December 29, 2016 Features & Images » Feature Story

Best of Whistler 2016: Sports and recreation 


Favourite summer athlete: Brandon Semenuk

Whistler's king of summer reigned supreme again in 2016.

The 25-year-old slopestyle superstar may have had a slightly down year by his lofty standards, namely suffering a 14th-place finish at Red Bull Joyride at Crankworx.

However, he bookended the season with wins in Rotorua, New Zealand and at Red Bull Rampage in California, and his no-holds-barred approach to riding has helped win him fans the world over.

Semenuk's Facebook page boasts nearly 160,000 boosters, many of whom regularly sing his praises.

"Always super creative moves, master of two-wheeled motion air artistry!" one fan raved in early November.

When one can transcend athletics and move into the realm of art, it's easy to see why Semenuk has held onto the title for three years running.

Downhill racer and two-time Official World Whip-Off Champion Finn Iles took the second spot and enduro racer Jesse Melamed scored the third position.

Favourite summer athlete: Brandon Semenuk - ROB PERRY
  • Rob Perry
  • Favourite summer athlete: Brandon Semenuk

Favourite winter athlete: Marielle Thompson

When healthy, there's arguably no better women's ski-cross racer on the planet.

The two-time FIS Crystal Globe winner has been edged out for the overall honour in the two most recent seasons, but the 2014 Olympic champion is primed to be in the conversation again this season. The 24-year-old won two of her first three races of 2016-17 and now has hit the World Cup podium 27 times in her young career.

Thompson has now won this award two years in a row after wresting it from another Olympic ski-cross champion, Ashleigh McIvor-DeMerit, in last year's poll.

Snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll took second place and freeskier Sean Pettit, aka the Friendly Ripper, jumped up into third.

Favourite winter athlete: Marielle Thompson - MITCH WINTON/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Mitch Winton/
  • Favourite winter athlete: Marielle Thompson

Favourite junior athlete: Finn Iles

Being a world champion will earn you a ton of love.

Iles crossed that off his list in a big way in 2016, winning the UCI downhill junior world championships race as well as the overall World Cup title this year. Iles won three of the six series races he entered while taking the runner-up position in the other half of the races.

The 17-year-old also added his second Official Whip-Off World Championship title right here in Whistler during Crankworx in August.

"It was a dream, a hope for the end of the season to be able to have won both, the overall and world champs, but in the first gate of the year, I was more worried about trying to qualify for that race," Iles told Pique in September. "I think that this season has just been the best I could have hoped for."

Year-round phenom Finn Finestone, perhaps the heir apparent to Iles, snagged second while snowboarder Jayden Chomlack found himself in third.


Favourite run on Whistler Blackcomb: Peak to Creek

It's hard to say what is now longer: this run or its supremacy atop the polls.

Peak to Creek has won four years in a row since Pique merged the mountains in this question, and it was a longtime winner for Whistler Mountain before that.

And why not? Clocking in at 11 kilometres in length with over 1,500 metres of continuous vertical, you get the opportunity to experience a little bit of everything there is to love about skiing and snowboarding when you saddle up for the challenge. Of course, that includes some beer and nachos at Dusty's afterwards.

The Dave Murray Downhill edged Blackcomb's lone podium finisher, 7th Heaven, for the runner-up spot.


Best XC ski area: Lost Lake

You don't have to stray far from Whistler Village to get in some quality cross-country skiing.

Voters have maintained for years that the Lost Lake ski area suits them just fine for all their Nordic needs. That remained the case this year, as the trail network garnered nearly 350 votes to take the second-highest share of any winner in this section.

With over 30 kilometres of beginner, intermediate and expert trail to explore, glorious views of both Whistler and Blackcomb and easy free shuttle access from Lot 4, what's not to love?

"Lost Lake Park is beautiful no matter what the season but in winter, it's particularly outstanding," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says, noting the detailed grooming and night skiing options are also favoured by voters.

Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley was also beloved, garnering nearly 300 votes while the resort proved it had a bounty of tertiary options, with seven others all knotting for third place.


Best bike trail: A-Line

This iconic trail has now earned its triple-A rating.

Having now taken the mantle for three consecutive years, A-Line has enshrined itself in local lore as the one to be reckoned with.

The 2.6-kilometre jewel of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park contains a 327-metre elevation drop, 39 jumps and 30 berms for the opportunity to mix it up out there on the trails.

The trail always seems to provide a wild ride, with comparisons to feeling like one is playing a video game to being jerked around in a roller coaster regularly tossed out.

The Lost Lake Trails were a close second, narrowly edging out Lord of the Squirrels.


Best thing to do while injured: Watch Netflix

For the second year in a row, binge-watching bested binge-drinking as the activity of choice for those stuck in the infirmary.

Stranger Things will have that effect.

If you found yourself turned upside down somewhere on the mountains, a trip to the Upside Down was in order.

