A state of affairs simmering for the previous yr boiled over final week after the UTMB World Collection and the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort collectively introduced a brand new race, the Extremely Path Whistler by UTMB, debuting in September 2024, in Whistler, British Columbia.
This announcement got here eight and a half months following the controversial cancellation of one other occasion, Whistler Alpine Meadows. That occasion, which passed off in the identical location and in the identical month, was run by a neighborhood Canadian race group, Coast Mountain Path Operating.
Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford, longtime path runners, co-owners of Coast Mountain Path Operating, and co-race administrators of the now defunct Whistler Alpine Meadows, are publicly questioning the processes and ethics of the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort and the UTMB World Collection.
Each organizations stand behind their actions. In the meantime, tens of 1000’s of path runners, from western Canada to world wide, are siding with Robbins and Langford.
Right here’s a narrative that reads like a path working model of the David and Goliath parable.
The Whistler Alpine Meadows Is Completely Canceled in February 2023
In September 2022, the Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) occasion passed off within the excessive mountains of Whistler, British Columbia. Athletes competed largely inside the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, which is owned and operated by Vail Resorts.
Placed on by Coast Mountain Path Operating, the sixth version of the occasion had 5 race distances as much as 100 miles in size and drew about 950 athletes from nearly a dozen nations. After the completion of the three-day working occasion, the race group seemed ahead to planning for 2023.
However in February 2023, Coast Mountain Path Operating introduced in an announcement that WAM would now not happen.
“We is not going to be pursuing any additional occasions inside the [Whistler] township going ahead … There’s merely no path ahead for us to supply races of this magnitude, alongside the alpine terrain inside the confines of Whistler,” the group introduced.
The Extremely Path Whistler by UTMB Is Introduced in October 2023
In October 2023, some eight and a half months following the announcement of the everlasting cancellation of WAM, the UTMB World Collection — co-operated by the UTMB Group and The Ironman Group — introduced the Extremely Path Whistler by UTMB (UT Whistler) race, scheduled to happen yearly in September.
“The UTMB World Collection is heading to Canada for the first-time subsequent yr, with the affirmation that the breathtaking alpine playground of Whistler and the encircling Sea-to-Sky hall in British Columbia will host a brand-new occasion … on September 28-29, 2024,” learn the press launch. “Three race distances of 100 [kilometers], 50km and 25km will take runners on a journey that highlights the most effective of Whistler and its surrounding trails.”
The press launch quoted Whistler Blackcomb chief working officer Belinda Trembath, who confirmed the resort as host: “We’re thrilled to function co-host of the Canadian cease on the UTMB World Collection circuit.”
The Processes and Ethics of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort Are Referred to as Into Query
Hours after the UT Whistler announcement, Robbins printed a candid weblog publish, alleging Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort of deliberately pushing WAM out in late 2022 and early 2023.
In interviews with iRunFar, Robbins stated that WAM and Whistler Blackcomb had a traditionally good working relationship. However he additionally famous that this relationship deteriorated within the fall of 2022 when WAM’s new contact at Whistler Blackcomb merely stopped speaking.
“The earlier individual accountable for occasions [before 2022] was a dream to work with, however he now not works for Vail Resorts,” stated Robbins. “His alternative was the exact opposite. I believe the toughest factor about it for us was that he very a lot made us really feel like we have been being supported, however it wasn’t adopted by by him at any level thereafter. And it was disingenuous the whole time.”
Following the September 2022, WAM, Robbins stated their Whistler Blackcomb contact alluded to points they must work by for future occasions. However that preliminary suggestions to the WAM group by their Whistler Blackcomb contact was adopted by months of close to radio silence, stated Robbins.
“He stood us up on a number of booked conferences and it bled over day after day, week after week. Earlier than we knew it, we had misplaced three months of simply making an attempt to get fundamental solutions from this individual,” stated Robbins.
“[Whistler Blackcomb] knew that we had a drop-dead date of January 1, 2023, [for getting permitted, so that we could sustainably organize the September race], and we pushed that to February 1. Once we lastly obtained somebody to place some stuff in entrance of us [in late January and early February], they introduced a wholly totally different allowing utility course of than we’d seen earlier than. It was prohibitive, but additionally nonetheless one thing that we have been going to work our manner by. They wouldn’t enable us to even speak about [promote] the race till that course of was full. And at that time we might be thus far into the yr, it could be inconceivable to maneuver ahead with so many uncertainties nonetheless in place.”
