Crankworx packs resort, but not without a few headaches 

Mountain bike festival sees 'very strong' bookings midweek, over final weekend

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLINT TRAHAN / CRANKWORX - Jam-packed jam Red Bull Joyride, part of Crankworx 2016, packed the base of Whistler Mountain on Aug. 21. The mountain bike festival filled the resort over the course of its two weeks but didn't come without concerns around traffic and parking.
  • PHOTO by clint trahan / crankworx
  • Jam-packed jam Red Bull Joyride, part of Crankworx 2016, packed the base of Whistler Mountain on Aug. 21. The mountain bike festival filled the resort over the course of its two weeks but didn't come without concerns around traffic and parking.

Tourism Whistler (TW) has confirmed what the rest of us already know: Crankworx 2016 packed the resort. But it was also not without its challenges, with residents voicing concerns primarily around traffic and parking.

The world's largest mountain biking festival returned to Whistler from Aug. 12 to 21, and true to its history as one of the busiest periods on the event calendar, it helped bump occupancy rates in the resort.

TW's Patricia Westerholm wrote in an email that it's challenging to compare this year's festival to the 2015 edition — when occupancy averaged 87 per cent — as the pace of bookings was altered by last August's arrival of 3,500 employees from multinational human resources software company ADP.

"With this in mind, the pace of bookings picked up closer to the dates of the festival with the midweek and the second weekend showing very strong pace and will likely continue to be one of Whistler's strongest weekends in the summer for occupancy."

Business was booming for most retailers over the event's two weeks and, unsurprisingly, bike shops were some of the biggest benefactors.

"It was extremely busy. We pretty much sold out of a lot of parts and then all of our rental bikes were out pretty much every day," said Evolution Whistler's Jessica Wilds.

"I would say across the board we were very busy, from the bakery, to the gelato shop to the restaurants to the nightclub," noted Brenton Smith, GM of O&R Entertainment, which manages five local restaurants and bars, including La Bocca, Amsterdam Pub and the Maxx Fish nightclub.

But factoring in the impacts of Whistler's staffing and housing woes, Smith does worry about the implications Whistler's busyness will continue to have on the guest experience.

"I know that tired staff does equal substandard customer service. You just can't get around it," he said. "We've seen some negative service reviews just with the overwhelming volume and staff fatigue. They really are giving it their all, but there's only so much you can ask of people."

Bear Necessities owner Lucy Pomroy was forced to keep her shop closed for two hours one recent weekend because her employee couldn't find a parking spot anywhere in the village — despite having a monthly parking pass.

"She says it's happening more and more when there's these big events and she's driving around for ages and can't find a space anywhere," said Pomroy.

Parking availability was also an issue for resident Ken Rezek, replying to a Pique Facebook post.

"Parking throughout Crankworx was super difficult, as it has become on many weekends even without an event," he wrote. "I wonder if it's time to have some parking reserved for workers. I wonder too if it's time for the muni to build multi level parking with the money they've earned through the parking fees."

Other locals Pique reached spoke about massive delays on Highway 99, with, for instance, southbound traffic out of the resort backed all the way up to Spruce Grove on Sunday, Aug. 28.

"The idea that you're going to come here on a busy weekend and have free and easy clear-going wherever you want to go is probably asking a bit much these days," said Coun. Steve Anderson, a member of the municipal Transportation Advisory Group (TAG). "Vancouver's growing, we've built a highway that's going to get people here even quicker and easier, and these are all things we're going to be dealing with at TAG."

A traffic study looking at ways to curb Whistler's gridlock during busy periods is expected to come before council in the fall. The group has discussed several possible options, including instituting four-lane traffic on the highway up until Function Junction and increasing bus travel into the resort, Anderson said.

The bigger question is whether Whistler's record-breaking growth is sustainable over the long term. Pomroy doesn't think so.

"It's great for me that summers are crazy busy and the shoulder seasons are getting smaller, but it's not good if I can't find people for my business," she said. "Every season it gets harder to find employees. I used to get 30 resumes for a position; now, I'm lucky to get three."

Coun. Jen Ford shares Pomroy's concerns about the employee experience, and said it's imperative that Whistler works to increase its seasonal workforce and short-term housing stock. But she has also come to accept Whistler's new reality.

"I would say the Whistler experience isn't dying, it's changing," she said. "It's something to be sensitive to: Whistler is changing and the type of product is changing, and we can fight it all we want, but it might be futile. I'm not saying we should throw up the gates and let development come in, I'm not about that.

"I think this is truly where the community needs to come together and find solutions together and everybody needs to step up."

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