Municipality awaiting economic impact of 2013 luge event 

Sliding races appear to bring benefit to Whistler through international exposure

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ERIC MACKENZIE - ICY IMPACT Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden believes events held at the Whistler Sliding Centre are an economic driver for the resort.
  • Photo by Eric MacKenzie
  • ICY IMPACT Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden believes events held at the Whistler Sliding Centre are an economic driver for the resort.

While the municipality is still awaiting the results of an economic study to see how much of a positive impact major sliding events have on the resort, few are finding any downsides to hosting Olympic-level athletes at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Since the site of all luge, bobsleigh and skeleton competition during the 2010 Winter Games welcomed Olympic test events during the winter of 2008-09, the facility has continued to host top-tier races each year. The luge races that wrapped up there Dec. 7 will be the only World Cup stop at the track this winter, but Whistler previously hosted that sport's 2013 world championships back in February. The RMOW also put Festivals, Events & Animation augmentation funding towards that event's opening ceremonies.

An economic impact assessment of those world championships is pending; with the hope that it will shed some light on how beneficial the events can be for Whistler. Without the figures that will come in that report, there's no hard evidence that elite sliding events are a major economic driver for the resort, but Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she's seen the benefits.

"At this point we don't have the economic impact assessment to support it, but certainly I ran into people around town last February who were here specifically for (the world championships)," the mayor said Monday, Dec. 16.

"It also exposes Whistler to other markets, through television and so on, that we wouldn't necessarily be exposed to, either."

Sliding sports have a huge following in some European countries — particularly ones that are traditionally competitive like Germany, Austria, Latvia and Italy — and this month's luge races were broadcast from Whistler on five networks in Europe. Wilhelm-Morden said she's seen first-hand the power of overseas TV bringing people to Whistler, noting how she'd recently connected with individuals from Brazil and Australia who were visiting the resort after first seeing the Whistler Olympic Plaza skating rink on a broadcast in their home countries.

Meanwhile, attendance for the World Cup races on Dec. 6 and 7 significantly down this year compared to past similar events, drawing just 400 people over the two days. Apart from the Olympics, it's been common for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events to bring up to 3,000 spectators to the Sliding Centre over the course of a weekend in other years.

Patricia Leslie of track operator Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) said the low attendance this year was likely due to the cold weather — temperatures were below -20 C at the time of some races.

Leslie added that the majority of advertising for the event took place locally. Though few spectators are travelling long distances specifically to watch sliding events, the races become an "added-value experience" for visitors coming for other purposes, she said.

"I actually chatted with people watching the event (who had) taken the gondola up and were watching the event because their concierge told them it would be something fun to do," said Leslie.

The event also brings entourages of people participating in the event in some capacity. This month's World Cup brought more than 200 athletes, coaches and media members from 29 countries to Whistler for the week. That number gets bigger for bobsleigh and skeleton World Cups, which are held simultaneously and feature more athletes and support staff. And generally, they're all staying near the village.

Restaurant Association of Whistler president Edward Dangerfield said he hasn't engaged his membership specifically on the impact of sliding events, but that any events bringing people to town are good for business. Speaking personally, Dangerfield said an International Luge Federation group filled his Alta Bistro during the world championships last winter.

"They expressed interest in coming back (this month) but the timing didn't work out for the dates," he said. "We were already sold out and directed them to another restaurant."

Wilhelm-Morden said she expects the economic impact assessment on last winter's world championships to be complete in early 2014.

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