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Tough Mudder's third year brings success and lessons for the future

Lower-than-expected numbers mark weekend afternoons in the village



Now that the mud has finally settled and all of the electric shocks have been handed out, organizers are deeming Tough Mudder (TM) 2014 a success.

"It was great," said Kate Fitzpatrick, director of community support with TM.

"The weather was perfect, and it was just a beautiful weekend out at Whistler Olympic Park."

The weekend wrapped up with no substantial setbacks and little more than bumps and bruises for the more than 20,000 people that took on the TM course, Fitzpatrick said.

"I think it's been a strong turnout," she said. "But I think there are things that we can do to improve for future years, in terms of integrating some of our activities in the village itself alongside the venue at Whistler Olympic Park."

Being just the third year for Tough Mudder in Whistler, that integration remains a work in progress.

The "Welcome Back Mudders" event held in Whistler Olympic Plaza saw lower numbers than expected

"For sure, more people stayed in the Callaghan than came back to the village like they had in the past," said Joey Gibbons, CEO and owner of Gibbons Hospitality Group.

"There was a lot less traffic during the daytime, but the nighttime it was still good."

Craig McNair, one of the managers at the BrewHouse at Whistler noticed the decrease in traffic as well.

"During the day, it wasn't the greatest," he said. "At night, of course we were still busy, but I think we were about $8,000 to $9,000 off in sales (compared to last year)."

At this point, it's still too early to get a sense of just how much the numbers differed from last year, said Tourism Whistler's communications manager Patricia Westerholm in an email.

"From a business perspective, it will take us some time to collect and analyze the data," she said.

"We will be discussing the weekend with our members in the coming weeks in order to get a sense of how the weekend played out for them."

While Tourism Whistler does track room nights, those numbers won't be available until late July, Westerholm said.

But even without official numbers, the impact was visible on the streets of Whistler Village.

"There's no question it was a busy weekend for the resort and we certainly saw lots of people wearing orange headbands and finishers' T-shirts out in the village," Westerholm said.

"It's an important event for the resort and the weekend is far busier than it would have been without the event."

Whistler RCMP reported a tame Tough Mudder weekend, with only two arrests, both for public intoxication, related to the event. No charges were recommended in either incident.

For Gibbons, keeping business up throughout the slower summer months has always been about innovation.

"There used to be a time when nobody came to Whistler in the summertime at all, period," he said.

Back then, Gibbons would put volleyball nets in front of the Longhorn or host softball tournaments to attract summer visitors.

"So it's always just innovating and adapting to new ways to get people excited about coming to the village," he said.

And business in Whistler is a symbiotic relationship, Gibbons said — the marriage of outdoor activity and commerce.

"So whether it's skiing on the mountains all day, biking the mountains then coming down and enjoying the village and the après and the awesome restaurants and the retail experience and everything that's going on, that's the magical formula," Gibbons said.

"When you look at the festivals that have been around 25 to 30 years, they use that exact combination."

While this year's result might not have been what businesses were expecting, it will only serve as a lesson for next year, Gibbons said.

"On this weekend we didn't do a good enough job to get people there as early as we would have liked them, but they certainly still came," he said.

"And next year if we want them to come earlier in the daytime or to come back on the Sunday, we have to work harder to get them there, that's it."

But it looks like there will be plenty of time to work out the kinks, as TM plans on being in Whistler for years to come.

"That's the plan. We're looking forward to 2015," Fitzpatrick said. "We've made this June weekend kind of an annual event. People, when they think of the June summer kickoff to Whistler, it's Tough Mudder, and we plan to continue that tradition."