Partnership is key to Ironman success going forward 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ERIC MACKENZIE - B.C.'s Ryan Bowley turns left off Village Gate Boulevard near the end of the cycling route.
  • Photo by Eric MacKenzie
  • B.C.'s Ryan Bowley turns left off Village Gate Boulevard near the end of the cycling route.

There was the grandmother, a man running with braces on both his legs, another still bleeding from road rash, several who looked like they could lose a few pounds, others who looked like they need to gain those pounds — in all, Ironman Whistler drove every kind of person to find within themselves the power to finish the toughest triathlon going.

As you stood on the sidelines and cheered, or volunteered at the fruit or drink tables, or just read about the event later, it was impossible not to be impressed with these athletes who swam, cycled and ran for hours for personal satisfaction.

Sure there are some who are "professional." But the vast majority are just like you and me — everyday people who decided to take on a goal and make it happen.

To all those who officially crossed the finish line  — Bravo! For those who didn't make it, be consoled that you have still put most of the rest of us to shame just by training and leaping into the water as the start gun fired.

What is also clear is that the athletes taking part are only just the surface of the event. Thousands of volunteers are needed to make it happen, from sunscreen slatherers to everyone who picks up the garbage afterward — this is a race that couldn't happen without community participation.

And like any mass event that takes over a whole town there are positives and negatives to it.

In the ramp-up to the event the municipality allows Ironman to take over Lot 4 — some of the only free parking in the village. This is a lot used by hundreds of workers, as well as visitors, every day. I'm in agreement with a letter writer this week that if the parking is to be removed how about replacing it with another lot free of charge for the duration of the event?

Of all the issues related to Ironman, traffic control is the most contentious. Facebook sites and other social media were heavily peppered with comments about the frustrations of trying to get to work, or home, from the village. Thousands of workers still need to get to their jobs in the morning and home in the afternoon.

"I had to come into the village at 5 a.m. for a 9 a.m. start at work and then I couldn't get home until after 6 p.m.," one hospitality worker told me, adding that she used the time to cheer on participants.

But she queried why, for example, the municipality couldn't use one of it's mini vans to run a free there-and-back shuttle service for workers along one of the paved road shoulders from Cheakamus to Emerald for most of the day.

Road closures are Pemberton's biggest headache too. Last July, a proposal was put forward to widen the Pemberton Meadows Road, and more recently it was also suggested that the Friendship Trail be paved, as an alternative route for Ironman participants.

"People are willing to live with whole road closures if there's some kind of a legacy and one of the suggestions was cycling lanes," said Susie Gimse, the SLRD representative for Area C, at a meeting on the topic last year.

But it continues to look like that is an unlikely outcome with Ironman organizers telling the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, and Pemberton, that it's not their policy to pay for road improvement or put in trails at its expense. It should be noted that according to Fortune magazine (June 2014), Providence Equity Partners, which bought the World Triathlon Corporation in 2008 — the company behind the Ironman triathlons — has enjoyed a sevenfold increase in its annual revenue, jumping to more than $150 million.

According to an economic impact assessment (EIA) paid for by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and done by Ottawa-based Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance last year, Pemberton saw just $140,000 in spending, supporting $212,000 of local economic activity from last year's inaugural Ironman event.

The 2013 event, which drew around 2,400 participants and close to 10,000 spectators, generated $7 million of spending in Whistler, which supported $8.4 million of local economic activity (it has to be remembered that last year the event was in August a traditionally very busy time in the resort). In B.C. as a whole, Ironman resulted in $17.3 million of economic activity, including $3.2 million in provincial and federal taxes.

The RMOW contributed $250,000 to the event from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding, part of a five-year annual deal with Ironman for augmentation funding — close to half of that went to traffic and other services last year (on race day this year the public pool was closed for half the day so all the lifeguards could help with the Ironman swim). Tourism Whistler kicked in a further $45,000 in 2013.

Ironman estimates that the average first-time competitor will spend between $7,300 and $26,000 before crossing the finish line for training, equipment and accommodations, is about 39 years old, has a college degree, owns his or her own home, is married and has a family income of about $174,000.

In other words the participants are great guests to host in the corridor.

On the heels of the Pemberton Festival, and just a few weeks out from Crankworx, Ironman adds in another level of activity into the resort. Compared to even five years ago Whistler's sleepy, lazy summer days seem lost.

But as a community we can't lose sight of the fact that the global competition for traveller's dollars is fierce and if Ironman helps keep Whistler in the black then putting up with one day of car-less travel doesn't seem too high a price to pay.

What Ironman can't lose sight of is that Whistler is a unique and powerful partner — as such the community needs to be at the table, treated with respect, and its concerns addressed.


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