An Eastbournian Abroad: Mountain ascents and resort festivities

Grouse Mountain finish
Grouse Mountain finish

So once again we have another festival in town. One of the big ones, it’s the return of the annual Crankworx – one of North America’s biggest free ride mountain bike festivals around and one that attracts everyone, from the elite athletes to the thousands of crowds that flock into town to revel in the events, concerts and atmosphere.

I on the other hand, got out of town, unfortunately, just as the first event was to start for Crankworx. It was a new one as well. A circuit was built around the Whistler village so that everyone could spectate and laps were ticked off as the athletes propelled themselves (usually on their bikes, but not always!), with the last one on each lap being hauled off the track. From what I’ve seen of the You Tube videos – quite the event!

So what took me out of town – well of course it was another race. The challenge – to race up over 4000 feet in a straight ascent of Grouse Mountain that borders Vancouver. Nothing like a straight up vertical race in the early morning rain to start the day off! Started in the Vancouver rain and finished just over 1.5 hours later at a height roughly equivalent to running from Whistler village to its highest peak. Nice slippy, wet rocks with the pouring rain and melting snow more than just ‘trickling’ down its rocks. When we finally ascended the infamous ‘Grouse Grind’ section, we arrived to thick freezing fog and temperatures that made it feel like it was about to snow. The darn fog and visibility at the top was so thick and dour that when I asked which way I needed to run and was told “straight on”, I had to ask, “which way was straight?” Did I enjoy it? Every bit of it!

So to cap off my two day jaunt down to Vancouver, we decided to hike up some of the mountain trails around Cypress Mountain as well – hadn’t done either of them in nearly five years around these parts, so might as well cram them both into two days, eh!. This was just what my legs needed after the day’s racing before along with a further fast 20k tempo run earlier that morning! Cypress Mountain was where a good few of the Olympic events were held, such as the ski and snowboarder cross, moguls, etc. This was also the mountain which unfortunately cast a bad ‘rep’ (with the aid of some unknowledgeable press and media) over Whistler that season as the world saw and heard about how little snow there was there.

This was something that regrettably too many people who watched or read about this celebration came away thinking. This was an unfortunate fallout of holding a winter sport event on a mountain resort very close to the sea and a relatively low altitude. Of course, the reality of the snowfall levels last year was that Whistler had more snow than it knew what to do with it and in fact had to cancel and postpone a few events due to the sheer volume. Conversely, Cypress Mountain enjoyed one of its longest ski seasons on record this year as they enjoyed record levels themselves. Good old La Nina!

So back up to Whistler and more of the precipitation that so has so often befallen upon us. T’is unfortunate then that just as we’re experiencing a delay in all of the seasons kicking in, in part due to the elongated ski season and record snow levels, a decision was taken some time back to move the Crankworx biking festival forward from it’s usual month of August (when the weather is usually warmer and drier) to allow the top competitors to compete both here and later in the year in Quebec. Hopefully this weather front (to put it mildly) hasn’t soured events for too many visitors and spectators, but the weather reports say there’s going be to some jolly old sun for the next few days. Honestly, I’ve seen it (the report that is, not the sun)!!!

The festival always builds to a crescendo for the final weekend with what this writer considers some of the best ‘aerial’ displays and fiercest downhill challenges. Always, but always Whistler is full in particular for this final weekend and last few days and this year promises to be no different!

Now, what I haven’t mentioned is that this final Saturday brings the return of the now annual Cheese Rolling event, pinched right from the shores of the UK. It’s always amazing to see how many people sign up for this challenge, some more sensible than others adorning protective head and body armour. Basic concept to picture if you will: huge roll of cheese and tens and tens of eager contestants line up mid mountain and as the rolling, bouncing cheese is released downward, everyone hurls themselves after it with the one to catch it winning it as a prize as well as usually a free season’s ski pass. Now the fun (from a spectators perspective) is to watch everyone crash, fly, roll down the mountain. There’s a reason many now wear protective gear – its flippin dangerous and bones have been broken in the name of this challenge. Roll on Saturday – no pun intended!