Gargamel pete's best ride of 2023 2

Pete's Best Ride of 2023

Photos Deniz Merdano
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In a year full of great rides, the best one for me in 2023 came in the summertime, in Whistler. In years past, Crankworx fell on the first and second weeks of August, meaning I was usually up there for my birthday. That bit of timing meant that my birthday ride for the last decade or so was usually in the middle of a busy work week up in Whistler. The chaotic, non-stop schedule of Crankworx has led us to prefer to stay away from the madness in the village, choosing instead the quiet and solitude of Emerald Estates, north of town.

So those birthday rides usually took place in that area, full of (in)famous trails, known collectively as the 'no flow zone' thanks to their chunky, twisty routing and profiles that look like a child's drawing of a monster's teeth. Perched above the NFZ is Cougar mountain, a Whistler area mass of granite, tall pines and a precious few ribbons of loam. One such ribbon is a trail called Gargamel, known more for its steep sections of granite pavers that weave their way in and out of the inhospitable confines of the trail's routing.

Gargamel first entered our joint consciousness when it was made famous by Tyler Morland's segment in The Collective, the mtb film that blew the genre wide open in 2004. Previous movies of the mtb canon (if you want to get overly lofty about it) excelled in one or two areas, but this was the first one that delivered quality equally among the riding, cinematography, and editing. Even the soundtrack was impeccable. Morland's segment inspired that first ride down Gargamel, not long after the film was released.

A group of us piled into our buddy Jason's F-250 and shuttled up the steep FSR that leads to the trail's starting point. From there, you climb for a while on loamy, rough trail, snaking your way south along Cougar's east-facing flank before descending into undulating terrain punctuated by swoopy dives down short, gutsy pitches and punchy recovery zones. I remember it being steep and chunky and that our group had an incredible time, marveling at the imagination it took to build a trail down that line, and the dedication it took for Tyler and his friends to build it in a remote location over several years. Fast forward to 2012 or so and the first birthday ride on Gargamel, which was also the first time many of us had ridden it since the mid-00s. We arrived on better bikes, as arguably better riders, taking better stabs at the lines that guarantee success (the alternative is almost always a nasty crash in jagged granite-strewn avalanche chutes or a bike rag-dolling down a steep, loamy pitch). What didn't change was how exhilarating and beautiful the trail was, and the rush of satisfaction we all felt while revisiting a trail that inspired great memories from a ride over a half decade earlier. That second visit cemented Gargamel as the chosen line for our annual group ride during Crankworx; that my birthday fell during the same week most years just made it easier for a few buddies to justify a day off work and drive up from North Vancouver.

Gargamel Pete's best ride of 2023 3

About two thirds of the way down Gargamel, you emerge from the woods and out into 'the amphitheater'. The trail winds around in a horseshoe, skirting a shale slope formed by years of rock slides. It also signifies a transition from the loamy (or dusty) part of the trail into Ken Melamed's granite pathways through sketchy chutes and cambered passes.

As the years went by, our enjoyment of the annual tradition never wavered even if our attendance record wasn't perfect. A few years passed without our annual pilgrimage up to Gargamel, a ride that always ended in our quaint rental cabin's back yard, cold beer waiting on ice in a cooler on the porch. But more often that not, we made it happen, and it cemented a love for the tradition.

Among the many things that were lost to Covid, Crankworx's cancellation was not one of the important ones, when considered in perspective. However it did mean we missed out on a few years of reuniting with friends from around the world in the greatest corridor of mountain biking on the planet - nighttime shenanigans merely underline Whistler's hegemony in the sport's hierarchy of annual destinations. In 2020 and 21, no Crankworx meant no birthday ride in Whistler, no Gargamel, no frosty post-ride beers in the magical forest around our cabin. In 2022, Crankworx was back but the ride also didn't happen that year; Cam, ever the catalyst behind the ride, had to cut his week in Whistler short and it just didn't come together, although we did discover a new favourite trail in the zone - The Thing - which also features incredible rock work by Ken Melamed (yep, Jesse's dad) who was a stonemason before serving as Whistler's mayor. As great as Gargamel was in its original form, Melamed made it even better with his now trademark hand-placed granite blocks forming paved routes through narrow, twisting passageways in the chutes of the sub-alpine slopes around Cougar mountain.

Gargamel Pete's best ride of 2023

You can choose either line, but you'll be riding on granite.

