It will be a few weeks before Whistler will be able to measure the impact of hosting the Crankworx Freeride Mountain Bike Festival over nine days with an expanded offering of events and attractions, but partners at Events Whistler say the experience was very positive.
"Overall we’re ecstatic, we’re really pleased with the event and how everything worked," said Rob McSkimming, vice president of business development for Whistler-Blackcomb. Whistler-Blackcomb co-organized the event along with Events Whistler partners Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
"I think the nine-day format is something we’ll stick with, and that every event that took place during the festival had its own positive elements. Certainly the slopestyle finals were as good an event as we’ve ever seen."
Numbers were higher in the bike park than in past years, and the event attracted more international attention than organizers expected.
"I was just looking at the start list for the Garbanzo Enduro, and it’s crazy. We’re going to compile a more accurate list of athletes, but I can say athletes were from a number of countries and from every continent for sure – Africa, everywhere in Europe, South America, Asia, Australia. And it’s not just in the pro categories, you can find people scattered through the amateur ranks as well," said McSkimming.
Events Whistler partners are meeting on Thursday to compare notes, and should have a report in the next few weeks that is more specific in terms of numbers and demographics.
As for national exposure, McSkimming credits Kokanee for its support – including a national ad campaign highlighting the festival that was first broadcast during the NHL playoffs.
"One of the necessary ingredients in getting the event to the next level is sponsorship, and Kokanee has been great. And not only with the ads, they did a cross-Canada media relations tour in May, and they had promotions in bars and restaurants. It really added to the energy and excitement of the whole event, which of course wrapped up in the most spectacular way possible. I don’t think anyone walked away from that disappointed," he said.
Greg Albrecht, the general manager of Events Whistler, says the festival will continue to generate a buzz through next year as events are highlighted in magazines, movies and on the Internet.
"The overall impression is ‘awesome,’" he said. "The buzz in the industry is huge right now, and from a production perspective everything went really, really well. I’m sure the weather helped too, but I think the organizers can take some credit as well."
Albrecht says the research from the festival will be released to the public once it has been collected from partners in the resort.
"We’re going to get those numbers out as fast as we can for the local community, I’m sure they’re very interested in the economic impact," he said. "As well, it will help us next year when we go out looking for sponsorships and to see how we can grow this event in the future."
Jenine Bourbonnais, owner and operator of Evolution bike shop, says the past week did a lot to make up for slow months and years.
"The week was amazing, just fantastic for us," she said. "It definitely made up for some of the slow months we’ve been going through. May of this year was our slowest May ever in 11 years in business. (Crankworx business) reminds me why it’s worth having a business.
"It’s not just that it was busy, but everyone was so happy and having such a good time. We get a lot of riders, but also families of riders and parents supporting their kids."
The repair shop was as busy as it gets, she said, mostly with the downhill and freeride crowd in their 20s and 30s. Not all of them were competing, but all of them were riding.
Bourbonnais encourages the organizers to continue to grow the festival.
"One thing I really liked was bringing in the whole music element, it really gave the festival some more excitement. It’s definitely a good direction they’re moving in," she said.
"I feel that we’re ramping up for almost another wave of interest in Whistler. It felt like a decline, like we’ve been in a slump for the last few years, but now it seems like we’ve built the energy and excitement to build up through the end of summer and even into next winter. The media fallout from this will be huge."