The Village of Pemberton, located on a key road north of Whistler, British Columbia, voted not to renew a 3-year agreement to allow the bike leg of Ironman Canada to pass through its roads.
After moving from its long term home in Penticton, B.C. to Whistler in 2013, Ironman Canada maintained its traditional sold-out popularity as one of the prominent triathlon events in North America.
While Ironman Canada will proceed with the July 30, 2017 event to be held in Whistler, on June 27 a special Pemberton Council meeting cited safety concerns in rejecting a proposed extension of approval to support the race from 2018 through 2020.
Pemberton residents at the meeting complained of “recurring concerns raised about safety on the Pemberton Meadows Road, with cyclists sometimes riding three abreast and showing blatant disregard for local residents and their properties.”
Friction has increased on both sides of the issue. Local Pemberton resident and triathlete Erica Hurtubise told Pique News of Whistler that trucks have veered toward her and she has had cans thrown at her while training on home roads.
A spokesperson for the Village of Pemberton stated that a main complaint was the impact of pre-race training rides through the city as well as citizen complaints about road closures on race day: “The concern is with regards to tractors that have to use the road. Pemberton is a very cycling-friendly community, but we just want to make sure no accidents happen.”
Pique News of Whistler cited a survey of 369 residents of Pemberton, the Squamish-Lilloet Regional District, Lil’wat Nation, and Pemberton Meadows which found that 75 percent of respondents did not see value to the community for hosting the event and 80 percent would not support a renewal after this year.
Pique News also stated that the Pemberton Community Forum Facebook group had posts on June 24 advocating “race-day protests, road blockages and even sabotage via spike strips and nails.”
According to Tourism Pemberton’s president Mark Mendonca, who supports the event, the area derives its income from farming, logging and tourism.
On June 28, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) expressed its support for renewing the event beyond 2017 in an email which stated that the event brings in $8.4 million to the regional economy and attracts 7,500 visitors annually. A RMOW spokesman commented that they are in negotiations with Ironman for renewal and have formed a working group to engage the RCMP, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to create a traffic management plan.
IRONMAN issued a statement expressing hope that the issues raised by the Pemberton community can be worked out: "IRONMAN respects the process taken by the Village of Pemberton. We look forward to continued dialogue with all our partners including the Pemberton Council, RMOW and Tourism Whistler. We are hopeful that we can continue to host IRONMAN Canada in the Sea to Sky region for years to come."