Everything aligned for a reboot this year, though. Crankworx didn't fall on the week of my birthday, but that was never the point anyway. The larger group ride was happening the next day and ended up being on a new trail we were introduced to the year before (Bring on the Weekend) so for this edition, the Gargamel ride was a smaller crew of only three. In the early afternoon on July 27th, Cam, Deniz and I set off from Emerald, each with a stashed beer on board, to be enjoyed at the end of the climb and before the real fun began.

We moseyed our way up the fire road, swatted at deer flies and mosquitoes as we enjoyed our traditional refreshment at a gathering point near the final switchbacks of the climb, and set off in pursuit of the very serious business of the day: maximum fun. I believe this was Deniz's first time down Gargamel, but his skill more than made up for any inexperience with the preferred lines. Cam's smooth style made quick work of crux after crux, and I did my best to hold it together in my third or fourth time back behind bars after a long hiatus due to extended vacation. We all traded the lead as we snaked our way down the trail, stopping only occasionally for Deniz to grab a few shots. The best trails are the ones that make you resent stopping to get photos, and also the ones that make you regret that fact later.

As we came upon one memorable section after another (they're the only kind of sections Gargamel seems to have) I was hit fairly hard by one memory after another from rides gone by on the trail: the intern we almost broke when we dragged him along on a ride that was above his comfort level; the other intern whose ride went much better, who has continued along successfully in his path in the mtb world. I remembered the time our buddy Pete Chambers nailed a nasty steep line - I think that kicked off a summer of firsts for him - or Colin Miller airing into a rock field during that first ride down the trail, leaving us envious of his skills and hubris on two wheels, as usual. I was struck by memories of laughter, hooting and hollering, and that time we stashed beers at the lake and capped off a great ride with a swim in perfect water with a stunning view. My privilege is not access to fancy bikes, it's having the time and opportunity to experience moments like those, and the people around me with which to share them. My best ride of the year was the one that reminded me that I'm one of the lucky ones that has too many best rides to count.

Pete Roggeman BOTW Trek Rail Gen 4

Ok fine, two best rides. But they form part of the same memory and I'm making the rules here. This was from our ride the day after Gargamel, on Bring on the Weekend, which featured a larger group, a lot of fun, and a great post ride hang with really delicious cold beers in a parking lot because we just couldn't wait.

To all of those I've ridden Gargamel with over the years - Matt, Kaz, Tim, Jason, Morgan, Pete, Colin, Mike, Deniz, Eamonn, and especially Trevor and Cam, with whom I've done the most rides and the lion's share of the most memorable ones - thank you. To those that have been part of other very memorable rides over the years - Ryan, Seb, other Morgan, other Mike, Hailey, Ollie, Matt, Jon, Graham, Paul, Stephen, Garen, Chris, Ken, Jeremy, Claudio, Ricky, Silvio, Klaus, Dave, Wade, James, Jeff, Jerry - and that list is far from complete - thank you for the laughter, the camaraderie, the friendship. Thank you for reminding me every time out that the reason I do this is for the adrenaline, the feeling of accomplishment, the physical work, and to spend time in beautiful places surrounded by trees instead of crowds of people; but mostly to spend time with the likes of you.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy New Year. And may you be as lucky as me, to have so many great people with which to share your ride through 2024.

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+3 Matt Cusanelli Pete Roggeman Cam McRae

Gargamel is always an adventure! 

One of the challenges is the long pedal and cleaning the Rainbow-Flank North Section to Zanarchy and then Zanarchy itself.

+1 Pete Roggeman

After all these years and all the rides down Gargamel, the most recent one was up there with the best. Thanks for reminding me of that stellar day Pete, and for describing it so eloquently!


Always a pleasure, amigo. Don't think we've ever had a bad one, but that sure was a good one.


-3 Hardlylikely dhr999 Matt Cusanelli Karl Fitzpatrick Pete Roggeman

Seeing that at least one of the bikes pictured isn't, but is rather a motorcycle I'm pretty disappointed.

Human powered bicycles. 

Not mopeds please.

+3 BarryW Hardlylikely Velocipedestrian

Happy holidays, Barry.



You too Pete! 

I'm just a consumer letting you know my preferences for those organizations I want to continue doing business with. 

And I strongly believe that although mopeds are super cool, they are not bicycles and don't belong on bicycle trails in the woods. Ride motorcycles elsewhere. 

But here's to lots of good things to read on here and lots of good rides in 2024.


Your opinion has been registered (duly and often). You don't need to keep reminding us, however it's obviously your prerogative. All the best.


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