It’s official: Sunday’s Ironman race won’t be the last held in Whistler.
Ironman, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Tourism Whistler have agreed to continue hosting the Subaru Ironman Canada and Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 Canada triathlons in Whistler through 2020, officials announced on Friday (July 28).
This year’s event was set to be the last in the initial five-year agreement. Sunday’s event will see approximately 2,900 athletes from 33 countries take part, as well as approximately 10,000 spectators expected to cheer them on.
“Looking ahead, even though Whistler's economy is currently thriving, the Subaru IRONMAN events help us to ensure our economic resiliency in the future. The Subaru IRONMAN Canada events also fit with our sport culture and build on our reputation as a world class destination for events,” said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in a release.
The announcement comes following strong debate throughout the corridor in recent months over whether the contract should be renewed. While some businesses and residents in favour of its return touted the Ironman event’s economic benefits -- they've generated approximately $42 million in economic activity for Whistler over the past four years, said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in the release -- others questioned whether these benefits are worth the negative impacts, for example, highway closures, that accompany hosting duties.
Last month, the Village of Pemberton and the Squamish Lillooet Regional District even passed motions denying their support for the event passing through their jurisdictions beyond 2017, citing safety concerns prompted by cyclists training along Pemberton Meadows Road. Currently, the 180 kilometre bike portion of the race brings athletes up the highway through Pemberton and SLRD area C before turning them around and directing them back to Whistler.
“This renewal does not include a cycling course confirmed through Pemberton and (SLRD) Area C,” pointed out Jack Crompton, chair of the SLRD board of directors. “The purpose of our motion and our advocacy is that the safety issues along Pemberton Meadows road be taken seriously, and from what I can tell so far, they are… Pemberton Meadows road is not a place, under current circumstances, that should host a cycling course.”
Crompton said the SLRD has been in touch with Ironman and is interested in working with the company to find a solution that will benefit all involved when it comes to the event’s cycling route. However, “there’s a long way to go between here to there,” he acknowledged. “I think all options are on the table, but the voices of our residents have been heard clearly that Pemberton Meadows Road is problematic.”
According to the release, “The logistics for hosting one of the world's great events are complicated and IRONMAN, the RMOW, and Tourism Whistler are working with event stakeholders to address concerns and improve the event each year. As such, the route for the cycling component during 2018-2020 is still under discussion.”
While Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace said the vast majority of the resort’s business community is pleased to see Ironman return to Whistler, she also acknowledged there are some aspects of race day operations that could stand to be improved.
“Some road closures on race day do present problems for businesses, in particular (those located in) Function Junction,” she explained in an email. “However, seeing the increased volume of cyclists, their friends and family coming to Whistler throughout the year certainly does have a positive economic impact. We hope to see improvements made for next year allowing more access from the highways into business centers to lessen the impact on race day.”