By Andrew Mitchell
The case for mountain biking in the Sea to Sky corridor got a boost this week with the release of a new economic impact study by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association (MBTA).
According to the pilot study, non-residents are estimated to have spent $10.3 million in the North Shore, Squamish and Whistler from June 4 to Sept. 17, 2006. That resulted in $9.3 million of new economic activity, which supported an estimated 194 jobs with $6.3 million in paid wages.
Of the $10.3 million total, $6.6 million was spent in Whistler.
Furthermore, that study did not directly include the economic impact of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park or the 10-day Crankworx Freeride Mountain Bike Festival in July. The Bike Park generated $16.2 million from non-residents during the study period, while Crankworx attracted roughly 55,000 unique visitors for non-resident expenditures over $11.5 million. Put together, the estimated value of mountain biking to Whistler is in the neighbourhood of $34.3 million.
According to Jimmy Young, one of the researchers with the MBTA, the pilot study provides a baseline of data for Whistler to work with based on surveys.
“It’s hard to know (if the numbers are high or low) because this kind of study has never been done before,” he said. “People always had an idea what the figure might be — even in the North Shore where numbers have been thrown around in the past based on mountain bike retail — but nobody ever went out to the trails to find out where people were from and where they were spending their money.”
The study was funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and the Arts, the North Shore Mountain Bike Events Society, Test of Metal, Corsa Cycles, Tantalus Bike Shop, District of Squamish, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb.
Based on the results, Young says it would be in the best interests of Whistler’s funding partners to continue to study visitors to gauge the number of visitors to the resort.
When asked why Whistler was so successful in drawing bikers, Young pointed to the way that the sport has been supported and legitimized within the resort.
“In Whistler, the government recognizes mountain biking trails, and puts municipal and tax dollars into maintaining the trails,” he said. “In Squamish and the North Shore most of the trails aren’t authorized, and as a result they can’t really be promoted to mountain bike tourists — how do you promote your trails to visitors when even locals aren’t supposed to be out there riding?”
Young says the next step is to replicate the pilot study in other mountain bike destinations such as Kamloops and Rossland, and to start the process of gathering baseline data for the province. Building an economic case for the sport will make it easier to make trails official, he said, as well as to secure funding for ongoing trail maintenance from municipalities and the tourism industry.
Doing follow-up studies will also be important to show how the sport is growing and changing.
The survey of riders was made at popular trailheads during the study period, with four to six surveyors in each community. In Whistler the trailheads include Lost Lake, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Comfortably Numb, Rainbow Parking Lot (A River Runs Through It), the Emerald Forest, and Function Junction. More than 1,019 surveys were collected, while using trail counters to determine the total number of riders.
The Lost Lake trailhead was the busiest spot with 15,315 riders during the study period, followed by Rainbow Parking Lot with 4,590. Comfortably Numb had 3,630 riders, while Function Junction had 2,175. During the same period the Bike Park reported 76,671 riders.
Among other things, the survey found that:
• Only 10 per cent of visitors to Whistler rode both the valley trails and Bike Park, suggesting that the network of valley trails is an important tourism draw on its own.
•Visitors to Whistler spent more than visitors to other Sea to Sky communities. Day visitors riding the valley trails spent an average of $83.79 and overnight visitors an average of $93.48. Bike Park day visitors spent an average of $98.95, while overnight visitors spent an average of $133.13.