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IMBA unofficially selects Whistler for 2006 conference

Over a thousand mountain bikers, maybe more, could converge in Whistler

Whistler’s growing reputation as one of the world’s top mountain bike destinations got another huge boost this week with the announcement that the International Mountain Bicycling Association had signed a memorandum of understanding to host their 2006 conference in town.

The details are still being worked out, but if the contract is approved, next June the Whistler Events Bureau (Whistler-Blackcomb, Resort Municipality of Whistler, and Tourism Whistler), and the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, could preside over one of the largest mountain bike conferences ever held.

"I can say the negotiations were quite successful and that we’re moving forward, but at the same time there’s nothing official yet," cautioned Tourism Whistler spokesperson Breton Murphy.

According to WORCA president Grant Lamont, the last IMBA conference in Washington D.C. attracted 500 representatives from bike clubs, bike resorts, local governments, tourism organizations, and companies for five days.

"I think people are going to want to come here a little more than go to Washington D.C. because of all the mountain biking in our backyard," he said.

"As the host club we’re still waiting to see what our particular responsibility is going to be. What we are is a conduit between IMBA, the resort and the community. From a WORCA standpoint, it’s great that we’ve got this and that people are going to be coming from around the world to see what Whistler’s doing for the mountain bike community, and how we’ve taken close to 10 per cent of the population and turned them into avid mountain bikers."

Lamont says Whistler, which beat out Park City in Utah for the conference, is a natural choice to host this event. WORCA itself has had more than 1,000 members five out of the last six seasons, making it the largest active mountain bike club in the world.

As the host club, WORCA will help to organize the conference, as well as to provide guided tours and rides for delegates, and to host seminars on issues like club development and trail building.

Although still unofficial, it’s likely that the successful North Shore Mountain Bike Conference will move up to Whistler during the IMBA conference to combine forces. Lamont believes that the result will be at least 1,000 conference delegates in Whistler, and possibly double or even triple that number if the conference is well marketed.

"Hopefully (the conference) is going to be the first in a long line of successes again for the resort," said Lamont.

According to John Rae, manager of strategic alliances for the municipality, Whistler Events Bureau negotiated for six months with IMBA to host the conference, with the full support of the municipality, Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and WORCA.

"This was the result of a wonderful collaborative initiative that involved all of these groups, and we’re delighted with the result. The fact that there’s going to be a fairly significant conference here in June, and maybe beyond that, when we certainly need that kind of activity, is a bonus," he said.

IMBA is a non-profit group whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve trails for mountain bikers around the world. It currently boasts 32,000 individual members and represents 450 bicycle clubs, 200 bicycle retailers, and 130 corporate sponsors.