Payak returns with new title sponsor, sets attendance record 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANDREA HEAL - Over 700 cross-country skiers showed up to Whistler Olympic Park for the Coast Outdoors P'ayakenstut loppet on Saturday, Feb. 23.
  • Photo by Andrea Heal
  • Over 700 cross-country skiers showed up to Whistler Olympic Park for the Coast Outdoors P'ayakenstut loppet on Saturday, Feb. 23.

The annual Coast Outdoors P'ayakenstut cross-country ski loppet, better known as the Payak, returned to Whistler Olympic Park on Saturday, Feb. 23, drawing record-breaking attendance numbers.

As chief of race Sherryl Yeager explained, 711 racers strapped on their skies for the event and 100 volunteers showed up to lend a helping hand.

"I thought the conditions were absolutely fantastic for the racers ... there was a lot of moisture in the snow and it didn't harden down the way it could have," she said.

The Payak featured a five-kilometre kids' mini race in addition to 15-km, 30-km and 50-km course options.

National team member Gareth Williams, 21, took the top spot in the men's marquee 50-km event, while Andrea Lee, 28, was the fastest woman, crossing the finish line in 2:54:36.

"We got some feedback a couple of years ago that people thought the 50K course was too easy, so we made it harder—I can tell you nobody was complaining on Saturday that it was too easy," Yeager said with a laugh.

Also new this year was the event's title sponsor, after Coast Outdoors took over from longtime sponsor Sigge's Sport Villa. Another new addition in 2019 was the presence of a film crew—part of organizers' efforts to grow the race even bigger, Yeager explained.

"It's super exciting to have an event this size in the Valley," she said. "Going forward, we really want to start growing this race to attract people from Alberta and the Pacific Northwest. This race, with our venue and location and our courses, has the potential to be an international-caliber destination race, and that's what we're really trying to have it become."

Currently, over 50 per cent are members of the five local clubs throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor and the North Shore.

View full results at https://zone4.ca/race/2019-02-23/327f562e/results/.

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