As the public information meeting drew to a close, Subaru Ironman Canada race director Christine Cogger and Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) manager of strategic alliances Bob Andrea didn't entirely know what to make of the low turnout.
Only three people showed up to ask questions at the Whistler Conference Centre's Rainbow Theatre, which would seem to be a sign that the triathlon's changes to its bike and run courses for the July 29 race are being welcomed by the community. In previous years, info sessions attracted significant numbers of people frustrated with the course and the lengthy road closures resulting from it.
The pair noted the meeting was promoted through various outlets, and while they didn't conclude that it meant each and every resident is satisfied with the race, as they might have not been able to attend or were simply resigned to its existence, hoped that at the very least, the race's negative side effects were mitigated by changes announced this winter.
This year, the most significant change will be to the bike course, which will change from a loop between Alpine Meadows and the Callaghan Valley instead of heading north to Pemberton. This means road closures in Alpine Meadows will last longer than in prior years, but Cogger noted residents will be encouraged to park their cars legally on the east side of the highway the night before the event if they wish to use them on race day. While the traffic impact guide is still being finalized with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) and traffic engineers, Cogger hopes to have sections of Highway 99 opened to vehicle traffic earlier in the day so residents are able to resume their regular activities.
Cogger said Ironman officials will have their final meeting with MOTI next week and the guide will be made public later this month so residents have plenty of time to make arrangements for race day.
"We want to make sure it's clear and accurate and easy to read," said Cogger, acknowledging that in the past, the guide has been a "heavy" list of items. "We definitely tried hard to lessen the impact. We understand that there are still going to be impacts because of the highway closure.
"It's still a work in progress and I'm sure that after the race, we'll say 'Hey, maybe improvements can be made here.'"
Andrea noted tweaks were made each year to the old route, and he expects to be able to find minor improvements in coming years after studying this year's first race on the new course.
At this point, Alta Lake Road will be closed to cars from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. while Highway 99 will be open northbound from the Callaghan to Whistler Village until 11:30 a.m. while it will open southbound from Whistler Village at 1 p.m. The traffic management team will alternate flow when there is at least one lane open.
The run course will also see a minor change to accommodate the anticipated toad migration around race time. Instead of a looped course around Lost Lake, there will be an out-and-back section. This will also allow for increased public access to the lake.
Pique recently received the list of Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) commitments from the RMOW. After sitting at $250,000 of resort municipality initiative funding last year, the municipality's maximum contribution increased to $282,000 this year.
Andrea noted that this increase occurred because many of Ironman's fees are charged in American dollars. When the commitment was previously locked in, the exchange rate was favourable, he explained, but the weak dollar has made a dent in the budget.
"The investment hasn't really changed that much," Andrea said. "In the new agreement, it's costing us a little bit more because of the exchange rate. What we did was we took a maximum amount and limited it, so no matter what the exchange rate does, it will not go over that amount."
Andrea broke down the costs as: USD$100,000 for the host city fee, which depends on the exchange rate on the day the RMOW pays the invoice; USD$7,500 for the volunteer director; and contributions toward the traffic management plan, traffic engineers, and race-day operations to the tune of CDN$125,000. Andrea noted there are also roughly CDN$57,000 worth of municipal services provided partially in kind.
An economic study of the 2017 event found an economic impact of $11.5 million in Whistler, said Andrea, who added this year's event will also be studied with the new route. He expects stronger numbers because this year's event has sold out whereas last year's still had a few spots available on race day.
Other notable stats from last year's economic study, produced by the Canadian Sport Tourism Association using its Sports Tourism Economic Assessment Model include: the event drew nearly 12,000 unique attendees from 33 countries, and the average party size was 4.2 people; the average length of stay was 5.2 nights; and 27 per cent of athletes came on a separate trip to train prior to the race with an average stay of 4.2 nights.
As well, $8.8 million in visitor spending is directly attributable to the event, it provided an $8.2-million boost to the provincial gross domestic product and supported $15.6 million in economic activity across the province. Lastly, the event supported 68 Whistler-area jobs, $3.5 million in wages and salaries, and paid $3 million in taxes across the country.