Ironman Canada returns to Whistler for at least three years

Ironman has renewed its contract to host Ironman Canada in Whistler for the next three years. Is this actually good news for future events in Penticton?

| July 28, 2017 | NEWS

Marino Vanhoenacker wins Ironman Canada in 2014.

Marino Vanhoenacker wins Ironman Canada in 2014.

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Well, so much for those “Ironman is heading back to Penticton” rumors people keep calling me about. There’s been lots of talk over the last month about the future of Ironman Canada after Pemberton’s council chose not to support a renewal of the event’s contract last month. The folks in Pemberton didn't "see the value of the event" according to surveys and were unhappy with the impact the event had on the roads as triathletes trained on the course, along with the road closures on race day.

Despite that news, today Ironman announced that it has renewed its contract to host Ironman Canada and Ironman 70.3 Canada with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Tourism Whistler.

According to Karen Goodwin, Tourism Whistler’s Vice President of Destination and Market Development, “We look forward to working together with Tourism Whistler members, the RMOW, Ironman and the communities of Whistler and Pemberton to ensure the continued success of Subaru Ironman Canada … As we move forward over the next three years, collaboration will be especially important to ensure the Subaru Ironman Canada event continues to improve and flourish.”

That statement implies that Pemberton got back on board for the event, but the statement also includes the following:

“The logistics for hosting one of the world’s great events are complicated and Ironman, the RMOW, and Tourism Whistler are working with event stakeholders to address concerns and improve the event each year. As such, the route for the cycling component during 2018-2020 is still under discussion.”

So maybe the folks in Pemberton aren’t totally on board.

Until 2012 Ironman Canada was held in Penticton, B.C., but the city chose to sign a contract with Challenge Family rather than Ironman, which forced Ironman to find a new venue starting in 2013. After announcing the new venue in Whistler, Ironman Canada filled very quickly. Since that inaugural race in 2013, though, Ironman hasn’t had as much luck luring huge fields to the Whistler course. The challenging bike course, that sees the majority of the climbing happen over the final 30 miles, is often cited as one of the reasons the race has struggled to get the kind of numbers Ironman likes to see at its races.

A few years ago Ironman 70.3 Whistler was added to the mix to provide a bigger field and increase those always-important-to-Ironman race day numbers.

Challenge Penticton’s numbers have never come close to the 2,500 to 3,000 athletes that Ironman Canada brought to the city every year, which no doubt fueled the rumors I kept hearing.

This year Challenge Penticton race director Michael Brown has managed to provide the city with a huge event, though, as Penticton will host the first ITU Multisport World Championships Festival next month. It will feature six world championship events over the course of 10 days. With thousands of athletes coming from around the world, Penticton will enjoy the kind of economic impact it was used to seeing every year when it hosted Ironman Canada. (The latest entry numbers are 3,600 athletes and estimates are for between 8,000 to 12,000 visitors to the city during the festival.)

In a crazy way, the renewal in Whistler might be good news for the Penticton event in the future. The thousands of athletes coming to this year’s world championship festival will have a chance to see all the reasons why Penticton was one of the most popular Ironman stops in its day. They might realize that even though future events in Penticton might not bear the Ironman name, they can provide an outstanding multi-sport experience.

All of that’s not to say that Whistler won’t continue to be a great event, held in one of the world’s most popular tourist resorts. But Ironman isn’t the only option when it comes to multi-sport racing, and its certainly not the only game in western Canada.