Residents share opinions at Ironman open house 

Some hope for change, while others express support

FILE PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON
  • File photo by Dan Falloon

Two business owners affected by Subaru Ironman Canada said organizers have made some concessions to help over the years, but hope for more if the event is remaining in the Sea to Sky.

Pemberton resident Nicole Shannon, who owns Keir Fine Jewelry in Whistler Village, attended the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) open house at the Maury Young Arts Centre on May 9 to find out more about the race's plans for 2017 and, potentially, beyond. The five-year contract signed between the World Triathlon Corporation, Tourism Whistler and the RMOW expires after this July's event, though negotiations are ongoing to keep the event here.

"I'm a small business owner in town so I just wanted to find out more and give some feedback," she said, noting she hoped to find out the status of contract negotiations to keep the event in the Sea to Sky, and if input from Pemberton residents was taken into consideration.

"We are impacted in several ways. They've made strides to make it better. The first couple years, we had fencing all around our building because we're right on the running route, so we were not getting business day of. They worked with us to create a less intimidating environment for customers.

"I'm not saying it's terrible. I'm just not one of the champion cheerleaders."

The Village of Pemberton conducted an online survey last month and will reveal the results at its May 16 council meeting.

While Shannon, a co-founder of the Whistler Association of Retailers and Merchants, said the Ironman marketing machine has helped boost Whistler overall, she "can't pinpoint any increase, specifically" connected to the event. The event's proponents claim that while merchants might see decreases on race day, many will see those customers come in either before or after the event offering a boost to business overall.

Micah Cianca of cleaning company Evergreen Whistler Property Services, meanwhile, said he has permanently lost clients — the main issue for his company is access to the Sea to Sky Highway. It has improved over the four years the race has been held, but wants to see more highway access during the race.

"The impact of the highway being closed for a majority of the day on race day (affects me)," said Cianca. "I need to go from the south into the village and move around the village. I also need to access the other communities in and around Whistler. If there was a way for them to keep the highway flowing, say, alternating traffic north and south, it would make my life a lot easier. I wouldn't lose as much business as I'm losing."

Cianca added he feels there would be much less opposition to the event with better highway access.

Ironman senior regional director Keats McGonigal could not attend the open house, but in a followup email said in the name of athlete safety, the level of access to the highway cannot be increased.

"The bike course layout is the most challenging portion of our operation. Ideally we would have a looped course to mitigate the closures that need to happen. Based on limited roads in the Sea to Sky, a looped course could not be found. For athlete safety, when they are travelling both directions simultaneously north of Whistler we do need a full closure. Keep in mind that the full Highway 99 closure only takes place north of Whistler. Northbound traffic to Whistler is permitted at all times, even during the race," he wrote.

There will not be any changes to the course this year, he said, though the start times for the 70.3 event may be bumped back an additional 10 to 15 minutes. There are expected to be several more athletes for the half-distance race, with registrations on pace to beat the 2016 numbers by three times. McGonigal noted last year's 70.3 event was announced relatively late in the calendar, and many interested participants did not have adequate time to prepare,

Some residents attended simply to voice their support for the event.

Andrew Ross said while the traffic closures aren't ideal, they're a small price to pay for the event's benefits.

Photographer Scott Brammer added he's also in favour of keeping the event, saying he can deal with the early-morning highway closures by arriving before the closures take effect.

"You've just got to plan for it. I usually just bring my mountain bike and check the race out from various different vantage points and it's all good," he said.

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