We couldn’t have imagined so much untapped potential even in our most flow-filled dreams, but when it comes to eMTBs, Whistler is more of a developing country than a dream destination. Meanwhile, eMTBs offer so many advantages, offering completely new possibilities, and also increasing safety – and not just because you can outride the bears!

Khyber doesn’t bother acknowledging us with more than a sleepy look. Getting up to greet us is out of the question. Seb – his owner – on the other hand, is the exact opposite and can hardly contain his enthusiasm. The reason why Robin and I aren’t standing in the lift queue at Whistler Bike Park with downhill bikes early in the morning, but rather in Seb’s office, is eMTBs. We weren’t entirely convinced of the idea either, but Seb isn’t just the Global Marketing Director of Santa Cruz Bicycles and an ex-bike-journalist, but above all a long-time Whistler local with a wealth of insider knowledge.

While we make the final adjustments to our eMTBs, and traildog Khyber uses his best puppy-eyed look to get us to come to him, we notice the countless maps hanging on the wall. Seb sees us looking at the maps and proudly tells us how much untapped potential lies dormant in the mountains around Whistler, and all that’s left to discover. Far more than we could experience in a few days, but also far more ground than we could cover on our own. That’s the great advantage of riding eMTBs, letting you explore more trails in a lot less time. That way we can take full advantage of the time we’ve got in Canada, and Seb can show us all his favourite spots. Our schedule for the day includes endless wilderness, and amazing panoramas with views of the sea and trails until our eMTB batteries go flat and our thighs burn.

You won’t find the most amazing and freshest trails, the best flow, and the raddest, most iconic features in the bike park, but on the countless trails surrounding Whistler – Seb Kemp

Whistler Bike Park isn’t the real mountain bike mecca!

Let’s get the party started! While countless bike park visitors bake in the burning midday sun as they queue for the lift, we have lifts built into our bikes – no queueing required! No to mention the nice cool breeze and having complete freedom! We take another quick look at the map before disappearing into the cool shade and tackling the first uphill trail. The uphill trail on which we’re currently working our way towards the summit has been newly built to divert riders away from those monotonous service road climbs. However, it was heavily criticised soon after construction because the trail is damn steep and demanding even with an eMTB. We love it. The challenge injects a bit of fun into the climb, and you quickly learn that you can work up a sweat despite the motor. In Whistler, there is no such thing as simply leaning back and zooming up the mountain on a gravel highway. Berms, ledges, and the odd North Shore obstacle like those you’ll have seen in legendary freeride films of the late 90s and early 2000s demand your full attention, and a certain level of fitness, but are incredibly fun.

“I don’t get why everyone doesn’t ride an eMTB around here?” – Robin calls down to us, and we laugh for what feels like the hundredth time as we catch up to each other, before continuing along the trail, spiralling up the mountain. But the trail eventually ends and we reach the summit. While this is where the fun just starts for most, we’re already grinning from ear to ear. Our anticipation of the next uphill trail almost overshadows the brilliant single track descent before us.

We take a short breather as Seb refills his water bottle from a creek and tells us that many of the trails are extremely old and were originally built by motorcycle trials riders or the old freeride scene. Speaking of freeride, we were on the iconic North Shore of Vancouver with freeride legend Wade Simmons just a few days before our ride with Seb – this is where the wooden North Shore obstacles get their name. We rode eMTBs there too, of course. Even Wade has caught the eMTB bug. There is a lot to discover both on the Shore and here in Whistler. With an eMTB, you can get to regions that are difficult to reach without assistance. Allegedly, there are a lot of old paths and hiking trails in the region, which hardly get used because most hikers who come to Whistler aren’t adequately prepared. They’re mainly there to replenish their social media accounts. And you can do that right next to the gondola station… but that’s a different story!

Seb also tells us that eMTBs aren’t allowed everywhere, and some of the most popular trails around Whistler still have prohibition signs portraying a clown on an ebike. Pity! Some folks in North America are still prejudiced towards eMTB riders. They also want to minimise traffic in high alpine terrain because on analogue bikes an uphill trail with over 1,200 metres of climbing is usually reserved for fit and experienced riders. Aboard an eMTB, on the other hand, that wouldn’t be a problem. However, what doesn’t get mentioned is the fact that big tours with eMTBs are usually much safer because you get less fatigued on the climbs and you can save your energy for the looming and usually very technical descent. Many accidents and injuries occur in high alpine terrain simply because the riders are exhausted and unfocused! But that attitude is slowly changing, says Seb. There’s a rapidly growing interest in eMTBs as riders begin to understand the advantages and improved safety, especially since many cool locals and opinion leaders now ride eMTBs.

