Monarchs of the Park
By Steve Fisher
It’s easy to watch the mountain bikers racing into the Village from Whistler Mountain’s slopes and think, “What a bunch of crazy kids!” The Whistler Mountain Bike Park offers no shortage of high-speed trails, jumps and drop-offs, and things that don’t look like anything people could ride a bike down! However, as the sport of mountain biking matures, so do its long-time fanatics.
It’s not uncommon to see riders well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s in the Whistler Bike Park lineup. Some are professional riders living in Whistler specifically because of their careers, and others are just experienced locals hooked on the Bike Park’s massive lift-accessed trail network. We spoke to a few of these “Monarchs of the Park” to see what keeps them motivated, how they stay fit and healthy, and how far they plan to take their obsession.
Long-time local Scott Gillis met his wife Christyne when she came to Whistler to ride the Whistler Bike Park many years ago. Soon afterward, Christyne moved to the area, and to this day, they ride side-by-side. Scott is 47, and Christyne is 54, yet both are still as keen as ever to tackle steep, challenging trails.
The first thing one might wonder is whether riders ever get bored after decades of the same sport. Thankfully, mountain biking offers many different ways to ride. The Gillises say they like to switch up their riding style, sometimes focusing on rough, technical runs and other days enjoying fast, smooth jump trails. Conveniently, there are plenty of both within the Bike Park. Professional riders like Buchar spend a ton of time on their bikes. “I think that changing it up is very important to keep things from going stale, so I try to have fun on all the bikes. I ride trails, backcountry epics, Bike Park, dirt jumps/pump track,” says Buchar.
Allen says she’s always stoked to ride, even after 30 years, but is strategic about keeping things interesting. “I do try and ride something different every time, ride with different people, at different paces, and mix it up with some travel and backcountry trips,” she says.
Riding downhill is a pretty intense activity, so what about staying fit as you ease into your 40s or 50s? Well, our professionals have fought off the effects of aging with their dedication to physical training… take Allen’s enthusiastic response, “I plan on being fitter at 50 than people half my age!”
While our monarchs all favour general fitness over a dedicated pre-ride routine, they agreed on one strategy for riding downhill: As Whistler Blackcomb recommends, it’s best to start with an easy warm-up lap or two before heading to the trickier trails. “I always do a nice chill warm-up lap for my first run in the Bike Park to make sure my body, mind, and bike are ready to send,” Buchar says.
Luckily, staying in good shape helps with another issue many mountain bikers eventually face — injuries. Allen has torn multiple ACLs and dislocated shoulders but says remaining fit has allowed her to carry on without complications. “Biking has been my rehab during all of my knee injuries, and it’s also been the motivation to keep rehabbing the best I can,” explains Allen. “Two years ago, I broke 12 ribs, cracked my scapula and punctured a lung,” Christyne Gillis says. “I never thought of quitting, though. It’s amazing how well the body heals with a dedicated rehabilitation program.”
Despite growing older, these riders all say they’re still progressing and improving their riding skills. So, just for fun, we asked these lifelong riders when they planned to stop riding mountain bikes and got some predictable answers.
“Oh, come on. Why would I do that? I plan on being the rad, old lady coach one day!” says Allen.
The Gillises showed an equal degree of commitment, as Christyne remarked, “Hopefully until our dying days.” Scott adds, “when the batteries run out (on his electric MTB), or I physically can’t do it anymore.”
Buchar says she was lucky to grow up with an athletic father who only just relinquished his dirt bike at the age of 85, so she’ll only consider quitting riding “when I am very old!” Some people worry about being “over the hill,” but some of the dedicated mountain bikers you’ll find in Whistler only worry about how many hills they can get over!