Stevie Smith’s untimely death in 2016 left a void in the hearts of many Canadian mountain bikers. To honor his memory while setting its sights on hosting world-class downhill races, Whistler built the 1199 Trail.
We spoke to Brenden Behan, Whistler’s current Bike Park Trail Crew Supervisor, to get the scoop on the trail itself and Whistler’s vision for it.
Stevie Smith’s legacy in Canadian downhill racing
With several national titles and a World Cup title, Smith was the face of Canadian downhill racing in the late 2000s and early 2010s. No other Canadian downhill racer had ever achieved his level of success in the sport. He was nicknamed “Chainsaw” for his uncanny ability to cut through the woods on a bike.
But Smith was known for more than just his bike handling skills. He had a personality as big as the outdoors in which he rode. In a 2017 article for Red Bull, Wyn Masters recalled Smith doing wheelies for the crowd after a flat tire ruined his race at Cairns.
Smith’s life was tragically cut short in 2016 at the age of 26 when he passed away from a brain injury sustained in an enduro motorcycle crash in his hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia. His death left a giant hole in Canadian downhill racing.
The 1199 Trail became a way for Whistler to honor Smith
Behan, grew up in Powell River, British Columbia and moved to Whistler in 2014 to be part of the trail crew there and worked his way up to the supervisory role he currently holds. He told us the trail crew began work on the 1199 Trail (named in honor of the point total Smith accumulated on his way to his 2013 World Cup DH championship) in 2016. The original idea came from Pat Labrosse and Brian Finestone, who wanted to have a World Cup DH track in Whistler. They were developing the Creekside portion of the park at that time and wanted to put the trail there.
Behan described the area where the trail was built as old growth forest.
“It was challenging to walk through, let alone build through,” he said. The trail was built, and sometimes re-built, in stages. “We flagged lines we thought would work, then used GPS to see the distance and grade.” Additionally, they had to work within the rules of World Cup DH racing if they ever wanted to get a race there.
Years in the making
Once they made initial decisions on lines, the crew sought advice and feedback from professional racers.
Behan also stressed that no one person made decisions regarding the trail. “We used the 3-man rule. At least three of us had to agree on any decisions about the lines or features.”
While the crew started the building process for the trail in 2016, it got put on the backburner for a while. Then, COVID hit and further derailed the building process. Additionally, with a crew of 30-35 people who were responsible for building and maintaining over 120 trails, it was hard to find time to focus solely on it.
“Last year, we got back to it and did the most work. We wanted to finish the top half of the track for the EWS race at Crankworx.”
The Crankworx EWS race spurred Whistler to complete the entire trail
Behan said Whistler received some very positive feedback from the racers who competed in last year’s EWS race at Crankworx. Because of that, Whistler wanted to get the entire trail completed. Behan and his crew got to work in May and worked on it every day until the start of the race in July.
“The group effort from the trail crew was insane.”
When it was finished, current and former members of the trail crew who had been a part of the work since the beginning were allowed to ride it for the first time. It was an emotional experience for everyone.
The trail reflects both Smith’s personality and the type of riding he enjoyed most
The 1199 Trail is 2.4 km long (approximately 1.49 miles) and descends 489 m (1,604.3 ft). Behan describes it as “steep, fast, rough, and awesome.” Behan said Smith grew up riding Mt. Prevost, so he was good at riding steep, fast, gnarly terrain. “The trail is exactly what he would have wanted.”
The trail contains three massive wooden drops, rock rolls, and a rock garden. It also has the steepest chutes of any trail in Whistler and is rated as a pro line.
The trail is fast too, at least for the right rider. In this year’s Canadian Open DH race at Crankworx, winning runs were in the three-and-a-half minute range and most riders made it down the trail in less than four minutes.
Whistler’s big plans for the 1199 Trail
Behan told Singletracks that Whistler wants the Canadian Open to return to the 1199 Trail next year. “I think it would be really cool to run the Canadian National Championship on the track as well.” Behan also mentioned that the ultimate goal for the trail is to get a World Cup DH race run on it, but there is no current timetable for that.
In addition to races, Behan said Whistler wants to use the trail for training camps. He hopes that it will help train future Canadian downhill racers. Whistler will also open sections of the trail to the public. It doesn’t want to open the entire trail due to its extreme nature and because Whistler wants the trail to last for a long time to come.