Whistler will be packed with thousands of long-distance triathletes next August as the resort has been selected as the next host of Ironman Canada.
The Ironman — generally regarded as one of the most challenging athletic accomplishments on the planet — was awarded to Whistler for the next five years by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) over Kelowna and Huntsville, Ont., the two other finalist communities bidding on the event.
Whistler takes over an event that had been hosted in Penticton for the last three decades. Organizers are expecting at least 2,000 participants in next year’s event, which will put the Sea to Sky corridor on full display during a gruelling test of stamina.
“Having produced … and raced a number of these events, I’m really excited about the course that we’ve got,” said race director Keats McGonigal. “I think the athletes are going to feel the challenge of the hills, yet appreciate the beauty that’s all around them for the entire day.”
Competitors will attempt to complete a 3.86-kilometre swim in Alta Lake from the start at Rainbow Park, followed by a 180-km cycling leg — that’s 50 per cent longer than the RBC GranFondo Whistler distance — and conclude with a full-marathon distance run.
The bike route will head south to the Callaghan Valley before heading back north to Pemberton and then returning to Whistler. The two-loop running course will incorporate sections of the Valley Trail and Lost Lake area before finishing close to Whistler Olympic Plaza. Finish times will range from nine to 17 hours.
The municipality and Tourism Whistler (TW) jointly bid on the event and TW president Barrett Fisher was no doubt excited by last Thursday’s (Oct. 11) official WTC announcement.
“We feel it is an exceptionally positive opportunity for the resort,” said Fisher, adding that the event “will clearly showcase our summer products.”
Fisher also said that Ironman events typically drive up to 15,000 room-night hotel stays, and that’s not including those making visits to train here prior to race day.
The event will be held annually in July starting in 2014, but next year’s Aug. 23 date will coincide with the new iron-distance triathlon being held in Penticton, potentially diluting the number of athletes who may compete in Whistler.
However, McGonigal said he expects the allure of a new location will keep participation levels high.
“Having the opportunity to race an event of this calibre, in this location, is very exciting for (athletes),” said McGonigal. “I’m sure there will be some people that have done Ironman Canada in the past that will come out to race.
“The other thing we see in a lot of our new-location races is a lot of first-time Ironman participants who live locally — here, either in Whistler, Squamish or Vancouver — will participate because it’s right in their backyard.”
The municipality is putting $250,000 of RMI funding towards the event, $100,000 of which is collected by the WTC as a licensing fee. The remainder will be spent by way of municipal services in support of the race.
“We are, to a large extent, paying ourselves to provide some enhanced municipal services,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, listing traffic management and hiring of lifeguards as examples of what the muni will provide.
WTC officials have said previously that at least 3,000 volunteers are required to successfully stage an Ironman. Fisher said that based on Whistler’s strong history of volunteerism, highlighted especially during the 2010 Olympics, the resort should have no trouble finding enough help.
“We are … confident that an event like this will also attract many local and regional volunteers, (and) will also attract former Ironman participants that are no longer competing in the event but want to be involved,” said Fisher.
McGonigal said some of the other issues, such as athlete transport to the Rainbow Park start and establishing of spectator areas, will be addressed in the months leading up to the event.
Registration opens Thursday (Oct. 18) at www.ironman.ca, where additional event info can be found.
—with files from Tanya Foubert and Brandon Barrett