It could take a couple of weeks for the official figures to arrive, but so far the indicators point to an Ironman Sunday that went off as smoothly, and as profitably, as could be expected.
More than 2,600 athletes with entourages and untold thousands of spectators crowded into Whistler Aug. 25 for the first of five annual Ironman Canada competitions. Pre-event estimates put the total number of visitors at 10,000, as rotating highway closures went into effect from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. to accommodate the race. All agencies involved in the management of the event are now reviewing their procedures with the aim of finding improvements for next year.
“There were a few minor learning points, regarding traffic patterns and that type of thing, which is to be expected for the first event here,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair. “But we were very happy at how things went. We had no incidents of note.”
At the regular board meeting of the SLRD, it was noted the highway closures had effectively shut down most businesses in Pemberton for the duration of the race.
Keats McGonigal, Ironman race director said with an event of this size there will be elements such as this to improve upon for next year. Talks with partners and regional leaders will determine what those logistics might be. For the event itself, McGonigal singled out spectator access as a priority.
“We’ve got to go through a full debrief process with our staff and the RMOW and put all the details together in the upcoming weeks as we start the planning for next year.”
Ironman Canada reported a 93 per cent finish rate for Sunday’s race, slightly higher than the 88 to 90 per cent rate of other Ironman events across North America. According to Tourism Whistler, athletes represented every province and state in North America.
McGonigal said there were no reported medical emergencies amoung the 2,600 competitors, except for a few medical transports in the expected range of exhaustion and upset stomachs,
“We opened up registration today (Aug. 26) for next year’s event, and the turnout for people wanting to sign up has been really positive.”
On the business front, the municipality expects the annual event to pull $15 million of economic benefits into the region over the next five years. Ironman was the largest athletic event Whistler has hosted since the 2010 Olympics. But this time business owners had far less time to capitalize off the frenzy.
Wendy Kendall, owner of Blenz Coffee, near the finish line at Whistler Olympic Plaza said Sunday “was bigger than the biggest day of the Olympics.
“We came into this thinking, ‘we’ve done Tough Mudder, we’ve done Crankworx, we can do Ironman, but it was so much larger than all of those.”
Kendall acted on the Chamber of Commerce’s advice to extend her hours, but didn’t anticipate the steady volume of business that followed. Her staff worked 16-hour shifts; she brought in casual labour at the last minute; and she set up a coffee table outside to relieve the pressure indoors.
“I recommend other businesses extend their hours next year, but make sure you’ve got the manpower first.”
Comor Sports also reported its best day of the summer on Saturday, but as the athletes competed Sunday, sales of energy bars and CO2 canisters fell flat.
“Sautrday was one of our busiest days, Sunday was one of our lowest,” manager Rick MacKay said with a laugh.
Tourism Whistler is conducting a hotel impact study it hopes to complete by late September. In the meantime Patricia Westerholm, manager of corporate communications, said the days before and after the event bookings where ahead of the same time last year.
“Anecdotal feedback from the hotels has been very positive,” she said. “Many athletes started arriving by mid-week and many of them stayed for subsequent days following the event.”
The general manager of Summit Lodge, Tony Medd, agreed. For next year he won’t reserve rooms for last-minute guests, as the Ironman essentially halted all travel from Vancouver.
“There was more demand for rooms further out, but not as we got closer,” Medd said. “So anyone who saved rooms had a hard time getting rid of them. There’s more demand on a regular weekend than there was on this one.”
“That being said, although the Ironman didn’t work 100 per cent as we thought it would, we did see a lot of training groups early on in the week. Overall it was a positive experience.”
At Blackcomb Lodge, general manager Mark Blasak said the Ironman helped fill his hotel on a typically-slow Sunday.
“If you were a preferred Hotel with whistler.com, you would probably have longer stays, but overall, for the regular-Joe hotel it helped, for sure.”
Both the RMOW and Whistler Chamber of Commerce expect to have a clearer picture of business activities in the next couple of weeks.