Though only 20 miles north of the bustle of Whistler, Pemberton has always been a bit different.
For the majority of its history, the town was only accessible via foot or a sporadic train ride, and while it has standard BC mining roots, it’s been a farming community for nearly 2,000 years—and a unique one at that. The indigenous Lil’wat began harvesting wild sweet onions when they settled the valley two millennia ago, and the backbone of the modern economy is its virus-free potatoes, the first of their kind grown commercially in the world.
But in recent years, the little farming town at the end of the Sea to Sky has been harvesting a different type of crop: Whistlerites and other adventure seekers, escaping the clamor of mountain biking’s ultra-nexus and looking to put down a settlement of their own.
For the many years I lived in Whistler, Pemberton was the place to go mountain biking in the spring, fall or even winter. Almost 1,500 feet lower than Whistler, it offers warmer temps and longer riding seasons—both winter and summer—while mostly avoiding Whistler’s cold, wet shoulder seasons. As a result, it’s pulled in an ever-increasing community of outdoor enthusiasts, and become a quiet hub for all sorts of adventuring, be it of the snow or dirt variety.
I made the migration permanently two years ago, and now it’s almost the only place I ride. Each morning I leave my house, pedaling in the shadow of Mount Currie toward the huge network of trails butting against town. Everything is within a few-minute spin: Blackbird Bakery, the Pony, Mile One Burgers, Pemberton Bike Co., and just about all of my friend’s houses are a stone’s throw from each other—and from nearly all of the local trails.
While the area may not have quite the multi-decade mountain bike history of Whistler, it still has a robust heritage. The Pemberton Valley Trail Association is extremely active and is responsible for 30-plus miles of trails, and the list of options is long and colorful. Trails like Cream Puff, Tower of Power, Rudy’s, Jack the Ripper, Middle Earth and Meat Grinder are just a few highlights among many epic rides, and are the fruits of countless hours of passion and labor by so many people. Pemberton residents don’t take their playground for granted.
These days, Pemberton is a far cry from its lonely, isolated origins. Since its beginnings in 2008, each July the Pemberton Music Festival draws tens of thousands of concert goers to the valley, and the are is no longer a secret on the outdoor scene. Some of Whistler’s events have spilled into the town, such as the Ironman Triathlon, bringing with them a swarm of competitors and spectators.
Yet something is still different about the little farming community at the end of the Sea to Sky Corridor. It’s no longer a long walk from the end of the road, but the fields of the “Seed Potato Capital of the World” still glow gold each year before harvest, and for the greater part of the year, the 2,500 permanent residents enjoy a sleepy scene markedly different than an hour-and-a-half down the road. And above it all, Mount Currie still keeps its granite watch over the valley, a reminder of the area’s frontiersman origins that have drawn so many to this wondrous place.
Cream Puff Shuttle
Tower of Power Loop
The Blake Jorgenson Gallery as originally published in The Sea to Sky Photo Book - Freehub Magazine Issue 7.3