Speed’s a bit low. A couple more pedal strokes. That’s more like it. Brace against the handlebars, but don’t overgrip. Index fingers hover over the brake levers, resisting the self-preservative urge to slow the rolling momentum of body and bike. The ramp comes up fast, but you’re ready for it this time, compressing the suspension in anticipation. Pop.
Hundreds of runs have boosted your confidence for an angled take off, the rear of the bike travelling slightly to the side. But that landing is coming up quickly. Eyes on the sweet spot.
The front tire touches down smoothly, the rest of the bike following naturally. Man, that felt good. Gravity just ratcheted up your speed and you eye the optimal line through the upcoming berm. Touch of brake before, let ‘em go exiting the corner. The high-pitched whir of rubber against packed dirt intensifies. Another jump lies in wait. Maybe a bit more carve of the lip this time. Pop.
If there’s one trail you could ride over and over for the rest of time, which one would it be? While that’s a difficult question for any mountain biker to answer, I’m pretty sure I know what my response would be. And it’s probably the same for a lot of riders in the Whistler Bike Park: A-Line.
This iconic trail has existed (albeit in different versions) for about 20 years now, pretty much since the official inception of the Whistler Bike Park. It was preceded by B-Line, one of the first trails to use machine excavators to build a wide, smooth trail with jump and berm features. This style of trail was subsequently coined “flow” and has played a significant part in the growth of mountain biking. A-Line was the logical sequel to B-Line, and after travelling mountain bikers got a taste of it in Whistler, flow trails started popping up all over the world. Quite a few of these flow trails were designed and built by Tom Prochazka and Dave Kelly, the brains behind trail building company Gravity Logic and A-Line’s original engineers.
A-Line doesn’t quite have the juiced-up airtime of its offspring trails like Dirt Merchant and Crabapple Hits, but that’s what I’ve always loved about it. The first time following your friend down A-Line doesn’t have to be scary, unless you make it so.
The first season or two in the bike park it was all about working my way up to simply clearing one jump on the trail (“clearing” meaning jumping fast enough and high enough to land smoothly on the down ramp) and staying out of the way of faster, more advanced riders. But with repetition, repetition, repetition, that list of uncleared jumps and features was slowly whittled down to a handful. The mid A-Line rock drop became routine after a while, but the rather large table-top jump that follows it eluded me for years. I still get heebee-jeebees rolling full tilt into that thing.
But the A-Line feature I’ve been the most intimidated by over the seasons has to be the jump known aptly as the Moonbooter, one of the largest on the trail. It has a long, steep run-in, making speed management somewhat tricky. Hit the brakes and you’ll knuckle (land with a thud on the flat table top section), launch with too much gusto and you can travel a long, long way vertically in the air before touching down, increasing your chances of losing balance in the air. You could say that about most large jumps, but the Moonbooter’s extra long landing runway can be scary as hell if you end up flying into the deep end. Touching down in the sweet spot, however, has to be one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve experienced on a mountain bike. And the best part? In the Whistler Bike Park I can ride it over and over and over again.
The bike park isn’t for everyone. Jumps are not for everyone. And crashing on jumps can be devastating. Sometimes when I land nose-heavy on the Tombstone (or any of the A-Line jumps for that matter), I scare the shit out of myself and wonder what business I have doing jumps like these without the body of a 25-year-old. But then I’ll take a few laps with my friend Dean Olynyk, who rode the bike park 134 days this year, most of those on advanced jump trails. His never-ending well of stoke to hit jumps on a bike really rubs off on those around him. He even gathered some friends and booked a private lesson on the park’s closing day so they could skip the lines and get more A-Line laps in.
I miss the bike park already.
Vince Shuley better start pedalling. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram @whis_vince.