But enough with the philosophising. We’re not here to debate. We’ve got several trails – both up and down – ahead of us. As we roll off, Seb tells us that a good friend of his only recently finished building one of them. In the meantime, said friend has also made the switch to an eMTB. Ebikes let bike crews explore the trails together once more, no matter how old or (un)fit any of you’ve become – brilliant!

The threat to the locals!

Meanwhile, our buddy Dave has joined us. He’s also a long-time Whistler local and incredibly fit, but has never ridden an eMTB in his life. Of course, we couldn’t let that fly and wanted to check how much Dave enjoys his well-known home trails in turbo mode. After a few runs, we saw what Dave thinks of eMTBs written in his face, and he soon started drilling us about what a good eMTB costs and what he should look for – sorry, not sorry 😉 . Dave certainly won’t be the last local to catch the eMTB bug.

As you would expect in Whistler, you can also send it outside of the bike park, and Seb and Dave are on home turf, making it especially hard for us to keep up. Robin and I thank our motors that we’ve got some energy reserves left, which brings us back to the safety aspect. The climbs didn’t drain our legs, just the ebike batteries – hehe. So we get off the brakes and pursue the chase. The descent takes us just under 15 minutes, non-stop. Big rock rolls, soft forest loam, and an incredible number of roots, interspersed with short, steep climbs where even our motors could do with a little more power. Lost Lake awaits us at the bottom, letting us cool our bodies. As we drift in the water and enjoy the last rays of sunshine, Seb continues raving about a future eMTB paradise and lists a few tips and tricks for our remaining weeks in Canada.

Top tips and tricks for eMTBing in Whistler

  • The best combination is going exploring aboard your eMTB in the morning, and taking your downhill bike to the bike park in the afternoon. Because the long lift queues will be gone by then, and the park is open until 8 PM.
  • Remember, you may not use the trails of the bike park without a lift ticket, even if you ride your eMTB to the top.
  • You can generally drink the water from any stream. However, the faster the flow and the higher up in the mountains you are, the better.
  • You will encounter bears sooner or later, so don’t go looking for them. It’s important to always keep a safe distance.
  • It’s worth taking a trip to Squamish and Vancouver in the summer because there are countless trails to discover there too. Pemberton is usually extremely dry and dusty during that time.
  • Try to ride in groups because the mobile phone reception is usually poor. Three people is a good number, so that one person can call for help while the other stays with the injured rider in an emergency situation.
  • The uphill trails use a bit more battery, of course, but depending on the bike, weight, and riding style, you can easily do 1,500 metres of climbing. We even rode a light eMTB and it didn’t lack range.

If you want to find out more about Whistler, the bike park, and the best way to prepare for your trip, then you should definitely check out the detailed Whistler Guide created by our sister magazine ENDURO.

There’s a hidden treasure in Whistler that many locals, businesses, and bike mecca pilgrims don’t (yet) know about. Accordingly, you’ll encounter few eMTB riders in the area. However, the uphill trails seem like they were built specifically for this purpose. And eMTBs make riding in Whistler even more fun, safer, and more varied. It’s only a matter of time before eMTBs conquer Whistler. Until then, those who already own one have the trails to themselves.

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Words & Photos: Peter Walker

About the author

Peter Walker

As a technical editor, Peter is as much a man of action as he is of words. This expert, screw-driver-flexing two wheeled-whizz has many envy-inducing characteristics, including a background in motocross, several EWS race plates to his name, and more than 150 recorded days at Whistler Bike Park. However complex the bike and however steep the trail, he’s probably already nailed it, twice. Oh, and he can do it all on skinny tyres too. When it comes to guiding consumers, Peter cut his teeth at Vancouver’s oldest bike shop and now puts pen to paper on the daily translating this know-how into our editorial plan. When not tearing up Stuttgart’s local trails while testing bikes, he loves nothing more than loading up his self-renovated VW T5 and hitting the road. The fact that he’s a trained paramedic gives his colleagues reassurance out on the trails. So far we haven’t had to call him by his alias ‘Sani Peter’, so here’s hoping he keeps it right side up for the rest of his time here!