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Pemberton Aerothlon set for Labour Day

Organizer confident event can run safely
The third edition of the Pemberton Aerothlon is set to run on Aug. 30. Photo by Nora Varga Photography.

There may very well be an in-person race in the Sea to Sky this summer after all.

With its third year on tap, the Pemberton Aerothlon is making plans to ensure COVID-19 precautions are in place in order to run on Aug. 30.

Organizer Peter Chrzanowski said the first two editions of the alternative triathlon, made up of paragliding, mountain biking and trail running, have had small turnouts of less than 50 competitors, and that’s been when international athletes have registered. 

“When I saw this happening, I thought, ‘We really did have a really small event.’ The only bigger congregation we had was, really, the start,” he said, noting that staggering starts to two minutes between competitors could easily be done if necessary. 

Neither event held in Pemberton has seen an injury thus far, while at the contests in central and South America, the largest issue has been heatstroke as athletes compete in temperatures in the mid-to-high 30s.

Chrzanowski said he’s been in contact with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the provincial Ministry of Health, noting he’s preparing a plan for the ministry detailing precautions that he’ll put in place.

Chrzanowski said only about a dozen volunteers are required throughout the course, and, due to the contest’s backcountry nature, there are never many people along the route.

“It’s never really been a spectator event in Canada,” he said. “I would love it if they were able to run like the Ironman, through town, but it’s too difficult here.”

However, Chrzanowski said the Aerothlon’s sister events in Mexico and Colombia, held before the pandemic, have enlisted the services of, a GPS tracker to allow fans to follow the proceedings online.

“Several thousand people were watching,” he said. “You could pick your athlete and watch them do the flight and the whole run on Google Maps. 

“What we’d really like to do here is use that but incorporate even more images like live video coming in along the route as well.”

Chrzanowski is expecting a field that is primarily local, depending on how quickly Canada opens up its borders. He said one past international participant, an AeroMexico pilot, expects to have clearance to compete. He’s also been in touch with others who may or may not be allowed into the country for the contest, but is also advising them that if they do enter the country, they may be required to quarantine.

Still, the focus is on those nearby.

“More than anything, I’d just like to encourage local people. They’re the ones that are here. They can’t travel,” he said. “There are some great athletes here in Whistler—runners and bikers.”

Past participant and Pemberton local Scott Flavelle is looking forward to competing in the full contest this year while his wife will take part in the relay, flying tandem with a paraglider before completing the run and biking sections.

He feels confident that the race can run safely.

“I don’t think it’s any different than going out to do many sports in the outdoors. It’s a fairly individualistic sport. There’s no stadium,” he said. “It would seem no different than a regular day out of hiking on the trails, flying in the skies, or mountain biking.”

In addition to the event being a small-scale, grassroots contest, Flavelle noted that participants are talented and experienced. 

“The competitors are all people who have done lots of flying, same with the hikers,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine a better type of event to put on.”

Chrzanowski said that previous Aerothlons have inspired runners and bikers to look into paragliding and vice versa, creating more cohesion in those communities. Still, he’s hoping to see that continue to increase as time goes on.

“The trouble I’ve always had here is to persuade all those ripping riders that do the Nimby to sign up. I haven’t had that much luck,” he said. 

Registration is underway with a suggested donation of $100.

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