Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Sea to Sky ultra runners ‘disappointed’ by Whistler Alpine Meadows cancellation

Trail race organizers say their ‘time in Whistler has come to an end,’ but Whistler Blackcomb remains open to ‘finding compromises’ if safety conditions are met
Pemberton’s Maude Cyr competes in a Whistler Alpine Meadows ultra-marathon in 2019. She was planning to compete in this year’s 100-mile distance before learning the popular event has been permanently cancelled.

After being among the fastest women to cross the finish line in the Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) 50-kilometre race in 2019, the 80-km distance in 2021 and the 100-km in 2022, Pemberton trail runner Maude Cyr was looking forward to finally tackling WAM’s 100-mile (161-km) event this September.

Instead, Cyr will run her first 100-mile race in Quebec this summer rather than on the trails in her own backyard.

What Cyr described as “the most beautiful” trail race will not return to the resort in 2023, or as it currently stands, any future year, Coast Mountain Trail Running (CMTR) co-founders Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford announced in a statement Friday, Feb. 10.

“It is with great disappointment that we must announce that our WAM races (Whistler Alpine Meadows) are officially cancelled, and our time in Whistler has come to an end,” Robbins and Langford wrote on behalf of the CMTR team.

"We will not be pursuing any further events within the township going forward. After six successful editions of the race, it has become crystal clear that there is simply no path forward for us to produce races of this magnitude, along the alpine terrain within the confines of Whistler."

The trail race organizers known for hosting events throughout the Sea to Sky and Lower Mainland were due to welcome hundreds of runners back to Whistler in September for six different race distances, ranging from a point-to-point race up Blackcomb Mountain's Ascent trail to a 100-mile ultra-marathon course that winds through Whistler Blackcomb’s tenure in the Fitzsimmons Range.

As Pique previously reported, CMTR warned potential racers in December 2022 that WAM might not take place this year, citing challenges with Whistler Blackcomb parent company Vail Resorts' new permitting process for an event that demands months of preparation from participants.

“We’ve had minimal communication,” Langford told Pique at the time. “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.”

Whistler Blackcomb hopeful ‘reasonable compromises’ can be made to ensure WAM’s return, but would require updated safety plan

In an emailed statement on Monday, Feb. 13, Whistler Blackcomb senior communications manager Dane Gergovich said the resort is "disappointed" by race organizers' decision to permanently cancel the annual event "without alignment on protocol related to safety."

In the wake of WAM’s 2022 race weekend, Whistler Blackcomb “identified a number of safety issues that were compounded by the lack of a medical plan that would adequately meet the needs of a race of this size and scope—things we will not sacrifice or compromise on," Gergovich wrote. “In a meeting between Whistler Blackcomb and WAM leadership on Thursday, February 9, we discussed the need for more details specific to safety and medical response capabilities, along with the need to discuss a re-worked course route, before green-lighting the event for this year. 

“Unfortunately, WAM declined and asked us to approve the race in its full proposed scope that day with a required reworked safety plan to be delivered at a later date—something we were not willing to do. At that point, WAM organizers made the decision to cancel the event for 2023."

Gergovich added that while Whistler Blackcomb is not prepared to approve the 2023 race just yet, the resort remains open to working with the CMTR team and feels "there are reasonable compromises that can be made in order to host a condensed version of this year’s race, with a focus on returning to all distances in 2024."

Whistler Blackcomb remains "committed to improved communication with WAM and sincerely hope they will reconsider their decision and work with us to deliver another successful event," he said. 

In an emailed response to follow-up questions from Pique regarding CMTR’s proposed medical and safety plan for 2023 WAM events, a representative for Whistler Blackcomb said the safety plan initially submitted “did not fully meet our safety standards or requirements related to competitor medical response, patient extraction or ground transportation procedures”—areas that were highlighted by “several issues during last year’s event.”

Whistler Blackcomb staff reportedly provided feedback to CMTR and asked for an amended safety plan, “however what was shared with us had no changes and was an exact copy of the 2022 plan,” the representative explained in an email. “This did not fully reflect our requirements related to safety. We are happy to revisit the event at any time should the WAM team provide an updated and appropriate plan.”

In terms of communication between the resort and CMTR, the Whistler Blackcomb representative said “high-level feedback” regarding safety plan concerns was provided to the WAM team following the event. 

“Recently we held extensive communication with the event principal, but they felt this did not provide enough time to organize and readjust based on our feedback,” the email continued.

When reached earlier this week, CMTR representatives declined to respond to Whistler Blackcomb’s comments regarding the cancellation on the record. 

For her part, Cyr described the races as some of the best organized she’s run. She said there is an element of personal responsibility expected of any runner who signs up for long-distance races like the ones CMTR hosted in Whistler, but recalled feeling “so safe” on WAM’s courses. 

“It’s a big business now, Whistler Blackcomb, and again, it’s just something that they’ve taken off from the community. [WAM] was really important to us, the running community, but it doesn’t seem to be as important for them,” said Cyr, who has volunteered at numerous CMTR events, and admitted she’s unclear on the exact factors that led to WAM’s cancellation. 

“I’m very disappointed … it generates money for Whistler, and it does raise money for trails in the community as well, so I would take that into account, [when deciding whether] to keep this race and allow this permit,” she added. “There’s still going to be bikers and ski races, but trail running is another sport that people do here, and I think it's important to have events that [support] it.”

In Friday's cancellation notice, Robbins and Langford offered thanks to WAM's supporters over the years, including Tourism Whistler, the municipality, the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association and “runners from around the world," who they said "made it all worthwhile, despite the challenges on the back-end, year after year to simply keep these races alive." 

The statement said CMTR was proud to have raised more than $70,000 for the Whistler community and its trails since launching the event in 2016, and cited WAM’s proven success as an economic driver for the resort. Race organizers pointed to a recently-completed economic impact study conducted with Tourism Whistler that claims WAM was directly responsible for just under $1.9 million in overall economic activity for B.C., including nearly $1.5 million for Whistler.

Still, "It is, unfortunately, past due for us as an organization to focus our time, energy, and resources elsewhere," the statement concluded. 

With WAM off the table, Cyr said she’s looking forward to seeing where CMTR chooses to direct that energy for, potentially, new long-distance events elsewhere on the South Coast. 

Lillooet resident Tory Scholz won the women’s 100-mile event during WAM’s 2022 race weekend, crossing the finish line in 30 hours, 20 minutes and 40 seconds—a course record she was looking forward to seeing challenged this September. 

Asked about her reaction to Friday’s news, Scholz said the CMTR team “has gone through the wringer,” in her view.

“I think that if this is an example of corporate policy in a town that's been historically grassroots in a way, I think that's disappointing,” she said. “I think a lot of people are viewing it as another example of the corporatization of Whistler and the Whistler community, and I think that's unfortunate.”

Scholz acknowledged any 100-mile race is “always a work in progress,” but praised WAM for the unique, “festival”-like atmosphere its variety of distances offered racers. WAM’s cancellation represents a particular loss for Canadian endurance athletes looking to earn a spot in the Hardrock 100 race lottery on home trails, she added. It means the Fat Dog 120-mile trail race scheduled to take place in B.C.’s Manning Park this August is the sole Canadian qualifying event for Colorado's famed Hardrock ultra-marathon. 

“I think people—not just [CMTR]—but people put so much belief and hope and love and time, and sleepless nights, and all these things [into the event],” said Scholz. “Even paying out of their own pocket to [come to Whistler] and volunteer with the hope that they would be a part of it again. And now they're not.”

- With files from Alyssa Noel