Robin O'Neill // Whistler, BC

Located across the valley from the hustle and bustle of the Whistler Village, Cheap Thrills seems a world away from the bike park—perfect for folks trying to escape the height of the tourist season. Katrin Strand succeeds.

Robin O'Neill // Whistler, BC Power Ballads and Whispered Secrets

As Dorothy Gale puts it in The Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home.

I love Whistler’s trails, mountains and riding community, and choosing a favorite trail is like being asked to pick your favorite song—it’s dependent on mood, condition and company. Luckily in Whistler, there’s one hell of a set list from which to choose.

Micro Climate is one of the valley’s newest classics. This past summer it was adopted by Whistler Blackcomb and was a leg of the Enduro World Series Crankworx, but as recently as two years ago it was a mischievous, whispered secret. Dumping down the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, Dave Anderson and Paul Stevens envisioned Micro Climate during the winter, imagining a ribbon of loam through the then-snow-covered forest. When summer came, the two rogue builders labored in secret, digging through Whistler’s notorious roots and rocks to create a winding hallway beneath yellow cedar and Douglas fir. It was a trail that could be ridden fast, but still allows appreciation of the stunning surroundings. And the best part? The sound of the nearby river accompanies the whole ride.

Whereas Micro Climate brings a speedy tempo, Cheap Thrills is a rowdy yet carefully plucked sneaker jam. Often overlooked by newschool riders, builder Eric Barrie didn’t waste time getting to Cheap Thrills’ chorus—the slow-speed tech begins immediately after it drops off the Flank Trail on Mount Sproatt, a steep series of rock faces flowing onto a narrow, fall-line ladder bridge over a creek. Miss a beat and you’ll fall 20 feet into the river. From there, it speeds up a bit, with more short, steep rock features into more skinnies, all in a dark, densely canopied forest. It’s the perfect type of terrain for local power couple Yoann Barelli and Katrina Strand, with plenty of spots to get creative and embellish on some of the trickier parts.

And then there’s the lift-accessed power ballad: Top of the World (TOTW), Khyber, Middle of Nowhere and Kashmir. It’s a mashup of world-class trails, new and old sections constructed by an impressive cast of trail builders, that is a gravity-lover’s dream. Top of the World drops from the southwestern ridge of Whistler Peak, and riders are immediately dwarfed by an amphitheater of peaks, glaciers and a hanging alpine lake. This section was initially roughed in by Gravity Logic, before stonemason Ken Melamed was recruited to armor the trail with elegant yet durable rockwork, guaranteeing its statute as a hit you’ll be able to play over and over.

The trail meets up with Khyber Pass as it rolls into the subalpine. Khyber is the original hiking trail used by early settlers to access Whistler Peak, and the wildflowers and meadows make the reasons for their line choice obvious. This piece of history is bracketed by a modern hit, an incredible new loam trail called Middle of Nowhere built by Tim Haggerty to connect to Johnny Barber’s Kashmir. Link it all together, and you have a 5,000-foot descent that leads you directly into Dusty’s Pub for a pint—one hell of a crescendo for possibly the best lap in Whistler.

As another pop-culture icon has said, “If you got it, flaunt it,” and few places in mountain biking “have it” more than here. Whether it’s Micro Climate, Cheap Thrills, TOTW or the countless other classics lining the sides of the valley, it’s pretty much impossible not to do some flaunting in Whistler. It’s just that good.

Cheap Thrills Loop

“Keep it between the mustard and the mayo” is a common analogy for staying focused while driving, but when there’s no white or yellow lines, you keep it where you need to. Katrina Strand stays on line through some of Cheap Thrills’ tech.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, ISO 4000
As Beyoncé says, “If you got it, flaunt it.” Yoann Barelli has it, and takes Queen Bey’s advice on one of Cheap Thrills’ wooden bridges.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500
Cheap Thrills is a perfect description of its namesake trail, as it doesn’t require buying a lift ticket (despite its proximity to the Whistler Bike Park), and has plenty of rowdy moments. And when you take every line at twice the normal speed like Yoann, the features are twice as thrilling—although the consequences are not nearly as cheap.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, ISO 4000

Top of the World Trail

Dropping off the summit of Whistler Mountain is a surreal experience—the alpine chair ride, the 360-degree views, and the 5,000 vertical feet of world-class singletrack that follows. Spencer Wight throws a little dust on Top of the World, one of Whistler’s most iconic trails.
CANON, 1/2000 sec, f/7.1, ISO 800
There’s a time and place for wheelies—everywhere, all the time. As a regular on the Enduro World Series circuit, Jesse Melamed knows how to go fast and make even the smallest features look good, although the backdrop definitely helps.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/4.0, ISO 640
Open sky and fresh air from the summit of Whistler Mountain.
CANON, 1/1000 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400
Watching the sunset from the top of Whistler is mesmerizing, but every second up top is one second less of light on the way down—meaning you have to pin it, something Spencer Wight doesn’t mind in the slightest.
CANON, 1/2000 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1600
Few things equal the stoke and awe of alpine riding in evening light. Everything is a little more epic, just like Jesse Melamed’s styled-out airtime.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/10, ISO 800

Micro Climate Loop

Micro Climate is a fitting name, as the trail goes through a variety of scenery and terrain all within a single 1,200-foot pitch. Sarah Leishman leads Dylan Wolsky and Jesse Melamed through a section that’s less tech and more flow, but equally as fun.
CANON, 1/1600 sec, f/3.2, ISO 800
Roots can be a wildcard on a trail, especially when wet, and usually demand a little extra caution. That, or you can follow Dylan Wolsky’s line and just gap them all.
CANON, 1/1250 sec, f/4.0, ISO 3200
Built in 2014 by Dave Anderson and Paul Stevens, Micro Climate is a relatively new trail in the Whistler territory. Dave originally discovered the line while skiing, and the final product turned out a little rowdier than intended. Sarah Leishman is just fine with that.
CANON, 1/800 sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500

The Robin O'Neill Gallery as originally published in The Sea to Sky Photo Book - Freehub Magazine Issue 7.3