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Ironman Canada brings ironclad business to Whistler

RMOW, Whistler Chamber, Tourism Whistler and Ironman's race director explain opportunities
IRONING OUT THE DETAILS Maureen Douglas and Keats McGonigal are working to get information out to businesses and the public in advance of Ironman Canada on Aug. 25. Photo by Cathryn Atkinson

There will be plenty of sweat shed during the gruelling Subaru Ironman Canada race, which comes to Whistler, the Callaghan Valley and Pemberton on August 25.

But a fair amount of cash will also be spent and Whistler businesses have an opportunity to benefit. There are 2,600 competitors, plus families and supporters that could easily triple that number. As well, up to 3,000 volunteers are coming in for the day and likely for several days before and after.

Around 30 business owners attended the first of two sessions presented by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and Tourism Whistler on Tuesday, June 10, at the Rainbow Theatre in the Whistler Conference Centre to learn more about the opportunity the event is likely to provide. At third session, for businesses in Pemberton, took place on June 11.

Ironman Canada expects to generate up to $15 million in economic benefits for the region over the next five years, explained Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, with up to 18,750 room nights in total booked by visitors around the race date.

The RMOW's chief administrative office, Mike Furey, outlined plans for the Village Expo. He said the Whistler partners wanted to bring Ironman Canada to the resort as part of the continued move towards ensuring Whistler's future as a four-season resort.

"(Part of this) is trying to find opportunities for businesses and retailers like yourselves to seize the potential of these events and makes sure it's as profitable a proposition as it can be," Furey told the participants, adding that Ironman visitors look set to generate over $ 3 million in 2013 and $5.5 million from 2014 to 2017, when the event moves to July in those years.

He said the Ironman Expo will be a market set up in Whistler Olympic Plaza from August 22 to 26 with 50 vendors, while the Village Stroll Business Showcase will have creative window displays and outdoor merchandise exhibition similar to the Turkey Sale and the May long weekend sidewalk sales. These will be opportunities for local businesses to provide supplies and equipment to competitors, as well as retail items and information on services and activities.

"A big part of the activity is the family and friends that come along, too. I think it's three to five people that come with each competitor," Furey said.

"It's expected at Ironman that there will be an Expo put on and a lot of the athletes anticipate that and sometimes prepare with that in mind, in terms of getting any last-minute needs in terms of bike gear or a wetsuit."

He said Whistler bike companies would be supplying services, and that local companies already signed up to the Expo included Scandinave Spa and Harbour Air.

"I can anticipate a really busy week," Furey said.

Chamber president Fiona Famulak compared the opportunity to the 2010 Winter Olympics. "We've been here before and we've done this before.... Think of how the business community rallied together... It's like preparing for the Games again, but on a smaller scale," she said.

She recommended that businesses promote to volunteers by showcasing themselves at volunteer training events and the wrap-up party, and to give takeaways in the volunteer training packages.

Businesses could put up welcome signs, restaurants could provide Ironman specials and healthy choices, activity providers can target non-competing families and friends, Famulak said.

"And make sure the atmosphere inside is fun. Play upbeat music to help attract and keep them there, have an in-store contest for customers, motivate staff with sales contests," she added.

"Take you back three years (to the Olympics), we talked about who the demographic is (of participants), what do they want to buy and that information helps to inform you about staff requirements and inventory levels, opening hours and closing hours."

Famulak called Ironman a huge opportunity for the resort.

"It's a huge opportunity for our business community to leverage that for their success. I encourage you to get informed and to stay informed because we not only want Ironman in Whistler for the next five years, but for many, many years to come and we need to blow their socks off," she said.

In an interview following the presentations, Ironman race director Keats McGonigal said Whistler was shaping up.

"I'm super excited about bringing the event here. This morning I was running on the run course and I was thinking that this was going to feel like Canada. I'm from Bend, Oregon, and part of my excitement in bringing the event here is that this is what I picture in my mind as what Canada is," he said. "Having been an athlete and knowing the athletes I know they will be very excited."

The Whistler Ironman Canada race includes a 3.8km swim course on Alta Lake, a 180km bike leg — from Rainbow Park to Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan, and an out and back to the end of the Pemberton Meadows — and two laps of a run course out to Emerald Estates totaling 42.2km.

McGonigal, who also gave an operations overview to the audience, believes the course is tougher than the previous one in Penticton, and the village feel of Whistler will mean amenities are closer together than they had been in the past.

"I think we're going to have a harder course here," he said. "The section going up to the Callaghan is going to be an interesting challenge for the athletes. At the same time, there is the access to the views of the glaciated peaks, things like that."

The biggest challenge will be transportation and traffic.

"We try to address those in advance," said McGonigal. "We've gotten pretty good at ironing out those kinds of kinks. In Whistler, and I think this goes back to the pre-planning, (the issue will be) the ability to get around, with us using Highway 99 for the cycling stage. So that's part of why we are trying to get the communication about the event out as early as possible."

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