Crankworx Dreamin’

Words: Harry Griffiths
Photos: Alistair Chalmers

You’ll often hear people local to Whistler moaning in the weeks coming up to Crankworx.

“It’s too busy” and “the lift lines are way too long” are the usual reasons for “totally avoiding the village”, according to a gnarled local who has apparently been in Whistler since the ‘glory days’.

Having lived in Whistler for a summer, I got to experience the full force of Crankworx. With the ever useful and somewhat unreliable glasses of hindsight, I feel I can shed some light on the 10 days.

Well yeah, its pretty busy. And not just busy as in ‘Oh there’s a lot of people here’, more in terms of, ‘Okay let me just completely change my route to get groceries so I can get back before sun down’ busy.

It becomes obvious that this busyness comes with good reason once you realise that the vast majority of the bike world are there. If you look one way, you’ll see a top World Cup photographer chasing riders up and down hills, the other way there’s a rider you’ve been idolising since you were about 9. Before you know it, you seemingly end up awkwardly asking every other person if you can have a photo with them.

With lots of people comes lots of events. Everyday has an race or competition to spectate if you want to and choosing the right ones to watch is a big debate. Mainly due to work I missed a few of the big ones, but I made it to the EWS, Deep Summer and Canadian Open amongst a few others.

Without getting all philosophical about it, there was a feeling at these events that’s hard to place. It may just be me, but they had an appeal to them that set them apart from others. Headline events like Joyride were incredible to watch and easily attracted the biggest crowds, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about be one of the few to drag yourself up a mountain in the rain just to watch Sam Hill ride a left hander.

Deep Summer had this feeling by the bucket load. Being a slideshow competition, it tends to celebrate a different type of riding to most competitions. Focusing on stories as opposed to results, it really showed what makes riding a bike great, and reminded you it’s not about being the fastest or doing the biggest jump.

“it’s not about being the fastest or doing the biggest jump”

With Canadian Open being the last event of the 10 days, it’s got a lot of pressure on it, but it delivers. Most famous for Hecklers rock, this is the flagship downhill race of the week. 2019 saw a huge effort to close down Hecklers rock after things had been getting a bit hectic over the last few years, and whilst there wasn’t quite the mayhem that there usually was, the race retained its character. Nothing beats watching the fastest racers do their thing and with a smaller, less drunk ‘Hecklers Corridor’ formed in the bottom woods, the riders still got treated to a wall of noise as they progressed down the track, keeping the spirit of downhill racing well and truly alive.

When everyday is someones Friday, riding does take a bit of a back seat. A combination of braking bumps flourishing into small hills and lift lines measured in hours rather than minutes meant that time in the bike park is low.

“memories of the mayhem being pushed aside by the urge not to be sick”

Whistler, of course, has a trick up its sleeve. The huge amount of natural singletrack that clings to the mountain side often goes unnoticed by the crowds at Crankworx, and within a 15 minute pedal, you can be grinding up a steep access road, memories of the mayhem being pushed aside by the urge not to be sick or eaten by a bear. Top this off with a plummet back down and a swim in one of the numerous lakes to wash to dust and sweat off, and you’ve got a ride that easily rivals if not betters constant A-line laps.

If you are still hankering for chairlift time, Crankworx also, has a trick up its sleeve. Enter a race, and during practice for that race you can jump the lift line. This, alongside peer pressure, meant that I somehow ended up signing up to race Air DH, the A-Line race.

I’ve never really claimed to be much of a racer. Before Crankworx, my most recent race was an Aston Hill DH race and it didn’t go well. Despite enjoying practice, I hit a tree in my race run and graciously DNFed. The plan then, for this race, was just to finish.

Preparation wasn’t ideal. Firstly, I was scheduled to work on the day of the race. No worries, my shift allowed me to take few hours off in the middle of the day, so I lined that up with my start time. Having jumped the lift line, I met up with a friend and took a warm up lap. With Air DH being a big race in terms of entries, I couldn’t ride the track as racing had already started. Therefore, my one warm lap involved riding a similar track, only to realise my front tyre was going down. Perfect. Filling up on my fair share of PSI, whilst noticing many a loose spoke, I finally lined up to race, hoping my tyre would hold enough pressure to allow me to start.

“Filling up on my fair share of PSI, whilst noticing many a loose spoke, I finally lined up to race”

It did, and off I went. Despite trying to relax and enjoy the ride (because that’s what everyone says when they win a race), the red mist came down and I went as hard as I could. Halfway down all was going well and I was convinced I was just minutes away from a good result when a shiny berm took a disliking to my front wheel and I was on the ground. Fantastic. Unhurt, I got up and made my way down the rest of the trail, flitting quickly between frustration and laughter as I finished.

For most of us, the reality of living in Whistler is that you have no money. Unsurprisingly, no one pays you to be at Crankworx and it’s not cheap. So to make it happen you still have to go to work. It’s a bit of a first world problem for sure, but seeing Crankworx happen before your very eyes whilst changing yet another rental tyre can put a bit of a downer on it.

“Unsurpisingly, no one pays you to be at crankworx”

It’s not all bad though. Working in a bike shop at the bottom of the chairlift means there’s a near constant stream of riders coming in. Building up pro’s bikes, product launches and the usual mechanical issues are all part of it, and I’ll forever remember looking up towards the end of a shift to see Gee Atherton, multiple World Cup winner, asking me if we had any tyres he could use. Alongside this, you will almost certainly know someone who knows someone in the know through work, and if you play you cards right, invites to the ‘exclusive parties’ that Crankworx is famed for can be found.

About 5 days in, rumours started flying around the shop of one of these parties happening that evening. Extracting more info out of those in the know was tricky, but by the end of the day, we all had sourced tickets. Expecting big things, we headed for the party. On arrival, it became clear that the definition of exclusive had been somewhat twisted to encompass the whole of Whistler, and the ‘big things’ we were expecting never materialised. We did get to see a few pro riders wrestling with inflatables however, and they were serving buckets of Gin and Tonic, so it wasn’t all bad.

Ultimately, enjoying Crankworx is a personal thing and I’m sure after many years of it, the novelty would wear off. For me, being a complete fan boy of the sport, I was always going to enjoy it, and the lasting memories of dusty trails, racing and good times will certainly out last the busyness, long lift queues and un-exclusive parties.

“However you look at it, Crankworx is mayhem. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you.”