Whistler Bike School

Elevate your riding in one weekend

May 29, 2017   •   Vince Shuley

There's a certain misnomer in action sports - including mountain biking - where riders think that they won't learn anything new from a day of instruction. 
"I already ride as fast as I'm comfortable with."
"I've tackled the biggest jumps and features I would ever want to do."
"I don't want to get stuck with a bunch of slow people."
"I don't ride often enough to get much better anyway."

people in a bike lessonP: Vince Shuley

The people who think like this are either satisfied with their current riding ability or have simply reached the "skill plateau." After discovering the sport of mountain biking and experiencing a rapid improvement in riding ability over the first few seasons (the steep part of the learning curve), their progress begins to slow; sometimes it even regresses a little if not maintained with practice (the plateau). It was on this plateau where I sat with mountain biking - especially downhill mountain biking - for years. That was until I finally decided to try out Whistler Mountain Bike Park's Elevation Camp.

people in a bike lessonP: Vince Shuley

I meet the Elevation Camp coaches and participants milling around Skier's Plaza just after 9:15am, 45 minutes before the Fitzsimmons Chair is scheduled to open. There are 13 of us and a crew of three coaches, but groups are not allocated until they see how well we can ride. We upload a few minutes before the opening bell (a privilege enjoyed by the Whistler Mountain Bike School) and regroup at the top of the Fitz Chair. After the requisite safety spiels from the coaches (give each other room, take 'er easy on your first run, etc.) we head off down B-Line. 

This first lap is when the coaches assess everyone's skill on a bike and mentally separate us into different ability groups. I know I want to be in a faster group to get the most out of this weekend camp, so I take my spot behind the lead coach and stay on his tail. At the bottom, we split into our respective groups, and I'm introduced to our coach Joe and two other Whistler locals.

"You don't learn anything by trying it fast," says Joe as he demonstrates a low-speed cornering drill on a flat, featureless patch of gravel. I struggle on my first few attempts to replicate the movement but soon have it dialed turning in either direction. Balance and rider position is the root cause of why people struggle to maintain their speed when cornering and I realize that's why I still struggle to lay my bike over on flat, un-bermed, corners. We put the drill into practice on B-Line, Ninja Cougar, and Karate Monkey and I'm already noticing how much more control I have over my bike. We try a few black trails before lunch, staying focused on the one cornering exercise.
people in a bike lesson
P: Vince Shuley

For the afternoon, Joe switches gears and starts the progression of tabling and whipping our bikes on jumps. Our group is well versed with A-Line, and we all know how to jump, but we all want to maneuver our bikes in the air with kind of style the pros have. While sessioning the practice jump at the Skills Centre I'm a little frustrated there's no instant improvement, but admittedly we're all popping off the jump with more efficiency and control than before. A lap down Crank It Up and we start to get it. A lap down A-Line and we're really noticing the difference. We spend the rest of the afternoon riding advanced trails with new perspective before meeting the other groups for a camp apres at the GLC. people in a bike lessonP: Vince Shuley


On Sunday morning Joe wastes no time getting us warmed up and reviewing the previous day's skill improvements. We're all feeling confident, and the weather is fantastic, so we take off up the Garbanzo Chair to try our hand at some more advanced trails. Joe occasionally pulls over on Original Sin to talk us through the different line choices through gardens of rocks and roots, most of us never realized there was an easier way to do it. people in a bike lessonP: Vince Shuley

We take a break at Dave Murray flats, and Joe shows us a rock slide feature known as Filthy Ape. It's probably the steepest thing I've ever considered riding, requiring a slow, creeping approach before basically dropping a few feet with a controlled fall. Joe says he doesn't usually take his campers to this feature, but he's more than confident in our abilities. One after the other we drop in, squealing with joy as we ride away from it triumphant, hearts beating with adrenaline.

My final challenge of the day is a trail diversion known as Dwayne Johnson. The first section requires a full-speed launch into a step-up jump, which I manage by matching Joe's speed as we ride into it. The next feature is the biggest step-down jump feature I've ever thought about attempting, a giant rock that gives the trail its name. Joe pulls us over again and points out the best point to launch off the rock and the speed needed for a clean landing. I push my bike back up the hill and drop in behind Joe, flying off the rock and sailing through the air for what feels like seconds. I land without issue, slowing down and pulling off the side of the trail with shaking hands and a huge smile spread wide across my face. Our whole group just rode another one of Whistler Mountain Bike Park's more notorious features, the high fives and backslapping giving us the best end to the camp.

I feel elevated in more ways than one.

Elevation Camps 2017 run on Saturday & Sunday, on the following dates:

MAY 27-28 | JUNE 17-18 | JULY 8-9 | JULY 29-30 | SEPTEMBER 2-3
 Learn More

SOMEFOMO May 09, 2016
Read More
Park Report June 13, 2017
Words by Brian Finestone Read More