Bike Park continues to grow 

Ridership up 60 per cent again this season

In its fourth year of operation, rider numbers for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park are showing no signs of levelling off.

This season, the Bike Park logged more than 46,000 rider visits, an increase of almost 61 per cent compared to the approximately 28,000 rider visits in 2001. Visits to the park increased 60 per cent from 1999 to 2000, and 55 per cent from 2000 to 2001.

"It’s been fantastic," said Jason Roe, the mountain bike park manager.

Roe credits most of the growth to the word of mouth, and the park’s reputation in the Lower Mainland and as far away as Seattle.

"I think it’s just the fact that the word got out on the experience, and how big of a rush it is, and how easy it is. It appeals to the people who have the big bikes," he added.

Events have also had an effect on park ridership. For example, "we have had tons of success with the Joyride (bikercross) event, that relationship has done a lot for us. The Joyride, with the Air Downhill, got the big-name riders here and those people bring with them a lot of exposure in the international market."

Bike magazines have also started to take notice, and the editors have commented that the park is one of the biggest things to happen to mountain biking.

Riders like Steve Peat of Great Britain, one of the top downhillers in the world, have also given favourable reviews to the park on their Web sites, which are accessed by a world-wide audience.

When asked how the Whistler park stacks up against others, Roe doesn’t flinch when he says that Whistler’s reputation internationally is "that we have the best park in the world."

The mountain is committed to keeping it that way.

"If we’re going from 28,000 to 46,000, it’s safe to say that there’s still a lot of opportunity out there," said Roe.

Making the most out of the opportunity made for a busy summer for construction and maintenance crews. The number of maintenance workers was increased, and the park acquired a second machine so that one could work full-time on maintenance while the other was used to build new trails.

"We definitely had to expand the trails this year to deal with the growth," Roe said.

"And if we hadn’t done those lift upgrades at the start of the season, we definitely wouldn’t have seen that growth, there’s just no way we could have done it."

On the trail side, work crews built Schleyer, after local freeride pioneer Richie Schley. Crews also started a new beginner trail called Easy Does It, creating a side-trail called Dirt Merchant in the process. In the closing weeks, the park also opened a new expert trail called Clown Shoes that was used in the B.C. Freeride Challenge at the end of September. Also new this year was the popular drop park, and the expert skills area, which Roe admits was not as successful as it could have been.

In terms of lift access, the park retrofitted the Fitzsimmons chair to handle bike traffic, increasing lift capacity. The gondola was also opened to mountain bikers on busy days.

Programs were also a success for the park, with participation in the kids camp program doubling. Richie Schley’s camps did well, as did the Summer Gravity Camps, and the new camps offered by Andrew Shandro. The various women’s camps were also at capacity.

The Extended Play program, where the park was opened in the evenings on Tuesdays and Saturdays, was a huge draw, and Roe said the park plans to add another night to the program next year. In addition they hope to open after Thanksgiving, as long as the weather holds out.

For next season, the Bike Park will finish Easy Does It, which will go all the way to valley.

"Further than that, we are sorting out what our next full trail is going to be, and that might be something in the intermediate area," Roe said.

They will add another jump and drop park to meet demand, in the hope of slowing people down.

"We’re going to look for ways to lengthen the time it takes to get to the valley, decreasing lift lines by adding on to the riding time. Things like play areas and air areas where riders can session," said Roe.

"The Joyride area, with the jump park and air park, was a huge win for us because people stayed in those areas for a half hour or an hour at a time. If we pulled those away, we would have people cycling to the lifts that much quicker."

Next year the park will also start to look upwards into the area around the Garbanzo chair, where Roe hopes to have a network of trails in place in the next few years. This will increase variety, spread riders out, and create some epic rides in the process.

Also for next year, the mountain will increase the size and quality of its rental bikes, offering visitors bigger downhill bikes with disc brakes.

The relationship with WORCA, which was mutually beneficial, will continue.

"That was definitely a win for us too, and we were able to increase our pass sales quite a bit from last year," said Roe.

Financially, Roe said the park is continuing to reinvest in trail development and maintenance.

"We had a good year, but instead of one machine out there building trails, we had two. We also increased the patrol side of it too. You could say that we are growing our expenses in proportion to the park, but it’s definitely proving viable."

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park will reopen next season on May 17 with MudFest, featuring the Crud to Mud Downhill event. In this event competitors ski or snowboard a GS course from the top of the Garbanzo chair to Olympic station, and then ride their bikes to Whistler Village.

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