My First Time at Whistler Mountain Bike Park

If you haven’t already seen it, the following video is a hilarious must watch before anyone rides at Whistler for the first time.

I felt like my first time at Whistler and the above video had a lot in common, including difficulty finding parking and being completely overwhelmed by how hard everything was. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast, but struggling on the blue trails was a bit of a knock to my pride. Also, Whistler was the only place I rode on the whole trip that I wished for more suspension – 130 front/115 rear was not enough. Obviously, it worked well enough that I had a fun time. But if you have a shorter travel full suspension bike, Whistler is a place that it’s worth upgrading to a longer-travel rental bike for the day.

Mountain Biking Whistler // tahoefabulous.com

There’s a ton of information about Whistler out on the internet, but I think that much of it is geared to advanced+ riders. Here’s what I wanted to know when I was planning my trip:

Can an intermediate rider have fun at Whistler Mountain Bike Park?
Absolutely! There are tons of trails that were super fun for a non-hardcore/non-DH rider. Just be prepared to ride grades lower than what you normally ride. The nice thing about the bike park is that the trails are so well built that even the green/beginner trails were fun to ride as a more experienced biker. I’d recommend Whistler for mtb newbies as well, but would suggest signing up for a lesson, especially if you are going with people who are going to want to go hardcore all day long.

Another important thing to realize (especially if you’re not used to riding at lift-serviced bike parks) is that even though you’re “just” riding downhill, it is a lot of work and hard on your body. Especially your hands. Even if you are in great shape, be sure to take breaks between runs or your hands will turn into handle-bar shaped claws.

Go on a week day if you can! We went on a Friday in July and it was still pretty busy. It was also very hot. Wear enough protective gear. Even if you’re a beginner who plans to ride easy trails, I’d recommend a full-face helmet (Something like the Bell Super 3R is well ventilated and light), a light, long sleeved jersey, elbow pads (I have these these lightweight ones from G-Form), and knee pads. If I’m at the bike park, I usually wear heavy duty knee pads (similar to these ones from Fox Racing), but we only brought our lightweight SixSixOne Recons and they were fine.

Whistler has a ton of amazing trails – way more than you can ride in a day or a weekend or probably even a week. We stuck to the Fitzsimmons Zone and rode mostly blue trails, with a green or two thrown in as well. We struggled enough on the blue trails that we didn’t even try anything higher. Whistler also splits their trails into categories beyond just difficulty – into “Technical” and “Freeride”. Freeride trails are machine cut and include features like jumps, berms, gaps, bridges, etc. Technical trails tend to be more based on natural terrain and are more likely to feature rock gardens, drops, logs, etc. I liked this classification, because I tend to prefer the “natural” features. I’d rather ride a rock garden than a bridge, even if the bridge is technically easier!

I did have a blast on Whistler’s freeride trails – there’s a reason this bike park is considered the best in the world. Here are some of the trails that I enjoyed the most:

  • B-Line upper and lower: (freeride, intermediate) Generally, I’m not a jump trail person (I don’t like jumping), but B-line was so much fun! All the jumps are rollable (no gaps or doubles), but you might find yourself having so much fun that you do catch air.
  • Ho Chi Min & Karate Monkey: (technical, intermediate) These are two trails on the easier end of the intermediate technical scale. From what I can remember, I could ride basically everything on these two.
  • Del Boca Vista: (technical, beginner) This was a fun beginner trail. Even Greyson, who is a pretty advanced rider had a blast on this one.

Those are just a few of the many amazing trails at Whistler Mountain Bike Park. I hope my tips for intermediate riders were helpful, and I encourage everyone who is the tiniest bit interested in mountain biking to consider a visit. Check back for places to stay, beer to drink, and things to do in the Whistler/Squamish area!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Resort Report: Heavenly Lake Tahoe

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Heavenly Lake Tahoe is definitely the resort I’ve spent the most time at. It’s where I’ve had a pass most years, it’s where most of my friends ski and ride, it’s where I learned to snowboard, and it is freaking gorgeous!

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It is located right in the town of South Lake Tahoe, and while I was living there, it was close enough to my office that we could go and get a couple of runs in over lunch. You can access Heavenly from the California side or a couple places on the Nevada: the Gondola in Heavenly Village and Stagecoach Lodge.

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One of the coolest things about Heavenly is that you can ski in both Nevada and California in the same day! You also get a great visualization of the rain shadow effect. Heavenly has a ton of terrain – one of my other favorite aspects.

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Here’s a few facts:

  • This year is Heavenly’s 60th Anniversary.
  • It’s now owned by Vail Resorts which owns and runs a ton of other ski areas in California, Colorado, Utah, and internationally
  • Heavenly has 97 trails covering 4,800 skiable acres – the most in Tahoe!
  • Heavenly tops out at 10,067 feet and ski down 3,500 vertical feet.
  • It’s the only resort in Tahoe that has terrain in California and Nevada.

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Here’s my take on Heavenly-

Pros:

  • Like I said earlier, there is a ton of terrain. Even when it is crowded in certain areas, you can usually get away from that and find somewhat solitude.
  • There is something for everyone: beginner friendly – to the epic Mott & Killebrew Canyons.
  • Did I mention that the views are amazing?

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  • It’s convenience to South Lake Tahoe can’t be beat. Basically, if you live in South Lake, that’s where you want to have a pass.
  • The Tahoe Local/Value Passes are an INCREDIBLE deal. You get 7 day a week access to Heavenly, and either 7 day or Sun – Fri access to Northstar and Kirkwood. (I love Sugar Bowl, but, man, I miss that deal!)
  • You can track your vert over the course of the season with Epic Mix. Your pass scans automatically and it will keep track of the lifts you ride at any Vail Resort.
  • They have photographers stationed on the mountain through Epic Mix Photo to take pictures of you and your friends. They’ll scan your pass, and the pictures will show up on your account. No more selfies needed.

