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A pillar of coal-colored volcanic rock leaps up from the Coast Range's 7,000-foot snowfields, splitting British Columbia's blue sky and leaving me awestruck at the top of Whistler Blackcomb's Peak Chair in early July. The mountain, Black Tusk, is a showstopper, but there's more. I grip the handlebars of my downhill mountain bike, taking in cool alpine lakes dotting the forest at lower elevations and tracing the Spearhead Traverse along the horseshoe-shaped ridgeline arcing through the backcountry from Whistler to Blackcomb.
Shouts and giggles from the group of ladies I'm riding with interrupt the view. The five of us are new to downhill mountain biking, and our two guides whisked us to the peak after a skills clinic and practice runs down the EZ Does It and B-Line trails on the lower mountain. Buoyed by full suspension and tapping our hydraulic brakes, we descend an access road on Harmony Ridge. Walls of snow tower overhead on both shoulders, and we race snowmelt through pebbles, puddles, and hikers. (Experts can descend via the new Top of the World trail, which opened July 28.) As the snow banks subside, we pick up speed, descending 1,000 feet to hitch a ride down to snow-free trails on the Village Gondola.
Whistler's bike park is the apex of North America lift-serviced mountain biking: 200 kilometers of trails and 4,900 vertical feet offer endless options for first-timers and elite riders. I visited midweek and crowds of bikers in full-face helmets and body armor screamed down the sculpted trails, catching air and throwing up dust plumes on the last hill into the village. But it's more than a spectator sport for beginners. Load the Fitzsimmons Express in the village, and a skills progression area waits just a few pedal strokes from the top. Easy access to beginner trails gradually introduces berms and switchbacks for a gateway experience that hooks new riders on the sport. By the end of the day, our group of girlfriends speeds through the trees, stopping to high-five as one woman crows, "Mama's got her mojo back!" —Olivia Dwyer
If you go: Catch up on Crankworx, Whistler's freeride mountain bike festival that just wrapped. Whistler's women-specific offerings include Women's Nights for learning and camaraderie. Couple this with Enjoy Whistler's Pedal and Pamper or Women's Warrior Weekend packages to sample the spas, rivers, and hotels of Whistler.