Why Whistler? A question that Whistler locals get asked all the time. And, although there are a variety of responses to this question, you can be sure they’ll answer with passion, pride and a fun story.
What is it about these mountains that draw people to them and then won’t let them go? How does the balance of work and lifestyle work here? What gets under people’s skin and embeds itself so deep that Whistler becomes part of their soul?
We ask a variety of Whistler locals Why Whistler? In Video 6, we chat with Trevor Ferrao, Executive Director of the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, known locally as WORCA. We talk about getting out of the city, the perks of working from home and how digging in the dirt builds more than bike trails.
What Drew You to Whistler?
Initially, I came for the winters and the snowboarding. I grew up in London, England, in the city, but I wanted to get out to the mountains. I did seasons at different resorts in BC and Alberta; Fernie, Red Mountain and Lake Louise, and then I came to Whistler, which also had a lot more mountain biking. Although I came for the winter, it’s the summer season and the biking that made me stay in Whistler.
How Did You Get to Where You Are Today?
After university, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had a degree in mathematics, operational research, statistics and economics, so looking at careers, the main ones were chartered accountancy or actuarial work. I picked chartered accountancy because it was the quicker qualification, and also because I knew I wanted to travel a lot, and I thought that qualification would give me the best chance of doing that.
Within a year of getting into that work, I knew the city life wasn’t for me. My main hobby, at the time, was snowboarding, and I wanted to find a way to do that most of the time, so I moved to Canada, became an instructor and it led to working in events in snow sports and then mountain biking.
When the WORCA role was posted it looked like the dream job to me. I bring my background in chartered accountancy to the business and administrative side, but also my experience in outdoor sports events. I’ve worked for Whistler Mountain Bike Park and for Crankworx running events, and that experience helps with all the WORCA events that happen throughout the biking season. I also know all the trails, because I ride them! It seemed like the perfect fit.
I’ve now been working for WORCA as their Executive Director for three years, that’s actually when the job was created, but I’ve been a WORCA member since 2005 when I first came to Whistler. Working for a non-profit that has a lot of impact on the community is why I do the job. It’s a lot of work, and there’s lots involved; it’s challenging but very rewarding. It’s not something my friends or family would have expected, some of them are a bit jealous, ha ha!
What Does an Average Day Look Like?
It starts with emails and administrative work. I’m the first point of contact for WORCA, so members, stakeholders and sponsors come through to me. I also check in with our staff. We have a trail crew and a trails administrator, so I make sure they’re all set up. We also run youth camps, so I’m in contact with our Dirt Camp Manager who organizes a large group of instructors. I’m in constant contact with our board of directors. We have 12 of them, with lots of different roles and I coordinate them. For example, we have a member of the board who is the Trails Director, and I assist with the backend logistics, like registration for our volunteer Trail Nights.
One of the things I love about my job is that I work from home. So, as long as I’m getting the work done I try to get out for a lunch ride. I live in Cheakamus and there are trails within a minute of my home. It’s awesome. When I lived back in London, it used to take me about an hour to get to any trails. Having world-class trails on my doorstep is amazing, I love that.
What’s the Future for WORCA?
Before I started in my role, WORCA was run purely by volunteers, so I had to set up lots of procedures and structures. Since I started I’ve managed to increase revenue by 50%, which means more money going into the trails, which is the key part of what we do. The benefit is that people can see the trails have better maintenance. We just had an increase in our funding this year from the RMOW, which is really key.
We’ve also had a great turnout for our volunteer trail nights. It brings the community together and means there’s a lot more work getting done on the trails.
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What Role Does Biking Play in Whistler?
Biking is huge. The main sports people come here for are skiing and snowboarding in the winter and biking in the summer. Most of the trails in Whistler were built by volunteers, avid bikers who came here, wanted to stay and built trails. The sport’s grown massively over the last ten years. Each year we’re seeing an increase in bikers to the Sea to Sky area. it’s an important hobby, not just for locals, but for visitors too.
What are the Trails Like in Whistler?
We’re known for world-class trails. Historically, it’s been the more challenging trails that people recognize here. We have steep terrain, and the original trails were quite technical. Over the years we’ve definitely built more beginner and intermediate trails, this has been a key focus so that we can make the trails accessible to more people.
