Words: Evan Wishloff
Photos: Stirl and Rae Media Haus
You’d be excused for thinking that getting a bike park in the Okanagan ready for a July 1st opening day would be easy work. It’s early-May, and a mere 65 km down the valley in Kelowna, temperatures are in the high twenties. My first mountain bike ride of the year - on dry trails - came at lower elevations exactly 100 days ago.
But that ride wasn’t at Big White. Not here, where in a good snow year, skiers and snowboarders are still on the slopes in mid-April. Not here, where powderhounds are always praying for more of the white stuff.
Here, a hard-working trail crew is using every trick in the book to get the trails ready, and as evident by what we’ve seen at the lower elevations, they have their work cut out for them. It’s a ticking clock - a race against time - as they rush to get snow off the trails so they can get to work buffing them out, shaping them, and getting them ready for another fun season of mountain biking.
We’re here with Kris Hawryluik, the Bike Park Manager at Big White Resort, getting a glimpse behind the scenes at what it takes to transform a ski hill to a bike park.
Kris, a 31 year veteran of the ski industry, has been an avid cyclist for almost as long, and his passion for the sport of cycling has helped shape the young bike park (Big White started it’s bike park operation in 2017) into what it is today.
When I ask him about the early days - how Big White Bike Park came to be - a boyish grin comes over his face. Kris tells me of what I can only describe as a dream-come-true-year that he had when ownership of Big White approached him about the idea of opening the resort to bikes in the summer.
Before pencil hit paper to plan trails, before shovels hit dirt, Kris spent a full season traveling North America visiting as many bike parks as possible, researching and learning as much as he could along the way. Sure, there were meetings and less glamorous parts to this, but you can only R&D a park so much without riding.
So for a season, Kris rode mountain bikes at bike parks. All across the continent.
And he brought that knowledge back to Big White, helping make it what it is today. With a story like that, you might find yourself thinking he’s a full on endur-bro - somebody who only wants to build black diamond trails that he and his friends can ride hard and fast, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“One of the most rewarding parts after labouring over the trails all Spring is watching a novice rider turn up on opening day, riding the green trails with a smile plastered on their face,” Kris exclaims. “Often, you’ll see them later on in the season, progressing onto blue, or even black diamond runs, and it is just so awesome to see!”
Kris is an Enabler of Fun, but at a ski resort racing against the clock to open up for the summer, it doesn’t come easy.
The resort itself is almost eerily quiet. You might see a work truck from time to time, driving past the vacant condos, underneath the empty chairlift, but other than that, a silence has descended on the mountain.
But it’s only a short snowmobile ride to where the hustle is real - the trail crew are hard at work. Snowcats are busy, clearing snow off access roads, helping the sun’s warm rays melt the remnants of a winter of fun, giving access to the network of mountain bike trails that crisscross the mountain.
It doesn’t end there. “Mountain bikers love the trees. Riding in the forest is what it’s all about,” Kris says. “But that’s the last place snow melts. And we need enough time to work on the trail surface before opening day.”
In the trees, we catch a glimpse of a small excavator, clearing a ribbon of snow down the middle of one of the many trails, almost down to the earth, speeding up the melt in the never-ending race against time…
Stay tuned for another installment of our Enablers of Fun video series, this time, focused on the hard working trail crew at Big White. Dropping this summer.
Big White's Bike Park is aiming for a July 1st opening day. Visit their website for updates.