Handshake-style agreements between allowing entities and occasion administrators are usually not unusual in longer-term working relationships. That is the place a allowing entity permits an occasion director to progress with planning and selling an occasion earlier than a allow is secured, often as a result of bureaucratic processes can transfer slowly. Whereas Robbins stated he and different allowing entities for his enterprise’s different occasions work by handshake-style agreements, it appears Whistler Blackcomb wouldn’t.
Robbins additionally defined that as a part of these late January and early February 2023, conversations, Whistler Blackcomb stated it could solely allow two of WAM’s earlier 5 race distances, the ascent and 25k races. In line with Robbins, Whistler Blackcomb additionally stated the 25k course would must be redesigned.
Lowering the scope of the occasion by a lot, stated Robbins, “was not a sustainable mannequin for these occasions on this city.”
Whistler Blackcomb declined an interview with iRunFar, however launched the next written assertion in response to this battle:
“What this comes all the way down to is we merely weren’t happy or comfy with how Whistler Alpine Meadows deliberate to handle questions of safety from the race the yr prior. We is not going to compromise on security as it’s our primary precedence, and we must always observe that our security protocols and insurance policies haven’t modified considerably yr over yr. We weren’t prepared to maneuver ahead with the 2023 race with out an sufficient security and medical plan, and WAM was unwilling to work with us on this.
“To the problem of communication, we take accountability that we didn’t talk as successfully as we must always have, and for this, we apologize. We’re dedicated to improved communication with all companions. We’re pleased with our lengthy historical past of internet hosting all kinds of occasions and teams of all types that improve our group and our tradition, and that assist what makes Whistler particular. We’re dedicated to persevering with this custom and stay up for internet hosting future occasions and races at Whistler Blackcomb.
“The choice to cancel Whistler Alpine Meadows was made by race organizers in February 2023. Whistler Blackcomb was open to working with them on a revised plan that may adequately meet the logistical and security wants of a race of its dimension and scope so as to deliver it again. They declined and moved on. Over the summer season, we acquired a brand new inquiry from UTMB about bringing its World Collection circuit to Whistler. Path working fans, native companies and the group at giant stand to profit from this world-class occasion.”
Robbins refuted Whistler Blackcomb’s response, and stated extra was at play than simply poor communication and altering procedures.
Langford stated in an interview, “We weren’t conscious of something important, safety- or medical-wise [taking place during the 2022 WAM]. Our post-race medical experiences confirmed solely the same old minor points from an extremely, and we have been by no means given the chance to debrief with the Whistler Blackcomb patrol staff who have been on the mountain as a part of the occasion all weekend.”
Robbins concluded, “My enterprise companion [Langford] has been within the business for 1 / 4 century, and arranged the journey racing world championships twenty years in the past. We have now labored with Purple Bull and Spartan on contracts over time. Whereas we’re a small entity, this isn’t our first rodeo, and my companion has extra expertise in permits particularly than anyone I do know. It’s disheartening that [Whistler Blackcomb] retains coming again to this unfounded level that we didn’t observe by on our finish, and we have been the explanation that we selected to depart the group of Whistler for these races.”
The Processes and Ethics of the UTMB World Collection Are Additionally Questioned
Robbins additionally wrote in his weblog publish about how Coast Mountain Path Operating had a dialogue with the UTMB World Collection concerning the collection buying one among its different races on the identical time that WAM was dissolving:
“In 2021 … we have been contacted by way of the IM-UTMB group about doubtlessly buying our Squamish 50 races. [These races are based in Squamish, British Columbia, located about an hour’s drive south of Whistler.] I stated we weren’t and we moved on. One yr later, in 2022 they reached out a second time … We determined … that we would as effectively hear them out. We signed an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] and had a single Zoom assembly with them.”
Robbins elaborated on this in an interview, and stated his enterprise was then in continued, open dialogue with The Ironman Group concerning the potential acquisition from late 2022 by late Might 2023.
He defined, “As a part of that dialog, we supplied all of them our inside particulars for the Squamish 50. In doing this, we have been additionally [unknowingly] giving them a whole market evaluation on the identical time that they have been in communications with Vail Resorts to deliver a race to life [in Whistler,] primarily that on the precise terrain that we have been simply pushed off of.”
Robbins stated it was in late Might 2023, when The Ironman Group put a maintain on talks about that buy.
In an interview with iRunFar, representatives of the UTMB World Collection defined their model of the timeline on this battle, which doesn’t absolutely align with that of Robbins.
Paul Huddle, the senior director of world path working operations for The Ironman Group, stated, “I began speaking with Gary and Geoff in the course of November final yr. We have been eager about their occasion, significantly the Squamish 50, they usually appeared eager about doubtlessly working with us.”
Continued Huddle, ”In January of this yr, we as an organization, for quite a lot of causes, put a maintain on all acquisitions, so I notified Gary and Geoff and everyone else that we have been speaking to that that was the case at the moment.”