There are lots of people in Whistler who have come for the winters and never mountain biked before and then discover the sport in the summertime. There’s definitely a need for more beginner and intermediate trails because of this.
How Did WORCA start?
It was created in 1989, so over thirty years ago, as an advocacy group. Basically, bikers in town wanted to ensure there was access to trails and they set up WORCA for that main reason. They wanted to bring the community together and raise some funds, so they started events like the Toonie Rides. All the trails we maintain and advocate for are multi-use, so they’re not just for the bikers. We’re increasingly seeing members who are runners and hikers who use the trails here.
What Do You Love About Whistler?
I’ve travelled a lot, and Whistler’s the best place for me. I just love that the whole community is passionate about sports and the outdoor activities that we do here, whether that’s skiing, snowboarding, biking, or hiking. Everyone’s really passionate about that and continues to be.
There are lots of other resorts around the world, but I don’t think any have as many world-class activities all year-round. Whistler has become busier in the summertime, when I first came here it was the winters that were busy, now the summers seem busier. The spring and fall are great times of the year too, it’s year-round here.
Has Living in Whistler Changed or Influenced You?
My quality of life has definitely gone up. I get to enjoy my hobbies a lot more. When I lived in England, I worked in an office and didn’t have as much time to enjoy outdoor activities. That’s been huge.
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What are Some of the Challenges With Living in Whistler?
The cost of living is pretty high, that’s something you have to accept and work with. I was in shared housing for many years until I got my own place a couple of years ago. Renting was hard, I went through a few years when it was really tough to find somewhere to live. Luckily, there are some systems in place, like Whistler Housing Authority, who really helped me.
Emigrating to a new country is hard. It took me a long time to apply for my permanent residency; I applied on my own and it took about four years. It was a tough period of time to find work visas and work it all out. I had to move back and forth between Canada and the UK at one point, which was challenging. In the end, it paid off.
What’s Whistler’s Heart & Soul?
The people and community. We’re full of passionate people who really love life in Whistler, and moved here specifically to enjoy the outdoors. I think you notice that. When visitors come and see what life is like here in Whistler they begin to understand just how passionate we are about the outdoors. I think that comes across when you meet people who live here.
WORCA is made up of avid mountian bikers and it brings us together with a common goal, which is having amazing, world-class trails to ride. Seeing local kids in the youth camps really enjoying themselves and making connections within the community is great.
Favourite Mountain Bike Trails in Whistler?
Some of my favourite trails in Whistler are actually close to my home in Cheakamus. I love the flowy trails we have, like High Side and HiHi, which are intermediate flow trails. Then I do a loop that takes me to some more technical trails like Business Time and AM/PM, which are rocky and rooty. I like a mix of those different trails, anything where I can find my flow.
How Do You Name the Trails?
The builders are involved and historically it was them that got to decide on the name. A lot of the original trails were unsanctioned trails, there was no approval process back in the day, but now there is. The newer trails, which take a couple of years to go through that process, are still named by the builder(s), but WORCA’s board of directors will have some say as well. The builders spend hundreds of hours out in the forest, so they have the best ideas about what to call them.
How Do People Get Involved in WORCA?
We welcome everyone here. There’s a mix of trails, from beginner to expert. The trails are open to everyone and are multi-use, for bikers, hikers, runners, dog walkers, etc. We encourage anyone coming to Whistler to check out the WORCA website, we have lots of info on there about trail etiquette, trail info and how to help out.
We have volunteer trail nights, which is a great way to learn how our trails are built and maintained from experienced builders. It allows people to give back, you can really see what’s involved in the work and then you’ve made your mark. Every time you ride that section of trail you can feel good, knowing you did a bit of work on it.
You can also join a Toonie Ride, which is more of a social event, where you can feel part of the community. We change the courses every week and there’s something for all riders. When I first came here, this is where I met people. I remember at one of the first Toonie Ride après, I met the Mayor of Whistler and he welcomed me to town!
If you want to join a WORCA event, become a member or sponsor, or need trail information, take a look at WORCA’s website and sign up for their newsletter to stay connected. For some local suggestions on where to ride in Whistler, check out Insider’s Guide: Cross-Country Biking in Whistler.
Ross Reid is our talented videographer on this project. To see more of his work visit his website.