Dan Barham and I rose dark and early for our drive to Whistler from Vancouver. Our day began at the Base Camp of the Bike Park in the Works Building. If you have ever enjoyed a coffee and a snack at Behind the Grind, then you know the place I speak of. An unassuming location, the line up of dirty Whistler Blackcomb work trucks outside the only indication of the building’s purpose.
These trucks are the work horses of the Whistler Bike Park. I think the dirt looks good.
Brian Finestone, the new face of the Whistler Bike Park, walks up and greets us with a handshake. Brian has taken over for Tom Pro, who was the keeper of the Bike Park until last year when he left to pursue Gravity Logic as a stand alone business along with Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt. Brian gives us a talk on standard procedure and introduces us to the crew we will be working with. Dave Murphy, who migrated here 10 years ago from Nova Scotia, is Brian’s right hand man, working with all the crews making sure that they are buffing the lips out just right. Shaun Parker from Quebec and John Blair, BC born and raised in Quesnel, are the shovels and the rakes of the crew today. It is their hands that will sculpt the park.
This is the face of the Bike Park going forward, Mr. Brian Finestone. Be sure to thank him if you see him snapping pictures in the park or throwing some dirt around.
The ride up the mountain in the truck is a bumpy 20 minute criss cross that begins with a weave through the Bone Yard. Dave informs us that the Bone Yard is constructed by non other than the legendary John Cowan. Now, before you throw your hands up in protest, rest assured that the cries of bad design last year have been heard and you will be pleased with the new layout that they have come up with. We round the corner and come to the Cabin.
Helmets, shovels and chainsaws decorate the walls of the cabin.
High up the mountain, shrouded in fog and trees, the appearance of the small, cedar and metal clad edifice, belies its true purpose; Ground Zero for these guys. One walks into the small building and is instantly confronted with the reality of the Bike Park. While there are three machines in use over the course of the year; two John Deere Brandt’s and one Bobcat Cat One, the bulk of the work is done by hand. Chainsaws shovels and rakes hang from the walls beside bike helmets and rain gear.
If it gets too cold, there is a fire for all the “Family” members to warm themselves by.
The day begins with a meeting to nail down the maintenance targets for the day and then closures are assigned accordingly. The goal is to have the trail to be maintained open again by lunch so that the masses can enjoy it without too much interruption. Early in the year they focus on just getting the trails open. Even with years like this when the snow just never seemed to stop the crew had 11 trails for the riders to enjoy opening weekend. After the trails have opened and had a few riders down them, the spots where there are issues become apparent and small crews roll in to do spot fixes.
What is this? Dirt Merchant closed? But that can’t be…. For long!
This morning I was blessed with a hike down my favourite trail in the world; Dirt Merchant. My history with this trail goes back to the very first time I rode the Bike Park. It was this trail that sowed the seeds of my obsession with riding here. I remember standing at the top looking down past the wooden entrance, through the trees, at the dirt tranny after the step down… and almost passing out.
Shaun and John, the daily commute.
Today there would be no passing out and there would be no riding. It was in fact the first time I had ever walked down the trail. This was also the first time I’d ever seen snow and ice covering the wooden entrance ramp to the trail. While Dan and I jockey for position, the guys man their tools and begin chipping away at the ice and clearing the snow. Once the snow is removed and the ice cleared, they pick up their tools and move further down the trail.
Dave reconstructs the lip as Shaun and John remove one of the oldest pieces of plywood known to mankind.
Dirt Merchant is a series of tables, to step up, to step downs with some berms thrown in to add to the mixture. Hiking down I was amazed at how good this trail was after such a long winter. The damage was not as bad as I had envisioned. There were locations where the melting snow had caused some erosion and of course the lips of the jumps were smashed flat. But the quick work of the crew the lips were standing ready to be launched.
The tools of the trade, when all else fails, your feet become excellent packing tools.
What I wasn’t ready for was the sight of a Bobcat nestled neatly in the berm adding a few feet to the already high lip. Marty “The Machine Guy” is working his magic, building and packing the berm using the machine with as deftly as a shovel. Marty has been here since the beginning, meaning that a lot of what you ride has his signature on it.
Marty “The Machine Guy” creating the masterpiece that is Dirt Merchant.
The Bike Park Crew is not large. There aren’t 30 guys slaving away, building the manicured trails that one would think. This year there is no set number yet, but last year there were 12 dedicated guys, out there removing rocks, fixing broken wooden structures and filling the dreaded braking bumps we all love to bark about. Now I know there are braking bumps. Let’s face it; there tonnes of braking bumps. But when you stop and think about 12 guys maintaining the entire park it’s clear that they each fight above their weight class.
Dave asking Jay “The Savage” to tone down the savage.
Further down the trail we come to a mess of construction. Dave explains that there is a ‘change” happening to the trail. Jay “The Savage” Robinson is tearing apart a large section of Dirt Merchant. I must admit that my heart sank a wee bit until I was reassured by Dave that the new features will leave you wondering why the originals were there to begin with. I will not spoil the goods, but some of you probably have already ridden the additions and know that they are great.
Shaun and John get to work with some pretty neat equipment. The Rino’s, which can take 2 guys and a dump box are a great addition to the park for 2008.
We arrive at the bottom of Dirt Merchant where Brian meets us again. He tells us that at the beginning of the year the focus is on opening trails while sculpting is left until later. Kudos to the crew for having 11 trails open on day one when the winter would just not let up (note – virtually all the lower mountain trails are now open). He explains the fine balance of reporting on conditions and marketing the park. Whistler can’t over promise in case things don’t go as planned but they can’t under promise either or riders will stay away.
With the 2010 Olympics on the horizon the Bike Park has been trampled some . The beloved No Joke and large portions of Freight Train have been sacrificed for alpine events. VANOC will be giving the Bike Park cash to compensate for what they did to No Joke. Once the money hits the desk up there in the Cabin the guys will be up there building a trail better than No Joke, but with all the experience and joy that the original offered.
All in a days work, John, Dave , and Shaun while not as big as the mountain, are just as important.
I would like to thank Tom Pro and Dave Kelly for your work in Whistler and for spreading bike park love the world over. I’d also like to thank Brian Finestone for setting the day up, Shaun Parker, John Blair, Dave Murphy, Marty Gautrey and Jay Robinson for the fine craftsmanship we get to sample every time we ride. Thanks also to Dan Barham for the sweet photos.
Anything to say about the condition of the Whistler Bike Park in 2008, or about what these guys do for a living? Tell us what you think here.
Thanks Pro, rest assured the entire park misses you as much as we do.