Whistler bike trails feeling the heat 

Lack of rain, ongoing fire hazard impacts local mountain bike routes

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - DUSTY DAYS A hot and dry summer has proved challenging for bike trails around Whistler.
  • Photo by Joel barde
  • DUSTY DAYS A hot and dry summer has proved challenging for bike trails around Whistler.

Hot and dry weather is taking its toll on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, say users and workers alike.

"It's pretty bad," acknowledged Pat Labrosse, trail crew supervisor for the park.

The dirt is suffering, he explained: Berms are "exploding," jumps are "crumbling" and normally grippy trails are "loose, almost ball-bearing like."

Water is the glue that binds dirt together, and without moisture, dirt "starts to fall apart," he said.

Conditions, he said, are as bad as he can recall — and he's worked in the bike park for 10 years.

Labrosse estimates five to seven workers are dispatched on a daily basis to water down trails and carry out "fire suppression."

Using snow-making equipment and hoses connected to nearby water sources, the team sprays down areas where trail maintenance and building is going on.

"If there's a machine working, we're delivering water to that area," said Labrosse.

The work, he said, is labour intensive and takes away from "actually doing trail work."

At this point, Whistler needs "days of sustained rain" in order to make an appreciable difference, he said.

That's because the dirt is "hydrophobic:" When you spray it with water, it's like a "brand new Gore-Tex jacket. The water just beads on top of it, then sheds off it, without being absorbed into the material."

Dusty trails, however, aren't limited to the bike park. Whistler's extensive trail networks are also feeling the heat.

The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA) — which employs contractors who maintain trails in the Whistler Valley — hasn't deployed crews for the past three weeks because of the fire hazard.

"We cannot use tools until the fire rating is brought down," explained Nina Cairns, trails director for WORCA. "If we hit a rock and cause a spark, it could cause a fire."

Axes, chainsaws, shovels and picks are "off limits," she said, adding that work is typically paused at this time of year.

According to Cairns, work is scheduled for next week, and trail crews will carry on with work that doesn't pose a safety risk. She encourages riders to stick to trails on the north side of town, because they are "less affected by the conditions because of the aspect they face."

Whistler's particularly dry summer comes as the bike park is expanding into the Creekside area of Whistler Mountain. And while much of the new trails are being built by two independent contractors — Gravity Logic and Joyride Bike Parks — some bike park employees are pitching in.

"We are spread a little more thin than we would normally be," said Labrosse.

"It's a bit of an unhappy coincidence that it's come along at the same time as a record dry year."

According to Mike Thomas, a mountain biker who spoke to Pique at the foot of the Fitzsimmons Express, there are plenty of "bomb holes" and "break bumps" on the trails.

Along with his son, Thomas had just come down Angry Pirate, a technical trail with some flowy sections. "It was basically three or four inches of powdered dirt on top of everything. It was so dry," he said.

"It is what it is at this time of year," said Thomas. "I don't know what they can do when it's this dry. It's still awesome," he said, smiling broadly.

For Labrosse, the challenges are stark and require innovation and creative solutions.

"We're constantly trying to develop better ways to deliver the water (to the trails)," he explained.

"In the unhappy circumstance that this becomes normal, we're working on ways to try to mitigate (the damage)."

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