Since you already own a hard tail, a big bike might be a good idea - particularly if you plan on riding Whistler a ton. It is kind of nice to have choices. If you are looking for a do-it-all bike then something with ~160mm front and back is more than enough. Right now I have a DH sled and a beefy hard tail. I have also had a (almost) do-it-all fully (~160mm). I have been happy in all cases. Ride the HT at Fromme, and save the bigger bike for the shuttle days. (Or really, ride whatever the hell you want to ride wherever you happen to be riding!)
Galbraith just South of Bellingham is a good one - pedal up, rip down. Ask at Fanatyk bike shop if you need directions.
If you are in for a bit of novelty and quality flowy jump trails (short but highly session-able) try Duthie Park in Issaquah.
I hear lots of good stuff about Hood River, but I've never been myself.
The Omega X-1 might be worth a look. I use an older K-1 and really like it. The X-1 has a lower profile and should work with a wider range of helmets. I like the way it distributes force unto the large muscles of your back, rather than onto the T-spine itself the way the Leatt does.
A bit of a tough call. Perhaps Crinkum Crankum /Leopard / Kirkford? To be perfectly honest, I have always considered the Shore trails to start at Pipeline and get trickier from there. Once you can comfortably ride Pipeline, then you can likely handle a bunch of other stuff as well. My first run down that trail was an exercise in semi-controlled panic and death grip braking. It is better now.
Until you get more in the swing of things, you might want to ride Burnaby Mountain (SFU) for a bit. Floppy bunny has seen some love recently and it is now a good stepping stone as well. Plus you can run lots of laps on it. One other thing I learned when getting used to the Shore - there is really no shame in walking. Just try to do a bit less of it every ride and things come together quickly.
My first Shore ride was on Seymour, following a group of guys I met in the parking lot down CBC, Corkscrew and Boogieman. Not the route I'd recommend for a beginner.
That vid of In Deep makes me cringe. I have done exactly that exactly there. New bike, came in WAY too hot and missed the pop off the end, burying my front wheel in the hole at the end of the rock. It is a long way to the ground from that spot…=/
Upper/Lower Joyride always shows up on my lower mountain tech trail list.
Definitely Drop In Clinic
I second the EB guides idea.
If it was me, I think I'd head to Seymour. There is a huge variety of trails there and since it is a shuttle oriented hill, you will spend less time chugging up fire roads and more time in the good stuff. Seymour also tends to be a bit less demanding than Cypress. If you are not used to the riding here, hitting Cypress on day 1 might leave you walking more than riding and cursing your decision. Even for those that have done a lot of riding, the first time to the Shore is a bit of an eye-opener.
EDIT: If the timing works out, feel free to give me a shout when you get into town. I can take you for a run or two down some Shore standards.
For me, the 26" HT is not a dead thing. For the mass market, perhaps. I'll ride my Ridge until it dies, even though the frame is a bit small for me. I would build a Chromag Stylus as a Shore bike and be pleased for years (yes, steel is real). Makes every trail that much harder and every move that much more technical - hence every sense of accomplishment that much greater.
I use an Omega on almost every ride (unless I am on the low trails at Fromme, and even then, really). I was wearing it this last summer when I overshot the biggest step up on the island in the Garbo zone and landed on my head. Broke a brand new Kali Avatar helmet, gave my self a concussion, and may have cracked one of the vertebral processes at the CT junction. Without the brace I would have been in MAJOR trouble I think. Personally, I can easily put up with the small range of motion limits imposed by the brace. I'd rather have it than not. If I replace my Omega (K1 model), I think I will go with the X1, which is the lower profile version of the same brace.
Ah Wal-Mart. Home of the American Dream…
From the article:
The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Wal-Mart "to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store," said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.
"She was competitive shopping," he said.