Summer is for Mudders.
The fourth installation of the Tough Mudder obstacle race will return to Whistler Olympic Park in time for the summer solstice on June 20 and 21.
As Tough Mudder strives to stay on the cutting edge with swaths of similar events popping up, event director Nick Cogger said those tough enough to come to Whistler will be greeted with as challenging a lineup of obstacles as ever.
"They can expect to see some of the old favourites and some innovations on what they've already seen," he said. "We spent a lot of time in the innovation lab in the States developing new obstacles and refining existing ones. The ones that everybody loves are going to be back and there are going to be lots of new surprises.
"We tend to not reveal all of our obstacles up front so that people are still relatively surprised and challenged when they show up."
Cogger said the intensive setup for the race starts in late May, with construction crews getting things going and the operations team dropping in about a week and a half before race day.
He explained the American Tough Mudder season is well underway, though this is the season-opener in the Great White North. Because of this, he's able to see what's working stateside this year and import only the best new additions to Canada.
"We innovate every time. We're always trying to come up with new stuff. It's easy to sit back on our past successes, but we want to keep innovating and improving," he said. "We've got a few tricks up our sleeve this year to make it new and fresh again."
In particular, Cogger is excited to see the Crybaby obstacle in action.
"(It's) a chamber into which we pump a secret formula of smoke, which is an eye irritant. It's like crawling through mild tear gas, we'll say," he said. "That should prove to be a real crowd-pleaser. Maybe not so much fun for the participants, but a lot of fun for the people watching them."
One returning obstacle, or "an old classic" according to Cogger, is quarter-pipe feature Everest, but it's seen a bit of a revamp after undergoing some testing in the aforementioned lab.
In addition to adding an extra foot or two of height, the top has also been rounded to make it more difficult to get up on the ledge. Oh, and it's now slicker than ever with some water being trickled down the pipe.
"It's little tweaks on an existing concept that even a seasoned veteran will still be surprised and challenged by," Cogger said.
Overall, he feels the course has tilted slightly in terms of placing an emphasis on upper-body strength
"The running is definitely still there. We're still talking about an 18-km course, but I feel like some of the obstacles we've selected this year are more upper-body-strength-related," he said, citing the inclusion of Funky Monkey 2.0 (monkey bars) and Dead Ringer (where participants hold rings and swing from peg to peg).
After a slight dip in registrations in 2014, Cogger observed a bounce-back this year with encouraging numbers as of June 16.
"It should be bigger than last year and it's looking like 2013 did," he said. "We're over 12,000 people now for the weekend, which is great.
"The weather looks like it going to hold, so it should be a really fun time."
The bulk of participants are from British Columbia, or other relatively close cities like Seattle and Calgary. Cogger said the overarching organization pumps up this race in particular as one that should be on every serious Mudder's bucket list and there are some who do travel from further afield to attend.
"It has destination appeal to our Mudders and we position it that way in our marketing campaign," he said. "It's one thing (for a competitor) to do Tough Mudder Tri-State New York but have never done a Tough Mudder in Whistler.
"The landscape provides more challenges than you'd find on the Eastern Seaboard, for example."
He also noted that registering in teams remains a popular option, with the size of the squads generally growing this year.
In terms of the practical nuts and bolts of the event, Cogger noted there would be no shuttle bus from Creekside this year, though the bus from Whistler Village will be offered once again. Cogger explained there is additional parking on-site this year.
"Shuttle buses are a huge, huge cost factor for us and we found a way to maximize on-site parking," he said. "There was plenty of room for more cars."
Cogger added that volunteers are always welcomed. Those looking to register can sign up at https://toughmudder.com/events/2015-whistler, though those who come day of will be welcomed as well.