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Fate of Whistler Alpine Meadows’ 2023 race hangs in the balance with Vail Resorts permitting

Turnaround time for new permit process a challenge for race organizers
Race director Gary Robbins greets John Maxwell as he crosses the finish line of the Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 mile race in first place in September 2022. Organizers are uncertain their permit from Whistler Blackcomb will come through in time to host the 2023 race.

Ulta-marathoners—particularly those running 100-kilometre or 100-mile distances—need to plan their seasons well in advance.

That’s why, at the beginning of last month, Coast Mountain Trail Running (CMTR), which organizes popular trail races around the Sea to Sky and Lower Mainland, decided to warn potential racers that its Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) event up Whistler Blackcomb might not take place in 2023.

“As of right now today, we are deep in the permit process with Whistler Blackcomb/ Vail Resorts to simply reproduce in 2023, what we successfully hosted there in 2022,” read a letter from CMTR to its runners. “We have not been granted approvals for anything at this time. Vail has introduced a new approval process which they just launched, with a best timeline of early in 2023 for a final answer. As much as it pains us to say this, there are zero guarantees that WAM will happen in 2023. Yes, after six years of successfully producing these races in Whistler, we still find ourselves with unexpected challenges to get things off the ground, and this is completely out of our control right now.”

While CMTR fully supports having a formal permit with Vail Resorts, the long processing time has proven to be a challenge, said CMTR co-founder Geoff Langford.

“We don’t begrudge this process at all,” he said. “It’s great. It’s just the timing, and we’ve expressed this to them too. Everesting and other events got grandfathered in and are good to go. We have this event that’s happened every year and knew it was coming back. That’s our frustration—that they couldn’t say, ‘Yes, it’s good to go. We just need to work through this process with you guys.’”

(Pique reached out to 29029 Everesting, which runs an event up Blackcomb, to ask about its permitting process, but did not receive a reply by press time. However, the company’s website confirms the 2023 event, set in September—the same month as WAM— is sold out.)

For its part, in an email, Whistler Blackcomb said, “Our team is currently in the application review process and has no further comment at this time.”

A spokesperson declined to answer any questions.

In 2022, WAM took place at Whistler Blackcomb Sept. 9 to 11, with six different race distances and events. They ranged from Ascent Race all the way up Blackcomb Mountain to the 100-mile distance. Last year, it was also only one of two Canadian races that served as a qualifier for the coveted Hardrock 100 in Colorado.

“We’re hopeful it will happen in [in 2023],” Langford said. “Tourism Whistler reached out to us back in 2019. They saw the potential of the event and wanted to work with us on an economic impact study and look at ways to build out the event and make it more valuable for the community. We did that last year, now that we’re back at full strength [after COVID cancellations].”

The results of that study are expected in the near future.

CMTR also runs the popular Squamish 50 race, which back in 2016 had an economic impact study done on its value to Squamish. “It was just under $1 million, but that event has at least doubled. I would guess that economic impact has tripled,” Langford added.

The team is looking forward to having a formalized permit with Vail Resorts, as they do in many other communities. But they hope that more communication can take place so they can pass that information onto runners.

“We’ve had minimal communication,” Langford said. “For an event that’s been around six times and donated tens of thousands to trails and [in] volunteer time, it’s frustrating ... If it takes until February, it might be enough to kill the event for a year.”

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