Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Maxed Out: Right-of-way rules for Whistler’s Valley Trail this summer

'Whistler will soon be under siege.'
Be sure to mind the unwritten rules of the road on Whistler's Valley Trail this summer.

Whistler will soon be under siege. If you’ve been paying attention and can trust your senses, you might have detected, over the recently past long weekend, a hint of what’s to come. We were awash in it during most of spring skiing. As was the case with the rapidly disappearing snow, there’s no escaping its force.

Summertime. Sunshine. Heat.

The spring bonus of summertime heat lasted long enough to kickstart what’s euphemistically known as Wildfire Season, one of two major seasons in Canada, winter being the other. But since those fires were largely, though not exclusively, limited to the northern reaches of the two Western provinces, the warm, sunny weather played out locally in fresh sunburns, clouds of new insects, and the rapid de-layering of our wardrobe.

Local shops selling ice cream were ecstatic, if unprepared. In New York City, more than any place I’ve ever visited, there is a breed of street vendor. Those of you who grew up in Whistler may not be familiar with that term. It describes a group of independent merchants who—I’m not making this up—actually sell their goods from the sidewalks of town, adding colour, flavour and excitement to the street scene. On any bright, sunny day in the Big Apple, they’ll be hawking sunglasses, visors, hats and sunscreen. This group of entrepreneurs are so efficient at what they do that, at the first drop of rain, their tables are magically transformed into umbrellas, cheap plastic raincoats, and windbreakers.

So it was with Whistler’s ice cream merchants. Overnight, they went from selling hot chocolate and the promise of summer to come, to selling ice cream cones. While I’m sure they rotate their stock regularly, it would not surprise me to imagine some of those tubs, containing the less-popular flavours, still had scoop marks from last summer in them.

Since that first expeditionary force of visitors crept up the valley, there have been several others of greater and lesser intensity. None have been more than a small taste of what’s to come, but taken together, they foretell of the full-blown invasion a few short weeks away:  WEEKENDERS!

Over the next few weekends, we’ll notice gradually but inexorably increasing numbers of weekend visitors. They’re generally pretty easy to distinguish. They tend to wander aimlessly, in groups, stopping unexpectedly, occasionally looking at maps or their phone’s map apps. They’re frequently, though not always, dressed better than you and I, and their wardrobe is more tinged with an all-over newness ours lacks. They drive nice cars and their cards are gold and platinum. We appreciate their patronage, but they do bring an unavoidable disorder to our weekend lives.

Their full fury will be unleashed on the Canada Day long weekend, when they will descend in numbers untold. I don’t want to sound alarmist, but preparedness is our best bet for peaceful coexistence.

As with any invading force, clashes occur most often where congestion and friction is inescapable. In our town of summer treats, that place is the Valley Trail, Whistler’s best, free, beautiful promenade. Congestion on the Valley Trail on any summer weekend, but particularly long weekends, makes traffic on Highway 99 seem like a cakewalk by comparison. What is, during the week, a main thoroughfare, becomes, on weekends, a scene resembling a Hong Kong alleyway, a teeming mass of people moving, it seems, in completely random motion.

Unlike, say, riding a bike in gridlocked, metropolitan, rush-hour traffic, riding a bike on the Valley Trail during a summer weekend is madness. In city traffic, you have a much better chance of anticipating the actions of the homicidal maniacs around you than you ever will on the Valley Trail. In the city, if you’ve survived the first six months of riding, you just assume some driver will make an unsignalled right turn—from the far left lane—at the upcoming intersection, running you up onto the sidewalk, into the newspaper stand. You know it’s coming and react accordingly, pummeling the hood of their car with your tire pump while questioning the marital bliss of their parents.

By contrast, on the Valley Trail, you can ride up behind someone pushing a stroller and walking a dog, followed by a child on a bike, for example. You might have had them in view for several hundred metres, during which time they did nothing more extraordinary than weave aimlessly from one side of the trail to the other. But as you approach, the probability is much greater than chance they might do something as unexpected as spreading a picnic lunch out across the breadth of the trail, resulting in a collision with a Tupperware container full of potato salad and a severe road rash salved with mayonnaise. Don’t laugh, this actually happened to someone I know.

So, as an aid to survival, I offer these simple right-of-way rules for conduct on the Valley Trail this summer. You may, of course, ignore them Monday through Friday with impunity, but they will save your bacon on the weekend.

Supreme right of way on the Valley Trail is afforded to bears. Bears are even more unpredictable than weekenders, and just as indifferent to our presence. Give them a wide berth and go slowly around blind corners.

When two bicycles meet, riders wearing spandex have the right of way over riders wearing clothes that won’t get them assaulted if they stumble inadvertently into a biker bar. If both riders are wearing spandex, the more macho bike and/or the muddier bike/bloodier rider prevails.

Bikes meeting e-bikes are an increasing problem. I believe we can look to the law of the seas for guidance. As a general rule, unpowered watercraft have the right of way over powered boats. Powerboats give way to sailboats, kayaks, and such. Unless the powered vessel is a ferry, barge or freighter flying a flag of convenience, in which case a sailboat demanding the right of way is simply a suicidal fool. So e-bikes should give way unless ridden by a suicidal fool.

When bikes meet walkers it doesn’t matter who has the right of way. Walkers will do what they please. Bikers should announce their presence to walkers well in advance. This is particularly true if they are approaching them from the front, mistakenly believing just because you’re in front of them you will be seen. The exception to this rule is a bike approaching walkers in the “wall of idiots” formation—a minimum of four abreast, blocking the entire trail. It is perfectly acceptable to choose one at random and call it a teachable moment.

Finally, unleashed dogs have unlimited right of way. They’ll take it anyway.

Be safe out there.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks