Over the last few decades, the relatively young sport of mountain biking (MTB) has evolved immensely, growing from a niche activity to a mainstream sport. Bikes have gotten lighter, safer and more intuitive to ride. Trails are crafted masterfully for longevity, sustainability and maximum fun. Some watershed moments have occurred in the sport, moments that acted as a catalyst to MTB’s meteoric rise. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park (WMBP) opening 25 years ago was one of those moments. 

The Chair That Changed it All

Upgraded during the summer of 2023 and commissioned in time for the 2023-24 ski season, the Fitzsimmons Chair is back in operation in time for the Whistler Bike Park’s 2024 season. It now sports a new rack system, allowing up to five people and five bikes on every chair that passes through the station.

What the Whistler Mountain Bike Park looked like in the early 2000s with a rider heading down the park toward Skier's Plaza in the summer sun.
What the Whistler Mountain Bike Park looked like in the early 2000s. PHOTO GREG GRIFFITH / WHISTLER MUSEUM & ARCHIVES

But back in 1999, having a chairlift dedicated to mountain bikes was a relatively new concept. Bike tours had been running on Whistler Mountain for years through the local company Whistler Backroads, which used the Whistler Village Gondola for access, but the mechanics of making a chair lift work for mountain bikes were still being figured out.

“The original system simply hung all bikes on chairs with hooks, which required multiple operator staff to lift, load and unload them,” says Rob McSkimming, former VP of Business Development at Whistler Blackcomb. “The bikes back then were so big and heavy, there was no way we could keep the lift moving without stopping. We went to a fabrication company in Vancouver with some ideas and ended up getting the tray-style carriers built, which riders could load themselves. Those still work pretty well today.”

But an efficient lift system was just one piece of the puzzle. To attract riders and keep them coming back, Whistler Bike Park needed to build the best trails in the world.

B-Line to A-Line to Beyond 

Whistler Mountain Bike Park is renowned for its machine-built flow trails. A-Line’s reputation for high-speed berms and dozens of jumps is legendary, with people from all over the world flocking to Whistler to ride it.   

“The sensation you feel on machine-made jump trails, that’s the stuff of addiction right there,” says Hailey Elise, who began riding the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in 2012 and is now sponsored by several mountain bike brands. “You don’t get this calibre of flow trails in many places, and you certainly can’t get in as many laps as you can on the Fitzsimmons Chair. When you’re able to repeat, repeat, repeat, you start to feel like you’re perfecting how you ride these trails. At the start of the season, you may ride them one way, by the end of the season, you can interpret the same trail very differently.”

While A-Line receives more recognition, its predecessor B-Line has an equal impact on the sport. The magic of B-Line was—and still is—its ability to cater to riders of varying expertise levels.

Two mountain bike riders tackle B-line on Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
The magical B-Line trail in Whistler Mountain Bike Park. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

Advanced riders love blasting through at speed and doubling up smaller jumps while intermediates hone their cornering skills and build confidence on jumps. Novices, meanwhile, discover where and how to brake effectively while keeping their momentum up throughout the trail’s many bermed corners.

The trail’s width and ample pullout spots are perfect for coaches managing their classes and riders taking the opportunity to rest during their laps. The B-Line style of trail has been replicated in bike parks and trail centres all over the world.

Upwards and Onwards: Expansion of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park

The Fitzsimmons Zone (on the lower slopes of Whistler Mountain) became proof that the Whistler Bike Park would only grow. By linking the Fitzsimmons Chair with the Garbanzo Chair, the vertical drop of the bike park more than tripled. Advanced riders, who love fast and technical downhill trails had an entirely new zone to play in, but Garbanzo eventually got its own intermediate flow trails such as Blue Velvet and Una Moss.

A biker tackles a dirt trail in the Top of the World area, in Whistler Mountain Bike Park in the mid-90s.
What the Top of the World area looked like in the mid-90s. PHOTO GREG GRIFFITH / WHISTLER MUSEUM & ARCHIVES

Still, having more vertical and more terrain than most bike parks in the world wasn’t stopping McSkimming from setting his sights even higher. The peak of Whistler was already a famous lift-accessed hiking and sightseeing attraction. Adding a bike trail was the next logical step to appeal to the evolving tastes of mountain bikers.

“The desire for more adventurous, big alpine laps—what’s now the enduro scene—was rapidly growing and we wanted to make sure we were at the forefront of it,” says McSkimming.

Two mountain bikers head down the alpine, Top of the World trail in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
Epic views of ancient glaciers and volcanoes on the Top of the World trail. PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA

The result was the Top of the World trail, which descends from the Peak of Whistler down into the Garbanzo zone, with options to ride out-of-bounds trails all the way to Creekside. The trail was opened to the public in 2012 and was an instant hit. It is by far the most photographed bike trail in Whistler. 

“Every year I’m blown away by the experience of Top of the World; riding the Peak Chair up and the panoramic views at the top of Whistler,” says Elise. “Then you get to descend an adventure trail without having suffered from pedaling and pushing your bike into the alpine. There’s nothing else quite like it.”

The Creekside Connection

While Whistler Bike Park had already reached the alpine, its biggest expansion was yet to come. In 2017, the Creekside Gondola opened for summer bike park operations with a single descent trail down to Creekside. Over the next six years, trail crews spent countless hours building a 25-kilometre network of flow trails and singletrack descents, with options for every level of rider.

A shot of two downhill mountain bikers riding the trails under the Creekside Gondola in the Creekside Zone of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
Blue and black trails weave their way down the mountain in the Creekside Zone. PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA

Creekside also has a fully equipped base area with guest service, retail and rental stores, not to mention the fabled Dusty’s Bar & BBQ patio for post-ride après. With a multi-level parkade (with complimentary parking) there’s every reason for visiting mountain bikers and locals alike to ride from Creekside. 

“Creekside adds a really well-rounded element to the bike park experience,” says Elise. “There’s more water flowing in that area, so it’s cooler than the Fitz and Garbanzo zones.  It has loads of flow trails but also has newer tech trails that have their own character. It lets  you stretch out the adventure of a day in the bike park, plus you’re never waiting long in line for the Creekside Gondola.”

Here’s to Another 25 Years of Progression

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park has played a major role in mountain biking’s growth over the last 25 years, from innovative trail design to operating one of the largest women-only development programs in the world; Women’s Nights. The youth in the Sea to Sky have grown up in the bike park, and some have even gone on to win downhill and enduro races on the world stage.

As mountain biking continues to evolve with the rise of e-bikes, there’s no doubt that Whistler Bike Park will look for more ways to continue the progression.

Two mountain bike riders head down the Top of the World trail in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park as the sun sets.
See you on the trails! PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA

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Author

Vince Shuley is a freelance copywriter and outdoor recreationist who can be found roaming the mountains around Whistler with his wolfdog. He also brews his own beer.