Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Whistler, baby!! Yeah!

I watched Austin Powers on the flights home, can you tell? :D

Whistler Bike Park 2019!

Seriously, that word pretty well sums up the park, the trip, and the experience!
I just got back from Whistler, BC and wanted to capture some of this to share, as well as to capture for the next time I go there!
Brief summary:

Flew from Minnesota to Whistler. 5 days in early September, so late season at the bike park.
Three days of riding at Whistler Bike Park, with and easy travel day on both ends.
Rented fleet DH bikes.
Stayed in Whistler Village.

The slightly longer version.

So my coworker Bryan and I had thrown around the idea of going to Whistler last year when we got back from a trip to Trestle in Colorado. I didn't think much of it since I don't feel up to the task of hitting big gnarly stuff and that is what Whistler is known for. Fast forward to a couple months ago and we had not organized a Colorado trip this summer thanks to hectic work schedules. I stopped by Bryan's desk one day and said; "Hey, lets go to Whistler" to which he responded "OK!" and so the planning began.
We really only had one week that worked, the week after Labor Day, in early September. Not ideal as this is approaching the end of the Bike Park season and trails are in worse shape the later in the season you go. Fly and Ride was always the plan, as driving from Minnesota to the west coast really rather sucks and would take about 3 days, one way.
A quick look at tickets and we settled on one-way MSP to YVR for about $550. A little on the expensive side if you are used to flying to Denver for half that, but no layover meant optimizing a travel day.
Lodging was a little more complex thanks to the sheer number of options available. Everything from overpriced hostels to overpriced uber-lux boutique hotels. From the foot of the chair to down the road in Squamish. Eventually we decided a place with two actual beds and a kitchen were the right combo; Stoney Lodge Lagoons ended up being our home away from home and it was great! Two bedrooms (one bunkbed so three would have been cozy but doable), a full kitchen, two baths, our own hot-tub, and underground parking is included. It ended up being right across the street form the grocery store so I was happy. At around $1200CAD for the whole time, again, very manageable. We booked through the Whistler resort website so we were able to bundle with our bike park passes, saving a tiny amount. Those were around $200CAD/pp.

Rental cars, for some reason, are incredibly cheap in Canada versus the US. The whole 5 days was only $115 for a "standard" car from Alamo and we only drove up and back which burned $34 in gas. A hell of a bargain! Again, if you had four in your party the $10/day upgrade to a small SUV probably would have been a good idea. Both me and Bryan travel with giant Klim gear bags so we need plenty of luggage space.

This left the bikes. This is where having a little local knowledge would have really helped. When you are scouring the internet looking for deals; all of the fleet DH bikes look the same. The difference is in quality of servicing and customer service. We ended up renting from Whistler Sports Rental/Gateway Bikes. They were cheap at $97CAD/day for three days. While I was not disappointed with Gateway and their Norco fleet, over the couple of days riding I think I will try somebody else the next time I go, unless they send me a coupon or something. We rented 2x Norco Aurum bikes, which come from Norco with Magic Mary bike park tires, which we thought would be good since they are Schwalbe. Turns out; Magic Marys are total garbage when they get wet. This wasn't a thing until the last day we rode and it decided to rain. Bryan was so dissapointed in the tires he made me swap bikes for a minute mine had a Maxxis Minion DHF on the front) just to make sure he wasn't imagining things. About 100 yards down Creekside and I low sided into a berm, low speed. Yup, those tires are garbage in the wet.
I can't really blame Gateway Bikes for this, I'm sure that is the way they get them from Norco, but how has nobody else every complained about it?! Weird, and noted.

This isn't a very easy reading blog post and I suppose it's not supposed to be. It's a collection of thoughts, to share and keep for later. Here is a little prose though:
Whistler Bike Park. What can I say about this place? Not much actually. If you are reading this you probably have watched youtubes and read pinkbike articles about it already. I had high expectations and this place and this trip blew them out of the water. It is such a good place to ride that all I will tell you is to go and experience it for yourself. It's worth it. Most of the people we met on the chair were from somewhere way further away than the Midwest: Latvia, Austria, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There is a reason they come to Whistler. It is amazing.

Costs in USD:

Flight: $230 (plus miles)
Baggage $60 for both ways
Rental Car $146.30 (includes gas)
Condo Rental for 4 nights (includes 2x3day bike passes) $1116.15
Bike Rental $434.26 (for two bikes)
Top of the World Ticket $18 $52
Food $146
Beer $18
Bylaw Ticket $75 (youll have to ask)

Pro Tips:

Customs/Immigration is easy for US Citizens. I even asked for a Canadian stamp and the guy gave me one! On our return flight we connected through Seattle, but you go through US Customs at Vancouver airport! This made our worries over a short layover in Seattle a non-issue.

If you ever wondered why there are no women MTB riders in your area I can tell you why: They are all at Whistler. Seriously. probably 20%+ women riders. Sexy foreign accents, beautiful whips... All healthy and into breathing crisp mountain air and willing to take chances. Seriously, what am I doing in Minnesota still?

For your first trip to the Bike Park, here are my pro tips/life hacks:

  • Rent the resort bikes. They looked super nice and didn't cost radically more than the bikes we got which were just ok.
  • Stay in the Village. Its just too convenient and cost is okay, plus you can book lodging and bike passes together for a tiny discount.
  • Don't worry about the resort being outrageously expensive. If you flew here you have enough money to eat and drink as you normally would. My food budget included buying groceries and lunch sandwiches as well as having a Tim Horton's double-double in the morning.
  • Check the Photographer location board in the morning. Getting one or two professional photos really does make you feel like a rockstar. Worth it.
  • Pads/Armor. This is a sticking point from some people. Coming from Trestle where they pretty much demand that you wear an armor vest, Whistler didn't care. Most of the young guys bombing A-Line appear to be wearing knee pads, pants, and a T shirt. (and a helmet of course) The more serious ones had Leatt braces. Otherwise I just wore rental knee and elbow pads, fox DH shorts and armored chamois, and my EVOC CC Race 3L. I saw a few folks in full vests, but I would say the majority of riders were just rocking the pads and thats it.
  • Take a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee. Everywhere in Whistler accepted CC, debit, and several would take USD or CAD. Cash change is always in CAD.