Squamish has been known for some time as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada and now the organizers of the GranFondo Whistler have given the town an additional new title.
According to GranFondo co-founder Kevin Thomson, Squamish is the GranFondo Training Capital of North America. He reported to the members of Squamish Council on Tuesday (Feb. 14)that more than half the GranFondo Whistler participants did at least one training ride to Squamish or from Squamish last year.
The GranFondo Whistler is the largest organized bike-ride in North America so Thomson concluded the numbers make Squamish the training capital of the continent.
A study conducted for the organizers of the big ride concluded the economic impact from 2011 pre-event training equaled about $134,000 for Squamish. The total economic benefit last year for Squamish from the GranFondo, which attracted 7,000 riders, is estimated at $650,000.
One of the biggest budget items for the event is highway traffic management. Much of this went to Miller Capilano Maintenance Corp. for salaries for the many highway maintenance workers who live in Squamish. The event organizers also hired four residents to fill event jobs that were based in Squamish.
Thomson said of the participants surveyed, 93 per cent indicated they intend to participate again.
"These are affluent people who like to travel," said Thomson.
He said organizers discussed with District of Squamish (DOS) staff how to create even greater benefits. Discussions include how to encourage more people to use Squamish as a training hub, and whether a greater party atmosphere could be created on event day.
Thomson said his team is looking to grow the event in Squamish in a sustainable way and pointed out they aren't looking for quick growth. The first two years of the event created some criticism with traffic impacts being the largest complaint.
Councillor Ron Sander said he supports the concept and has enjoyed watching it, but he added that he is concerned about traffic management issues.
Councillor Patty Heintzman said closures of Highway 99 lanes on event day have a huge impact on the community. She also said positive changes were made to the traffic plan last year.
Heintzman said she wanted to know how to double the economic impact. Cameron Chalmers, the DOS General Manager of Community Services, said it could be done.
"I don't think it is outrageous for us to look at doubling," said Chalmers. He said that the DOS economic sustainability coordinator is working with organizations and businesses in Squamish to find ways to generate more for the community from the event.
According to Thomson the first year the GranFondo rolled through Squamish the event didn't turn a profit and at 7,000 participants he said the event hit "a break-even point."
The event sold out last year, and in the first year the organizers sold 4,000 spots. Councillor Doug Race asked Thomson what the sell-out point is for this year and Thomson said that could not be made public yet.
Registration for the event on Sept. 8 is still open.