The Ironman Canada bike course will likely look a little different next year.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is currently considering a series of changes proposed by Ironman to the triathlon’s 180-kilometre bike portion, following the proposal’s inclusion in an SLRD Board and Committee of the Whole Meeting agenda on Oct. 26.
“With regards to the new course, Ironman has provided some initial proposals to local officials for their review,” wrote Ironman’s senior regional director Keats McGonigal in an email response to The Question’s request for an interview. “We are still in process of developing the 2018 route and nothing has been finalized at this time.”
The proposed changes appear to ease some of the community’s concerns regarding the elite event, namely, safety concerns prompted by cyclists travelling along Pemberton Meadows Road. As such, that road, which has traditionally been part of the Ironman racecourse and falls under SLRD Area C’s jurisdiction, is notably absent from the newly proposed course.
After completing the triathlon’s swim portion in Alta Lake, that proposed course would see competitors hop on their bikes and leave Rainbow Park, travelling south on Alta Lake Road before turning left when they reach Highway 99.
Athletes would then travel north on the highway, eventually turning around at the base of Duffey Lake Road. On the way back towards Pemberton, athletes would loop through Mount Currie — a brand new addition to the course — before returning to head southbound down the highway. Upon reaching Alpine, competitors would leave the highway and continue travelling south on Alta Lake Road.
They’d return to the Sea to Sky and continue south until reaching the Callaghan Valley, where they’d complete the same out/back loop seen in previous years’ bike courses.
Athletes would continue south until they reach Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, where they’d turn around to head north, finishing the bike portion in the Village, as usual.
“At the end of the day we want to find a solution that works well for everyone,” said local triathlete Marla Zucht, who recently returned from competing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
When asked if changing the course — and losing the flat section along Pemberton Meadows Road — would impact the difficulty of the race, she said, “I don’t think it matters from a difficulty perspective. Whistler’s already considered on the circuit to be a difficult bike course, so changing it… wouldn’t be that much more challenging. I don’t think that’s going to make or break it for people that are considering coming to Whistler to race.”
But the route wouldn’t be the only change to the event: this proposal includes moving up the race’s start time to 5:30 a.m. That would see the last athlete complete the bike course at 4:30 p.m., one hour earlier than in previous years.
Previous years also saw athletes travel south to the Callaghan before heading up to Pemberton. Reversing the order of the bike course to bring athletes north first would also result in a change to road closures. In this case, Ironman suggests closing Highway 99 northbound from Alpine Way to the base of the Duffey from 6:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. For context, last year’s northbound road closure was in place from 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Highway 99 Southbound from the Duffey to Alpine Way would close at 7:20 a.m., opening at 1:30 p.m. The lane would be closed for 6 hours in total, compared to the 2017 closure that lasted nine hours, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
A new closure would see Highway 99 northbound close from Brandywine Falls to Alta Lake Road (south of the Village) from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., in order to allow for southbound traffic to exit Whistler, while the southbound lane would shut down from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (The southbound route was closed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in 2017.)
Alta Lake Road would also remain closed northbound from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and southbound from 4 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while Xit’Olaow Road in Mt. Currie would close in both directions from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The proposal is the latest update on the 2018 event since Ironman announced a five-year contract renewal in July.
The contract renewal was announced amidst strong debate throughout the corridor regarding whether the event should return. The announcement came shortly after both the SLRD and the Village of Pemberton passed motions against supporting the event’s return to their jurisdictions, with both groups citing safety concerns surrounding cyclists on Pemberton Meadows Road.
Others felt the event’s road closures resulted in an unfair lack of access to Pemberton on race day, without the same economic benefits the event brings to Whistler. In fact, the results of a survey undertaken earlier this year showed 75 per cent of respondents from Pemberton, the SLRD, Lil’wat Nation and Pemberton Meadows saw no value in hosting the Whistler-based event, while around 80 per cent said they didn’t support its return.
SLRD board chair Jack Crompton said the board was waiting to discuss the potential changes with their Lil’wat First Nation neighbours before commenting on the proposal. The Village of Pemberton said Council is also yet to take a position on the proposed route, though the course will be presented at an upcoming council meeting, with that date yet to be determined.
“Ultimtely I think we want to have a race course that works well for all the partners involved in the corridor. If Pemberton is really opposed to having it, then moving it to a different location I think is a good option,” Zucht said, adding that she wouldn’t be opposed to see the bike portion remain within Whistler’s borders, either.
That idea could potentially see the course comprised of multiple laps between, for example, Rainbow Park and Brandywine Falls.
“I think there’s some advantages to just doing multiple laps,” Zucht said. “Getting to see more spectators, that’s always a lot more energizing and exciting for us as racers. Once we leave Emerald down to Pemberton, it’s pretty lonely.”