True to its roots 

The Cheakamus Challenge has always been for riders

The 20th anniversary edition of the Cheakamus Challenge takes place Sept. 21. One of the oldest mountain bike races in Canada, the event has in many ways mirrored the development of mountain biking as a sport.

And in some ways it’s a reflection of the way the sport used to be.

Since 1988 the Cheakamus Challenge, which starts in Brackendale and finishes in Whistler, has been organized by Grant Lamont, who has also played a significant role in the development of mountain biking in Whistler. Lamont recently sat down to discuss the Cheakamus Challenge and the state of mountain biking in Whistler.

"This is a hard thing. It’s not a fun run. I don’t set it up like a fun run," Lamont says of the 70-kilometre race.

"This isn’t a test, this is final exams. If you’re not prepared you pay the price. If you pay the price for something you learn, and then you come back and do better.

"We’ve sort of stuck pretty much with the same course over the years, so people can gauge their performance and their times on it. We’ve made a couple of changes over the last couple of years that added a little distance to it, but I think the distance and the quality of the experience are really highlighted by the use of the Riverside Trail and things like that that run up in Function, and then the final push over the mountain."

The race was started in 1982 by Doris Burma, who owned Summit Cycles, a bike shop housed in a trailer next to the Delta Whistler Resort.

"She was sort of like the mountain biking den mother up here," says Lamont. "Her line was she always liked to see the boys in tight shorts so that’s why she opened a bike shop.

"But the thing was really one of the first races to go off in the province."

The first edition of the race started at the Black Bear Restaurant, which was located at the Alice Lake turnoff. The course largely followed the current route: through Paradise Valley to the Cheakamus Canyon, alongside Highway 99 to Black Tusk and Brandywine Falls, then over the lava flows and the singletrack alongside the Cheakamus River to the Whistler landfill. From there it climbs up the side of Whistler Mountain to the Northwest Passage, then down the north side of the mountain to finish in the village.

When Lamont resurrected the race in 1988, after a couple of years hiatus, it was at the urging of Rick Warren, who ran Singletrack Cycles in Mons.

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