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Business up during Crankworx – except for bike shops

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Crankworx may have been a triumph for most of Whistler, but for the bike shops it was a slower-than-usual business week.

"Typically Crankworx is pretty quiet for us on the biking side of things," said Matt Ryan of Katmandu Bike & Board."

"A lot of people are here, but they're here more for the show, they're not necessarily bikers."

He said Katmandu has typically steady business throughout the year, but once Crankworx hits town, all the same services his store provides are available through major manufacturers who set up tents in and around the village. Riders tend to take their business there instead.

"That is usually generally the case," he said. "It's not a huge season for us and we see it every year. From the biking perspective, it's more of a downturn than anything."

Jenine Bourbonnais, owner of Evolution, said she hadn't compared numbers to last year but she guessed that this was the first year sales hadn't gone up.

"Crankworx has been growing and every single year it's been going up and up. But this year, I don't think it went up from last year. I'd be very surprised."

She said the beginning of the week was slow but business picked up by the end.

"Usually it's like Christmas week for us, you know being a bike store of course, but definitely earlier in the week wasn't feeling like Christmas," she said. "But the end of the week was good."

Much of her business during the week was made up of people renting bikes and buying gear. In the past Evolution had made bike sales but those are down this year.

But it wasn't that way for all bike shops in town.

"Answer A: way better than the Olympics. Answer b: way better than the Olympics," said Scott Humby, owner of Fanatyk Co. "It's traditionally always busier for us during Crankworx."

Humby said his store, which is located close to the centre of the Crankworx festivities, had a solid week of bike rentals and accessory sales, selling helmets, pads, clothes, even a few bikes - anything the riders might need before competing.

Ryan said that most riders who come to Whistler to compete "do it renegade style," bringing their own bikes and not worrying too much about repairs. They spend "their money on partying instead."

Which is probably why bars and restaurants faired so well during Crankworx, which ran from Aug. 7 to 15. Joey Gibbons, president of the Gibbons Hospitality Group - which owns the Longhorn, Buffalo Bill's, Tapley's Pub and the Firerock Lounge - said all their businesses did really well, particularly during the final weekend.

"It was perfect, everything came together. Everyone from the owners of the biggest mountain bike companies were in, the sponsors were all there and their bosses," he said. "You get an event where the bosses all show up you know it's going to be good one," he added.

Crankworx isn't a guaranteed success for any of their businesses, Gibbons said, even with the Longhorn's location at the base of the bike park.

"You need to manage things properly and make the right partnerships," he said. "It was the nicest weekend of the summer for weather and Whistler is highly dependant on that right now."

He added, "I think this is just an example of what Whistler needs to be doing. These events bring people and fill our resort, which allows people to survive in this community and keeps it rolling."

While business was bustling in the village, Crankworx didn't have the same effect on other parts of the resort. Although room rates were lower in Creekside and occupancy was up, many of the visitors spent much of their time in the village.

"You know, in Creekside it's not as beneficial for the companies that are located right in the village, just because the main focus is right there at the base of the hill," said Chophouse manager Nick McLaughlin.

"It's great that the hotels are booked, the people are in town... so we saw a slight increase in business but it's not the lucrative time of year, just because the focus is on the village," he said.

"Definitely over the last five years, you can see that Crankworx has been steadily increasing in terms of the period of the event. It just keeps getting better and better," said Arlene Schieven, vice-president of marketing at Tourism Whistler.

As in other years, she said hotel occupancy peaked on the second Saturday of the event, around 90 per cent this year.

"That would represent the busiest night of the summer. Clearly that shows it's having a huge impact, even comparing to a long weekend. The only time something else has bumped that a little bit was when we had the Pemberton music festival," she said.

Schieven said she doesn't know whether hotel business is up or down from last year, as the collected data from the various properties is not yet available.

Mark Herron, general manager of Four Seasons and chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler (HAW), asked general managers of hotels linked to HAW and found that Crankworx week was very busy, although much of the hotel traffic was last minute. Often rooms were booked within three days of a guest's visit and were not necessarily Crankworx based.

"By these comments, this special event called Crankworx didn't necessarily drive any more business for anybody. It was the weather," Herron said.

"And they're all booking last minute. From an operational standpoint, whether you're a restaurant or any business that relies on tourism, it is difficult to staff."

Overall, hotels reported their occupancy rates during the week were relatively flat compared to last year, and only two hotels, including Herron's Four Seasons, reported increased room rates.

"If you are provide the same deals to people who were coming anyway, then you've discounted your rate to people who would have been here. You're making less revenue," Herron said.

Rob McSkimming, vice-president of business development at Whistler Blackcomb, said the nine-day Crankworx period was the busiest ever at the bike park. While exact figures aren't available yet, he guessed that it was also a record week for regular gondola and Peak 2 Peak ridership.

"Some of that would be Crankworx generated and some of it would be the resort as a whole," he said. "It was definitely super strong. Our retail rentals were super strong. The GLC definitely had one of their peak weeks of the whole year."

Warrick Hubbard of Ziptrek said they had a strong weekend, though he says it was probably more indicative of the weather than anything else. Although some of their zip-lines run parallel to the base of the bike park, and Crankworx spectators could watch Ziptrek customers glide above them, Hubbard didn't know whether that chance advertising brought in more customers.

The past week, he said, was on par with previous weeks so far this summer.

"It was pretty standard for us, to be honest," he said.

"With an event like Crankworx, it's so well run and promoted, it obviously brings bodies to Whistler. Whenever that's the case, you know, hopefully we'll grab a few of those people and they'll be enticed to go and zip. But it's hard to draw a direct correlation between those coming to Crankworx... and them coming to tour," he said.