Biking, Pemberton, Racing, Triathlon, Whistler

This girl’s take on the IMC bike course

When I first moved here 13 years ago, rare were road bikes on highway 99 between Whistler and Pemberton (and rarer still, south to Squamish).  With the increase in cycling events and cycling’s popularity in general, we’re starting to see LOTS of bikes on the roads and this makes me happy.  It’s a sport that I love and I’m happy to see so many people, local and visitors alike, embracing it.

With Ironman Canada looming, the roads are getting busier every day.  I’ve had the distinct pleasure of eavesdropping on some conversations had by these riders, be it in coffee shops, the gym, the grocery store…  It’s provided a few good chuckles when I hear some of the athletes say things like “Oh, the Callaghan is definitely the hardest part”.  My internal monologue takes on a super condescending tone, saying something like “Oh honey, you have no idea”.  I’d never dare say that out loud.  I’m opinionated, not stupid.

That said, I know lots of Iron athletes are signed up who won’t be able to ride the course ahead of time.  Herewith, my opinion of how the ride will go.

(Editor’s note: I don’t ride with a computer, a GPS, a power meter or a watch.  I have no sense of elevation, power, watts, etc.  I like to ride by feel and fun.)

You’ll leave Rainbow Park (or in this case, T1) and right away, the fun begins.  Heading north, you’ll hit a few shorter climbs right away before cruising south on Hwy 99 towards your first major challenge of the day, the Callaghan climb.  Hopefully, the highway through Whistler will be lined with lots of cheering sections to boost your morale as your start your journey!  It’s a nice, mostly downhill, section all the way to the Callaghan.  inukshuk-callaghan-valley-bc-290

When you make the right hand turn to start climbing to the Callaghan, you’ll start climbing for about 10k.  I personally find it to be quite a nice climb with no steep grades to really suck your will to live – with maybe one exception near the top.  If you’re hoping to see some bears on this course, the Callaghan is going to be your best bet.

Useless fun fact #1: When I worked at the ski jump venue at the 2010 Games, this road was closed for about 40 minutes so that USA VP Biden could make his way to the venue with his entourage.  Have a good look around when you get to the top!  This venue didn’t exist prior to 2008… 

When you hit the bottom of the Callaghan and head back into Whistler, don’t discount these climbs!  They are shorter but steeper.  After descending for quite some time, spin our your legs or you’ll be miserable for a while.  Be prepared to shift a lot on this course (your gears and your body.  All the up adn down will require it).  Savour the cheers of the crowds back in Whistler.  You won’t be seeing many people between Whistler and Pemberton.

From Green Lake to Pemberton, it’s mostly downhill with 2 exceptions: the shorter steeper climb at Shadow lake and the beloved Suicide Hill.  Be watchful on this section of road.  The paving isn’t the best and you’ll come ripping down a couple of the hills to some train tracks.  Bike handling skills come in handy here…

Useless fun fact #2: On January 4th, a train derailed and went off the tracks at the bottom of suicide hill, thus closing the highway for several hours.  Fear not: trains won’t be running on race day.

Suicide Hill is steep but fairly short.  Some locals are planning a fun surprise here (think that weird devil dude at the Tour de France) – I hope they pull it off.

welcome-to-pembertonOnce you get to Pemberton, you’ll head out the famous/infamous Pemberton Meadows road, a flat 25K out and back.  I say infamous here because it’s the one I recommend cyclists be the most cautious on when training in our area.  While many, many residents actively support Ironman, there is a small minority of people who just as actively don’t – and they aren’t afraid to show their displeasure.  I strongly suggest staying in single file (while training), even if it seems like no one is coming.  Trust me, someone is always coming…

Useless fun fact #3: In 2009, the far end of the meadows experienced major forest fires, resulting in middle-of-the-night livestock evacuations.  You can read about one farm’s experience here. In 2010, there was a huge landslide at Meager Creek, once again affecting farms out the Meadows. 

