Ride on, Sea to Sky 

The skinny-tire tourist offers Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor another market as the tourism industry continues to look for ways to beat the recession

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In a region known for epic mountain bike trails and one of the best bike parks in the world, more than 4,000 road warriors clearly indicated last summer in the inaugural GranFondo that road riding is the new two-wheel rage in the Sea to Sky corridor.

And as Whistler, like so many in tourism, continues to grapple with capturing new markets or sustaining the ones it has some are looking to road cycling as a way to draw visitors and mega events such as GranFondos.

There can be little doubt that Whistler is one of B.C.'s economic engines contributing $1 billion annually to the province's overall tourism revenue.

And though it attracts over two million annual visitors, it is always looking for outside-the-box ways to get more, especially as tourism numbers show that recession is still haunting the industry.

Tourism Whistler's vice-president of marketing, Arlene Schieven, is a former competitive road cyclist and she gets how Whistler could cater to the skinny tire crowd, especially as she considers the huge success of last year's GranFondo to Whistler.

She started racing in Penticton and won the Canada Cup national cycling series in 1991 and went on in 1992 to compete in many races, including three in Japan.

"I first moved here in 1995 and I was the only one here out on a road bike," said Schieven.

"And now you see them everywhere. It has been quite a transformation, obviously especially with GranFondo.

"I love seeing so many people get into road cycling.

"When I lived in Penticton I saw what the Iron Man did for that community and I'm seeing a little bit of that happening here with GranFondo even just with the bike stores now. It used to be hard to find a road tube and now they are all carrying things for both road and mountain. You can see the transformation happening."

Schieven believes the GranFondo could have the kind of impact on Whistler that Iron Man has on Penticton.

Tourism Whistler provided support to the GranFondo organizers when planning started.

It successfully lobbied to have the word Whistler included in the event title and Schieven said TW also worked with the GranFondo organizers to promote overnight stays connected with the event.

As a cyclist, Schieven understands that Whistler isn't going to become a top road cycling destination because the highway is too dangerous to ride for leisure.

"I think we're somewhat limited by the lack of roads, to be honest," said Schieven.

But the organization is still working to capture any cyclists who come and is eager to work on events such as GranFondos to grow visitor numbers.

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