300 riders at some races.
"The credit for that has to go with the Loonie Race sponsors who are doing a good job putting on fun events that everybody is getting into," Horn says. "I also think a lot of the freeriders in town are realizing that you dont have to ride hair ball all the time. Sometimes its good to just go out and ride the local trails with your friends."
Mountain bike skills camps for adults and children that are open to members only have also been successful draws this season, according to Horn.
In the past WORCA was concerned that people tended to look at WORCA as a group that organizes races and clinics.
Now Horn says the word is finally out that the group is also responsible for a large part of the trail maintenance in the valley, and for trail advocacy through its relationship with the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
This year WORCAs $8,000 maintenance contract was granted to Chris Markle and Ted Battison.
"Its just been awesome this year. You can see their work on River, the North Secret Trail, Kill Me Thrill Me, all over the valley," says Horn.
WORCA has also received a $2,500 grant from the Whistler-Blackcomb Environmental Fund to restore the popular Train Wreck trail.
The municipality also recently received official provincial sanctioning for an epic trail that will run from Wedgemont Road to Lost Lake Park.
Local trail builder Markle, working on his own, recently completed the north section, which is called North Secret Trail. He has also completed a large section of the south end of the trail, which is being called Foreplay. Markle will name the entire trail, which is expected to be around 24 kilometres in length once it is completed, possibly by next season.
In the meantime, the RMOW will build a suspension bridge over Wedge Creek for the trail. Horn expects the cables to go in by the fall, but the slats wont go down until the trail is officially opened.
The bridge will be called the Al Grey Memorial Bridge after the former WORCA president and local sports legend who died last December at the age of 46 from complications of the colitis disease.
"The municipality has been really great working with this year," says Horn. "They really got the ball rolling with Chris Markles trail and the bridge. Theyre also providing us with new tools to use on maintenance days, and doing more in conjunction with us, which is pretty cool."
So far the turnout has been steady for the WORCAs trail maintenance nights, with between 15 and 20 volunteers turning out to work on bike trails. In addition, 25 cyclists took part in trail maintenance days in Pemberton and at Spruce Lake.
They have three more trail maintenance nights on the calendar for this year on Aug. 20, 27, and Sept. 10.
"It would be really good to get a good turnout for those nights because the trails have gotten a workout this season already," Horn says.
WORCA is still working out insurance for a new skills park that will be built above Rainbow Park on B.C. Hydro lands, but Horn expects the area to be completed this fall. The park will feature a progression of easy, moderate and expert level freeride stunts like wheelie drops, bridges, log rides and teeter-totters.
WORCA is also participating in the municipalitys creation of a recreational mountain biking vision that they hope will establish Whistler as one of the top mountain biking towns in North America. The survey is available online at www.whistlercycling.org.
Another local initiative that WORCA is getting involved in is the Whistler. Its Our Future sustainability program. Because the recent public workshops were held on Loonie Race nights, and the next open house takes place on the same Saturday as the Cheakamus Challenge mountain bike race, WORCA is planning to host its own sustainability meeting for members in early September.
Although the club is more active and diversified than ever, Horn said he is finding his first term as president "easy."
"The other people on the board this year have been awesome, and theres a lot of energy out there this year helping us out. We plan things and people make sure they get done. I wish I could take more credit for the year, but I cant."
New memberships are trickling in every day, and with the biggest events on the Loonie Race calendar still to come, Horn wouldnt be surprised if a new membership record is set by the end of the season.
"September is a huge mountain bike month in the valley with the West Side Wheel Up, the Samurai (of Singletrack), the Cheakamus Challenge. The bike park is open into October. If anything, its going to get a lot busier around here."
To find out more about trail maintenance nights, Loonie Races, clinics and other WORCA events, visit the Web site at www.worca.com.