Whistler Bike Park sits farther north than most others in the northern hemisphere, yet remarkably it’s also among the first to open for the season each year. This year the park is targeting a May 13 opening which is pretty remarkable given that the resort plans to remain open for skiing through the end of May. How do they do it? I decided to find out.
The Whistler Bike Park trail crew
Marcos Groenenberg is the Supervisor of the Whistler Bike Park Trail Crew in British Columbia, and he’s been working on trails at the resort since 2014. This year’s crew will be made up of about 50 operators and workers dedicated to maintaining the park’s trails.
“A huge part of having the bike park open early in spring happens in the fall,” said Groenenberg. “We do a lot of work in the fall after the bike park is closed. So we have about a month that we keep working after the bike park closes.” He says that work involves opening strategically placed water bars to prevent water damage from fall rain and spring snow melt. “The more we can keep the water out of the trails, the better it will be in the spring.”
Almost all of the bike park features — jumps, tabletops, and berms — are left in place over the winter. The main exceptions are the Joyride slopestyle zone, which is created from scratch each year, and any features that share space with ski runs, which are are modified but generally not completely removed. This gives the crew a big head start on opening for the spring.
By early spring, the crew gets to work physically removing snow and ice from certain trails, particularly those where the cold, wet stuff tends to accumulate. Runs like A-line, B-line, and Crank it Up are high on the priority list, and front loaders are used to move large amounts of snow quickly. For the narrower, more natural trails like Top of the World, much of the snow removal has to be done the old fashioned way: by hand, using shovels.
“We can only put machinery on machine-built trails, and then the hand-built trails will have to be dug by hand. And that will take forever.”
Elevation and weather play a role too
The Whistler trail crew is generally able to open the lower trails in the bike park first, and then concentrates on drying out higher elevation trails like Top of the World. Some years that means digging through ten feet of snow just to get the trail open by mid summer due to the massive snow pack and cold temperatures. While latitude plays a role in how quickly the snow melts and bike parks are able to open, elevation seems to play an even bigger role, and helps explain why Whistler is able to open a whole month earlier than resorts in Colorado with base elevations thousands of feet higher.
|TENTATIVE OPEN |
|BIKE PARK||BASE ELEVATION (APPROX)||LATITUDE (APPROX)|
|May 13||Whistler Bike Park (British Columbia)||2,600′||50°|
|May 20||Angel Fire (New Mexico)||6,900′||36°|
|May 27||Park City Mountain Resort (Utah)||7,000′||40°|
|June 2||Val di Sole (Italy)||2,600′||46°|
|June 9||Summit Bike Park (California)||6,700′||34°|
|June 10||Northstar (California)||6,300′||40°|
|June 17||Deer Valley (Utah)||7,000′||40°|
|June 18||Trestle Bike Park (Colorado)||9,000′||40°|
Weather patterns affect opening dates as well. Groenenberg says “usually when the spring comes, it comes in full swing. And the snow in the valley, it melts pretty quickly.” Whistler benefits from its location not too far removed from the Pacific ocean, which tends to moderate temperatures, compared to much-farther inland resorts like those in Colorado and Utah.
Late season snow storms can and do wreak havoc on opening plans, forcing the trail crew to redo work on previously cleared trails. While frustrating, one of the perks of being a part of the Whistler Bike Park trail crew is the potential for rolling first tracks of the season.
“We start working before the lifts are open, and we have trucks so we can go up in that way,” said Groenenberg. “It’s a good perk of the job to be able to be there when no one else is, that’s for sure.”