Yes, it is true; there is nothing cheap about the thrills on Cheap Thrills. Of this, we are certain.
Last year Knobs and I experienced Cheap Thrills at the end of our Whistler Valley stay. Rated as a double black diamond advanced trail, Cheap Thrills lived up to its label. It is the most intimidating trail that we have attempted in Whistler. Cheap Thrill’s features are big and committing. We may have the technical bike handling skills required to ride the trail, but are we nuts enough to try it? With the big exposure, there is little margin for error. For me, this is the type of over my head trail that will keep me coming back to ride in Whistler.
Out of Riverside RV Resort, we pedaled the same route as we did on our last visit.* The slog along the Flank Trail was as unpleasant as we remembered. Eventually we made it to the top.
Seats dropped and padded up, we rolled onto Cheap Thrills. I recalled that the Thrills started easily before turning steep. What I didn’t recall is that the initial section, with a quick and easy drop, goes by in an instant. Before you settle in to the concept of descending you are at the top of a steep and extended granite slab drop.
The last section of this whaleback rock ridge is particularly sketchy. On the bike, at the end of the slab, the gnarly final pitch becomes visible late. The line you are on is the line you will ride. A graceful, emergency room-free dismount is not an option.
I really want to ride Cheap Thrill’s first big drop, but would not be this day. And it may not be for some time. This one will take some time to work up to. (It doesn’t help that a bike shop guy reports periodically stacking on this section.)
Near the end of the slab is a very steep, extended ladder starting with a gentle turn. Thermo and Knobs rode this one, but not me, not this time. Another big feature delayed for another year. At least rolling up to the start of the build-up was worth a big adrenaline rush. So it goes with Cheap Thrills.
And so it went. I pretty much only rode what I had ridden on the last visit. I wanted to ride something more. I wanted to get closer to completing all of Thrills’ hard sections.
Finally we came to Cheap Thrills’ last big steep granite drop. I’d estimate that this rock drop is 14 feet high. It rolls in gently though unevenly and then rotates down turning very, very steep. At the bottom there’s just enough of a kicker to make you think that rolling the drop is possible. From the top it looked like a long, long way down. Deeply grooved tire marks in the loam on the run out suggested that some riders had ridden down the rock. It had to be possible. I wanted to roll this drop so bad.
I climbed up and down the rock checking the lines. Eventually I was on my bike and moving to the edge. I could see the bottom. It was far away. I stopped.
It was hard to commit. Several more approaches left me stopping at the edge frustrated. Finally Thermo showed the way and rode over the top. She plunged down the drop with the bike chain slapping hard against the chainstay. Thermo’s line eliminated some of the rock drop’s mystery. I would have felt better, though, if Thermo hadn’t stacked at the bottom. At least she did escape major injury. I now knew for certain that I could survive the drop. I also knew that her big bike had struggled to absorb the crushing hit at the bottom.
Now I had to ride the drop. Climbing back up the hill, I was back on the bike. I crept to the edge. This time I had the line. Releasing my death grip on the brakes, the bike rolled over the granite edge and shot down the sheer drop. At the drop’s transition it felt like being blasted out of a cannon. A split second later I slowed on the soft roll out. It wasn’t a clean pass. I toppled over at the end. But I made it unscathed. I had gotten just a little closer to riding all the big features on Cheap Thrills.
After the last drop, it was twisty, rooty, steep, and technical down. Perhaps there should have been more fear here on this hard final section. I think the fear reservoir might just have been used up for the ride.
When the Thrill was gone, we crossed over to 99er for the trip out. 99er itself is worth the trip. With the same character but less amplitude as Cheap Thrills, 99er twists through the trees and drops over rocks and roots. If we did 99er first, we’d think it was a hard trail. But, after Cheap Thrills, any trail we rode would be easy.
On the road, we pedaled our adrenaline-depleted bodies back to the trailer.
“Did we just do that?” I thought to myself.
Cheap Thrills is that type of trail. It gets into your head and stays there. There is nothing cheap about the thrills on Cheap Thrills.
* Next time, though, we should take the left turn off of Stonebridge Drive across from the Danimal North trailhead. At the end of this road, there is climbable singletrack route to the Flank Trail. We explored this dirt trail on our last visit but never connected to the city streets. Using this route would save us time and from the extended hike-a-bikes that our direction of travel on the Flank Trail requires.