Crankworx packs resort, but lags behind 2016 numbers 

Community seems largely happy with event, although traffic remains a concern

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - in a drop The pace of room-night bookings for Crankworx this year was three per cent  behind the same period in 2016.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • in a drop The pace of room-night bookings for Crankworx this year was three per cent behind the same period in 2016.

Hosting the world's largest mountain bike festival understandably comes with its challenges, but they seem to be worth the hassle judging by locals' responses to another edition of Crankworx Whistler.

Held from Aug. 10 to 19, the festival attracted thousands to the resort for a series of competitive and cultural events. Even with the strong numbers, however, the 2017 edition still lagged slightly behind last year in terms of hotel bookings, according to Tourism Whistler (TW).

Communications specialist Marion Young reported that, as of Aug. 7, the pace of bookings leading into the festival's 10 days was three per cent behind the same period in 2016, although she said last-minute bookings may have helped bridge that gap.

One of the worst wildfire years in B.C. history may have played a role in the pace of bookings, Young posited.

"With the smoke that had lingered in the Sea to Sky corridor early in August, clearing just before the start of Crankworx, more bookings among regional visitors would be possible," she said in an email.

The downturn didn't seem to negatively impact local businesses. Brenton Smith, GM of O&R Entertainment, said the second weekend of the festival in particular was a boon for business at the five village restaurants and bars the company oversees, which includes La Bocca, Amsterdam Pub and Maxx Fish nightclub.

"It's definitely a boost for our nightclub business. There certainly are a lot more partiers in town on the second weekend of Crankworx," he noted.

The Whistler Farmers' Market enjoyed a flurry of visitors to its Sunday markets in the Upper Village once the morning Crankworx events wrapped.

"(The festival) has created more opportunities," said market manager Chris Quinlan. "The reality is it's an event that is an anchor for the worldwide series and helped put Whistler on the map for mountain biking."

Village bike shop Fanatyk Co. experienced business levels mostly on par with an average summer weekend, which has more to do with the booming popularity of mountain biking in the resort than a lack of customers over the course of the event, said owner Scott Humby, who believes Crankworx's capacity is "probably at its max already."

But while those shops benefited from the Crankworx spillover effect, the same can't be said for retailers outside of the village.

"The issue with Crankworx is it brings a lot of traffic up — we're in Function — so I would actually say that would have a negative impact on business coming south from the village," explained Joanna Harrington, owner of Fineline Bike Shop.

As in years past, traffic appeared to be the main point of contention residents had with Crankworx, with several residents Pique heard from saying they did their best to stay off the roads on weekends.

"Saw Dual speed/Joyride, as they are my (favourite) events to watch and had time to get there. Otherwise stayed away from the village and stayed sensible with avoiding traffic. Great time," said local Paul Hothersall in response to a Pique Facebook post.

"What I saw were real (traffic) jams on the highway south of us for people trying to load in and trying to load out," observed Steve Anderson, council's appointee to the municipal Transportation Advisory Group. "But you've got to expect that; it's a giant weekend that brings a whack of people here."

Anderson said he'd like to see the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) adopt a similar approach south of Whistler to the one used by the municipality during busy periods.

"I think there's room for the MOTI folks through Squamish to coordinate the (traffic) lights like we do during Whistler peak times to load people out of town," he said. "When we coordinate the lights, when we have marshalling going on, I think there's been some successes there."

Another municipal effort Anderson sees as a success — and one that likely curbed weekend traffic congestion throughout Crankworx — is the free transit offered on Saturdays and Sundays over the summer.

"I think it is (having an impact), and I've heard anecdotally that people are using it and think it's great," he said. "Once again, as a representative of the RMOW, I gauge the level of acceptance (of an initiative) by the lack of outrage. I did notice a lot of outrage about the traffic coming into town and then heading south again, but I didn't hear many complaints about (traffic) in town."

Crankworx Whistler returns to the resort from Aug. 10 to 19, 2018.

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