Be prepared for winds.  They seem to be at their strongest past 2pm, but they can always surprise us.  Plus, they have that delightful ability to surprise us and turn, making you think that you may have had a tail wind coming to you but…no.  Headwind both ways.  It happens.  Stay loose!

Back in Pemberton, smile and wave at the crowds, put your head down and be prepared to work because let’s face it… what goes down has to go back up, right?

Useless fun fact #4: In 2003, Pemberton experienced an early snowfall followed by a melt and epic rains.  This led to major flooding and to the highway being closed for several days due to the collapse of the Rutherford Creek Bridge.  Something to think about as you pedal over it!

The ride back to Whistler is hard.  Point blank.  Even on fresh legs, it’s hard.  It’s hilly, frequently windy and about 36k long.  But don’t let it break you.  This part can be mentally broken into several parts and it won’t seem so bad that way.  If you are totally struggling and/or overheating, there’s a great pull out across from the motocross track.  Dump your bike, dunk your helmet in the ice cold river, take a deep breath and get back at it.  Once you get back to WedgeWoods, know that the hardest part is over.  You’ll have a few more shorter climbs to tackle but the bulk of the cycling work is behind you.

Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, seen from Green Lake
Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, seen from Green Lake

Cruise into Whistler to the cheers of your adoring fans, rack you bike and get ready to run.  Fun, right?

I’m editing this to include this message from Frank Savage, a planner at the Resort Municipality of Whistler, because I think it’s an important one:


Hello Whistler Tri Club, Team Whistler and local riders,

With the growing number of local and visiting cyclists using Highway 99 and other roads in the Sea to Sky Corridor, there is a concern about safety of cyclists. Some are training for Ironman or GranFondo, others are riding for fitness, and many are just using a bicycle to get around. There are many economic, health and societal benefits to cycling, and the Resort Municipality of Whistler and other Corridor communities are encouraging cyclists to come to the Corridor to visit and to train. We want them to enjoy the experience and be safe.

However, cyclists and motorists may not be fully knowledgeable of the rules of sharing the road, so we are developing key messages to both cyclists and drivers. Attached is a brochure previously prepared by the Whistler Tri Club. We may update it and we will prepare new materials to post on websites, send to the media and distribute with maps, etc.

The following is a draft of key messages to drivers and cyclists. We want simple, positive and balanced messages to both. (The last point in each is a throw-away, there if we want to keep it light.) Please review and send me your comments on the draft key messages and the brochure. I would appreciate comments by Wednesday, June 5 so we can start getting the message out.

Key Messages to Drivers:

  • ·        Share the road, Show respect
  • ·        When passing, allow at least one metre between your vehicle and a cyclist.
  • ·        When turning, leave plenty of room for cyclists who may be moving faster than you think.
  • ·        On rural roads a cyclist may not know you are behind. Before overtaking, consider giving a tap on your horn as a warning.
  • ·        Cyclists have the same rights and duties as the driver of a motor vehicle.
  • ·        Cyclists are not required to ride on any part of the road that is not paved.
  • ·        Cyclists are permitted to ride to the left of the white line.
  • ·        Be considerate. That cyclist you see might be your friend, neighbour, co-worker, child, spouse, mother, grandchild, grandmother, boss, banker, ….

Key Messages to Cyclists:

  • ·        Share the road, Show respect
  • ·        Be visible, be predictable, wear a helmet
  • ·        Use hand signals when you change lanes, turn, stop, slow down.
  • ·        Cyclists have the same rights and duties as the driver of a motor vehicle.
  • ·        Cyclists must ride as near as practicable to the right side of the road.
  • ·        Cyclists are not required to ride on any part of the road that is not paved.
  • ·        Cyclists must not ride abreast of another cyclist on the road.
  • ·        Use your head, cars hurt!


Thanks and best regards,


Frank Savage PLANNER

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s