Goodbye Hurley Pass, hello Whistler alpine. Mountain bikers looking for long, flowy descents will no longer have to make the bumpy, dusty journey to the Chilcotins to get their alpine MTB fix. The Alpine Trail Network is poised to become the crown jewel of alpine riding in Whistler. A serpentine system of mountain trails, the network is a multi-year, collaborative undertaking between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) and the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). Since 2014, local trailbuilders from all three groups have been creating more than 40 kilometres of multi-use hiking and biking trails on Mount Sproatt and Rainbow Mountain.
words :: Todd Lawson
“Outside of the [Whistler Mountain] Bike Park, there is no alpine riding in Whistler,” says Jason ‘Goldie’ Smith, an RMOW Parks Department trailbuilder who has been riding in Whistler for more than two decades.
“This is gonna be our Chilcotins. Depending on the rider, there will be anything from six- to 12-hour rides all the way up to multi-day rides. You’ll be able to climb up with a bivy sac, camp under the stars and carry on the next day.”
Smith and Bart Ross, a 26-year RMOW employee, spent three years building ‘Into the Mystic,’ the official ascent trail which will serve as the main artery for the numerous planned trails that will eventually reach gems such as Infinity Lake, Camp Lake, Hanging Lake, Sproatt Peak, the Callaghan Valley and more.
“This is just the beginning,” says Ross. “It opens a whole new world of hiking and biking trails in the alpine on this side of the valley.”
And the trail quality is already very high.
“We’ve really cleaned up the forest—it almost looks like a park,” Smith says. “There are lots of places where you can take a break, get off your bike and explore viewing platforms or waterfalls. People are going to be blown away.”
Fueled by lots of cowboy coffee brewed in their little makeshift “shanty-town” camp (that moved at least four times during construction), Smith and Ross tackled the project using a miniexcavator and a Yanmar ‘power mule’ to lay a trail that will be accessible to all non-motorized user groups.
“It’s pretty steep terrain getting up there and we managed to work a bit of magic to turn the gradient into less than a ten per cent average for the entire 15-kilometre distance,” says Ross.
With proper planning and trail building ethics in place from day one, the goal is to ensure that the delicate alpine environment won’t be jeopardized by both manmade and natural erosion.
“This isn’t just a bunch of rogue trails in the forest,” Ross explains. “There will be much less degradation of the area with a proper network in place, which helps preserve the fragile ecosystem up there.”
That Coast Mountain ecosystem includes massive old-growth conifers, tall grasses, wildflowers, wildlife and waterfalls—the stuff mountain bike dreams are made of. And while many riders enjoy easier alpine access via Whistler Mountain Bike Park’s Top of the World trail, riding on this opposite side of the valley holds a different type of appeal.
“This is more like backcountry skiing,” says Smith. “More of an ‘earn your turns,’ ‘pack it in, pack it out’ riding style.”
WORCA is the gold standard of off-road cycling associations. A bedrock of trail building over the past 28 years in Whistler, the organization has already committed almost 9,000 volunteer and paid hours to Whistler’s first alpine-to-valley ‘blue’ descent—an eight-kilometre flow-fest affectionately known as ‘Lord of the Squirrels.’
“The muni providing the climb trail makes the whole idea of having a blue descent trail relevant,” says Lord of the Squirrels project manager and WORCA lead builder, Dan Raymond. “Being able to ride your bike to the top is something that was missing in Whistler. Most of the riding in the valley and in the [Bike] Park is within the forest, so to get up there and experience the views is incredible. For us, this is really the crown jewel of alpine riding. I hope people enjoy it, respect it and take care of this area. It’s going to showcase how much people want this style of riding and how the mountain biking community can be great stewards of a fragile alpine environment. We’re going to need more trails like this, and I certainly hope I get to build another one.”
For now, the only thing building is hype—and more trail. As soon as the snow melts up high, it’s game on.
HERE, NOW & THE FUTURE
After the completion of all phases, the Alpine Trail Network will include 40 kilometres of trails and campsites and be similar to provincial park trails such as Singing Pass Trail to Russet Lake and the Black Tusk/ Garibaldi Lake trail. The first phase of trails includes:
• An eight-kilometre “Lord of the Squirrels” mountain bike descent on Mount Sproatt (constructed by WORCA and currently open).
• An 18-kilometre, multi-use alpine trail system (still under construction).
• The Skywalk Trail and 19 Mile Trail for hiking that connects from the Flank Trail to Iceberg Lake, Rainbow Ridge and Screaming Cat Lake (constructed by ACC and currently open).
• Rainbow Lake Trail improvements with a focus on proper watershed hiking etiquette (currently open).
*Plans for the trail network were also developed collaboratively by the Trails Planning Working Group, which included the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Alpine Club of Canada, Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, the Cheakamus Community Forest and the Squamish Lillooet Regional District.
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