Admittedly, sometimes the third-place finisher and perennial favourite — drink — could be combined with a little Netflixin' (Hoyne's Dark Matter paired well with the Stranger Things finale, we'll tell you) and while much of the streaming services original content is quality, chaining itself to Adam Sandler programming may drive many subscribers to drink.

Option No. 2, a visit to the Scandinave Spa, would likely be best sans Netflix and alcohol.


Best WORCA Toonie RIDe sponsor: Slope Side Supply, Scandinave Spa, Lucia Gelato, Mount Currie Coffee Company, Peaked Pies

Hand anyone a list of the above sponsors and I guarantee you 90 per cent will say 'Sounds like a nice way to spend an evening.'

Throw in a Toonie Ride on top of it and it sounds like heaven for locals.

Each race has multiple sponsors and this team of boosters has been a regular favourite, for obvious reasons like getting a dip in the Scandinave, but hadn't taken top spot as a unit until now. (Scandinave won with Burnt Stew Café in 2012.)

Chromag, North Shore Billet and The Grocery Store took second spot while Coastal Culture, Creekside Dental and Creekside Market teamed up for third.


Best golf course: Nicklaus North Golf Course

Though this category is always hotly contested, the resort's northernmost course seems to stay the coolest.

The Golden Bear's beauty of a setup along Green Lake has held golfers' attention since its opening in 1996.

The par-71, 6,961-yard emerald of a course beckons everyone to book a tee time at first glance.

Director of golf Andrew Smart praised superintendent Gerrit Woods for his work in creating the best possible 18 holes.

"It's a nice surprise, a pleasant surprise," Smart says of the honour. "It wasn't as warm as 2015 but it was a good year, not too wet and lots of support from our members and from the community, which is really nice.

"The conditioning of the golf course is something that we always try to maintain and you always have to be a little bit lucky with regards to that. It's a lot of Mother Nature, but like I said, Gerrit has done an exceptional job."

Whistler Golf Club took second spot this year, narrowly eking out the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club.


Best sports event: Crankworx

The stoke always seems a little bit stokier in August.

Locals have a little extra bounce in their steps come Crankworx time, and with the best riders in the world coming to the resort for 10 days of mountain-bike shredding, it's easy to understand why anyone would spring right along.

Big crowds came to the new pump track site up at Base II, and capping the celebrations with Red Bull Joyride on Sunday morning also proved to be a popular move.

Crankworx Events Inc. general manager Darren Kinnaird was pleased to receive the honour once again.

"We're just trying to create better experiences for people at Crankworx and I think both of those moves created better experiences for people to enjoy Crankworx," he says.

Kinnaird notes the festival is expanding its reach with a fourth World Tour stop being added in Innsbruck, Austria to the existing roster of: Whistler; Les Gets, France; and Rotorua, New Zealand.

But where they're looking to build the local event is at the grassroots.

"We're exploring more ways to get more people the opportunity to participate," he says, noting more or bigger Kidsworx events and an expansion of the SRAM Canadian Open Challenger Enduro race could be in order. "We're just trying to find more ways to get more people riding bikes."

Crankworx's 470 votes were the most out of any in the Sports and Recreation category, and were well over double the consolation winner World Ski and Snowboard Festival's tally. Subaru Ironman Canada took third place.

Best sports event: Crankworx - JUSTA JESKOVA / TOURISM WHISTLER
  • Justa Jeskova / Tourism Whistler
  • Best sports event: Crankworx

Best fitness facility: Meadow Park Sports Centre

It's good enough for the Vancouver Canucks and it's good enough for a good number of our voters, too.

The NHL team often holds its training camps at the complex, as it did this past September. In addition to the hockey rink, Meadow Park has a swimming pool, gym and outdoor sports fields and is everything one could ask for to get and/or stay in shape.

"There are so many people who use the Meadow Park Sports Centre to do one thing or another whether it's play hockey or go to a fitness class or use the extensive aquatics facilities," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says. "It's hard to believe that facility has been open since 1993 because the municipality has always been concerned about keeping it refurbished and relevant, so there's been a lot of time and thought that has gone into, first of all, the construction of the facility in the first place and then renovating it over time to make sure that it stays current with what the community needs."

Whistler Core took a strong second while Bounce trampolined up into third place.

favourite fitness facility: Meadow Park Sports Centre - BRAD KASSELMAN/COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Brad Kasselman/
  • favourite fitness facility: Meadow Park Sports Centre

Best adventure tour: Ziptrek Ecotours

If you're looking to raise the hair on your arms just a little bit, you'd be best off reaching out to Ziptrek.

The zipline expedition taking folks up Blackcomb Mountain before ripping down is again at the top of the heap in this category. And just for good measure, Ziptrek's two-kilometre-long Sasquatch line was voted in as the third-place finisher.

In a text message, CEO Charles Steele was pleased to receive the award.

"Myself and the Ziptrek team are absolutely thrilled once again with this prestigious honour. We always strive to provide customers with the best adventure tour in Whistler, and your award has made it all worthwhile," he wrote.

Canadian Wilderness Adventures' snowmobiling tours, meanwhile, took second place.

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