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Cons:

  • It’s convenience means that it can be CROWDED. On a Saturday, there’s often a huge line backing up Powder Bowl and Sky chairs.
  • While there’s lots of beginner friendly terrain, the crowds can make things stressful for new riders and skiers. I know other people, especially on narrow trails made me super nervous.
  • If you’re on a snowboard, prepare to do a lot of traversing. There are quite a few flat areas that you’ll need to cross in the course of a day at Heavenly. There are places you can keep your speed up, but the crowds often make that impossible in others.
  • Heavenly has really embraced the nightlife, Nevada, casino side of things with its after parties and the Heavenly Angels. I guess that could be a pro or con, depending on how you feel, but I’m not a huge fan.
  • Food/drinks are expensive! Bring your own.

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Tips:

  • Want to access the Nevada side on a busy weekend day? Drive up Kingsbury Grade and park at Stagecoach Lodge. Note: if it’s snowy, only attempt if you feel comfortable with narrow, steep, slick mountain driving and have a proper vehicle.
  • If you’re starting on the California side, take Sky chair all the way to the top and go down Ridge Run for a warm up with killer views.
  • My favorite runs on the California side are Ellie’s, Liz’s and Powder Bowl Woods. In Nevada, I like everything off of Galaxy chair.

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I really enjoy Heavenly, and it will always have a special place in my heart since I learned to snowboard there. It can be crowded and expensive, but its expansive terrain and killer views mean that you can get away from the crowds and really enjoy yourself.

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Where to Stay: Basecamp Hotel is adorable! I’ve never stayed there, but I’ve toured the theme rooms during events and hung out at the bar. Plus, there are free s’mores! There are also a ton of vacation rentals and Air BnBs in South Lake Tahoe too.

What to Eat: Here are my favorite places to eat in South Lake Tahoe. If you’re on the California side, be sure to check out Himmel Haus just across the parking lot.

Resort Report: Sugar Bowl

This is my sixth winter in Tahoe! I can hardly believe it sometimes. It feels like I was just finishing grad school in Santa Barbara, like, last month. Over that past winters, I have been able to snowboard at five of Tahoe’s resorts, and I hope to try a couple of new ones this year.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

All of Tahoe’s resorts have their pluses and minuses, and I thought that I could do a Resort Report with a local perspective.  I decided to start with my favorite: Sugar Bowl Resort.

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I was only introduced to Sugar Bowl a couple of winters ago, when I started dating Greyson, and I started hanging out in Truckee more. It quickly worked its way up to the top of my list! I’ve written before about some of my fun days at Sugar Bowl.

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First, a few facts:

  • Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest ski resorts in California. It started running its lifts in 1939, and celebrated its 75th Anniversary last year. One of Sugar Bowl’s initial investors was Walt Disney, and Mt. Disney and the Disney lift are named after him.
  • California’s first chairlift was built here, and lift tickets were originally $2!
  • Sugar Bowl has 4 peaks, 103 trails, 1,650 skiable acres, 1,500 vertical feet, with 17% beginner, 45% intermediate, and 38% advanced terrain.

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  • Since Sugar Bowl is located on the Western Slope of the Sierra, it often gets hammered by winter storms. It averages ~500 inches a year, the most in the Tahoe Basin (so they claim).
  • It’s Godzilla El Nino, and Sugar Bowl has the most snow of any resorts so far. 152″ this season!
  • Sugar Bowl also has a cross country ski area, Royal Gorge. Last year, I got to try fat biking there!

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Now, here’s my take on Sugar Bowl:

Pros:

  • Sugar Bowl has the shortest lift lines of any of the big resorts! Even on a “busy” powder weekend day, I’ve waited in line a max of ten minutes. Compared to Heavenly, where you can wait in line for an hour+ when things are busy, Sugar Bowl lift lines are amazing.
  • Related, Sugar Bowl is not usually crowded. It feels much more like a “locals” resort. Even on busy tourist weekends, Sugar Bowl has a much mellower feel.

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  • There are incredible views! From the top of Lincoln, you can look towards the Sierra Crest, towards Castle Peak, down on Donner Lake, and, if it’s a clear day, you can even see the Coast Range!
  • Sugar Bowl is a great resort if you want to advance from an intermediate to an advanced rider/skier. I found myself getting a lot more comfortable riding off piste once I started riding here.
  • I was used to riding at resorts that had mostly two settings: easy to fairly easy groomers and difficult tree & mogul skiing. It’s hard to make that jump! Sugar Bowl has a fair amount of terrain that will ease you in. They don’t groom every run, so there’s plenty of places where you can practice your off-piste technique.
  • There’s also a ton of advanced terrain and great access to the backcountry. I haven’t gotten to ride any backcountry yet, but that’s a goal for 2016!
  • Sugar Bowl is not usually very crowded, so it’s also a great place to learn. I know that when I was learning, other people stressed me out way more than steep terrain, so Sugar Bowl seems like a great place to learn.
  • They have the best Bloody Mary in Tahoe. Sugar Bowl also has their own beer, Sugar Bowl Pale Ale. Their food prices have gone up in the last couple of years. You used to be able to get a beer for $5! It’s still pretty reasonable compared to most resorts.

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Cons:

Obviously, I love Sugar Bowl, and I think there are way more pros than cons. It’s my favorite resort in Tahoe, but I look forward to exploring more to compare.

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How to get there: Sugar Bowl is off of old Highway 40. If Highway 40 is closed, you can get there via I80. The resort is about 20 minutes from downtown Truckee, 90 minutes from Sacramento and under 3 hours from San Francisco.

Where to eat: Here are my favorite Truckee restaurants.