Any freeriding mountain biking enthusiast will tell you that riding over logs, rocks, narrow bridges and roots is a thrill that is hard to put into words, and this thrill can be experienced on the slopes of the North Shore mountains in British Columbia, which have long attracted mountain bikers.
Freeriding - a mountain biking discipline similar to dirt jumping and downhill biking that focuses on tricks, style and trail features - enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1990s, with a number of new trails popping up and bicycle makers designing bikes specifically for freeriding.
As a result of this boom, bikers started approaching ski resorts to find guides to lead them to mountaintops, paving the way for Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, to innovate by opening its first bike park.
“It started off with guided tours,” said Whistler Blackcomb Vice-President of Business Development Rob McSkimming. “The business community was not totally focused on it.”
But with mountain biking proving to be great counterpoint to skiing, Whistler Bike Park, accessed by the Fitzsimmons chairlift, opened in 1999.
With freeriding becoming hugely popular, business boomed; between June and September 2006, non-resident visitors to Whistler Bike Park spent around $16.2 million in the British Columbia resort town of Whistler, according to an economic impact study published by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association.
Whistler Blackcomb has invested accordingly, and has a current annual budget of $200,000 for building and maintaining trails.
In its first season in 1999, Whistler Bike Park attracted 11,000 visitors per day. Last year, that number had grown to 160,000 per day, half of whom had come from abroad specifically to visit.
“Whistler Bike Park is by far the most-visited lift-access bike park in the world,” says McSkimming.
In 2006, Whistler Blackcomb finished building the Airdome, an 8,400 sq ft indoor bike training facility, which has wooden ramps that are up to 26 feet high and a massive foam pit to cushion landings. Access to Whistler Bike Park was enhanced last year with the opening of the Creekside gondola, and further expansions are planned for Creekside, which is the base area.
Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Whistler Blackcomb; being successful in business means seizing opportunities and ensuring they produce results. And they can learn the how to make a venture take off by enrolling in the University Canada West (UCW) Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, which provides students with the business education, corporate training and executive education that can lead to successful careers in Canada.