After nearly four decades of operations, the Whistler Creek Athletic Club (WCAC) is closing its doors for good.
Whistler’s only gym at the time opened as “The Pumphouse” in the basement of Creekside’s Whistler Creek Lodge in 1984, but had been operating under its current name since the ’90s when Hannah Edleston took over the business in 2015.
“I went there as a member previously and it is just such a fun locals’ place,” Edleston said. “It’s just a laugh ... it’s about the crew; it’s about the people. I think that, even though we’re in a basement, people come to us for the community and the fun.”
That said, “in the nicest possible way, it was an absolute dump when I bought it,” remembered Edleston with a laugh. “But it was my dump.”
Aside from its name, the location has undergone more than a few major changes over the years, including a full renovation under Edleston’s ownership: the original squash courts replaced with CrossFit-style training studios and weightlifting racks, an old resistance-machine circuit tossed to make way for new gear, and staff members who have come and gone. (Well, for the most part. Edleston offered particular thanks to trainer Mandy Dobbs, who has been working with the gym for more than 30 years: “As staff retention goes, she’s it,” Edleston explained. “She’s been a pillar.”)
The one constant has been the sense of camaraderie the space has fostered, Edleston said. “So many of the staff and members, their whole friendship groups stem from the gym," she explained.
For Edleston, owning the gym spurred philanthropic initiatives like the Youth in Sport foundation she launched and the annual Brandywine Boogie race she helps organize as part of the Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium. Even through the economic turbulence and tight restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, WCAC also managed to keep its membership rates on the low end of the spectrum compared to other fitness offerings within the resort.
“My ‘why’ when I opened the gym was I wanted to make fitness affordable for everyone, and I wanted to make everyone feel comfortable,” said Edleston. “I have consciously kept my prices on the lower end, because I know how hard it is, especially right now, and I just want to make it accessible for everyone.”
Edleston attributed the difficult, emotional decision to close to a spike in rent that was unsustainable for the business. She was hoping there would be time to, ideally, negotiate a new rate and find some creative solutions to make that rate fit within WCAC’s budget, but said a new tenant for the space has already been secured. “So that was the end of that,” she said.
The shutdown is as heartbreaking for Edleston as is it for the crowd of former and current clients who left comments underneath the closure notice posted to WCAC’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, particularly when she considers what the business has brought to her life since she purchased the gym eight years ago.
After all, Edleston was a self-described snowboard bum with zero business experience and nothing but $1,000, “a 2003 soccer mom van” and, of course, a snowboard, to her name when the opportunity to buy the gym came up, she explained, just three years after she moved to Whistler from her native U.K.
“I figured out a way to buy a business without any money,” she said. “I don't know how I did it; it was a miracle … People don't think you can do stuff like this, but I want people in Whistler to know it is possible. You can do it with a bit of thinking outside the box.”
For Edleston, “the community and being able to impact people with the business has been absolutely amazing,” she said through tears.
“I just want to thank everyone for coming in, having fun with us, working out with us and just making the last nearly eight years of my life an absolute blast. That gym has been my absolute heart and soul.”
Whistler Creek Athletic Club’s last day of operations is scheduled for Feb. 21
Clients with remaining drop-ins, tanning passes or personal training sessions are asked to make use of those before Feb. 21.
Edleston said while some 12-, six- and three-month passes were sold before the business realized it would be closing, those individuals can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a refund for the time remaining on their pass following the gym’s last day.
Edleston also plans to host a “first-come, first-served” equipment sell-off in the coming weeks, and advised anyone interested to keep an eye out on local Facebook groups for more information.