The UTMB World Collection maintains that the Squamish 50 acquisition dialog — and its ending — had nothing to do with its exploration of a Whistler-based occasion.
“I believe it’s actually vital to level out that this has nothing to do with that situation. That was a state of affairs that any firm goes by,” Huddle stated. “I believe in February, February 11, everybody noticed the information out of Whistler that they have been now not persevering with with that occasion [WAM] and it was fairly emphatically acknowledged by Gary that they have been out and by no means coming again. Keats [McGonigal, the vice president of North American operations for The Ironman Group] … is the man that holds the relationships [with the municipality] … in Whistler. So it was like, ‘Oh wow, Keats, it’s best to contact your people and see in the event that they’re eager about bringing a UTMB occasion to Whistler. There’s no race there now.’”
McGonigal defined the subsequent a part of the timeline because the UTMB World Collection sees it:
“By means of the spring and summer season, we had plenty of calls [with the three different leadership entities in Whistler, including the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort], with us sharing what we’re making an attempt to do when it comes to increasing the [UTMB] World Collection and entering into Canada … It was in August we went for in-person conferences for a handful of days and talked about programs, maps, layouts, designs, and entry to venues. All of these regular race operational conversations occurred in August, which finally continued alongside to our announcement.”
When requested if the UTMB World Collection thought-about reaching out to Robbins, Langford, and the WAM group staff as they started ideating UT Whistler, Huddle responded:
“What we love about Gary and Geoff and their occasions is that they’ve an important following. They’ve nice occasions. That’s why we have been within the dialog [about an acquisition of the Squamish 50] to start with. However once more, for quite a lot of causes, we have been now not in that dialog with any of the occasions as of January. When this chance got here up, we thought, ‘Wow, that is clearly a great alternative to make use of the connections we have already got by Keats and Ironman Canada.’”
Huddle continued, “Following their announcement in February, it appeared fairly clear that they have been exiting and never internet hosting any occasions [in Whistler]. After that announcement, we noticed a void and had native relationships to examine in with. I get it. I imply, it’s a group and this extremely relies on group … I assume it’s a great level, and possibly that’s an oversight. However on the identical time, we weren’t concerned of their conversations with Whistler and wouldn’t have anticipated to be.”
The Path Operating Group Responds
What adopted the UT Whistler race announcement and Robbins’s weblog publish was an enormous and emotionally charged response on-line by path runners regionally and globally, nearly universally in assist of Robbins and in opposition to UT Whistler.
Runners’ posts now quantity within the tens of 1000’s throughout each main social media platform, together with Reddit, YouTube, Fb, Instagram, and elsewhere. Feedback have ranged from calling for a boycott of UT Whistler to questioning the presence of huge firms within the sport of path working.
For instance, commenting on the UT Whistler’s Instagram web page, Ems (@emmmmics) wrote, “As a Whistler native, this shall be an enormous NO. I’ll NOT be racing, and I’ll NOT be volunteering for this … I foresee a boycott coming from runners in Whistler, the whole thing of the ocean to sky area, Vancouver, and the decrease mainland as effectively….”
Ellie Greenwood, Vancouver, British Columbia, resident, prior Western States 100 course report holder, and the 2012 CCC champion, wrote on her social media:
”Path and extremely runners. Our sport is at a crossroads and it’s time to determine what you need our sport and group to be like.
“You join races, you get to decide on in what course you need our sport to go. Let’s not be bullied by UTMB – they aren’t guiding our ship, we the runners are. Cash talks and I cannot be spending a dime or any of my time with UTMB. I encourage you to consider the place your cash and your time will go….”
Jim Walmsley, the 2022 UTMB champion, titled one among his Strava actions within the final a number of days, “So what will we race subsequent yr then?” He confirmed with iRunFar after the truth that this title was certainly in reference to this Whistler race battle.
Native Management Responds to Requests for Feedback
iRunFar requested feedback from Whistler’s two different essential management entities on the subject of internet hosting occasions, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, a authorities entity, and Tourism Whistler, a tourism company.
iRunFar’s questions have been centered on characterizing the entities’ interactions with the organizations behind WAM and UT Whistler.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler [RMOW] supplied this written assertion:
“The RMOW labored on Municipal permits for the Whistler Alpine Meadows occasions as a part of their races, which passed off on municipal property. The RMOW allowing course of which occurred is customary process and adopted for all candidates.
“Shortly after the Whistler Alpine Meadows race organizers made their announcement that they might now not be working the occasion in Whistler, UTMB reached out to the RMOW asking if there was a possibility to deliver their race to Whistler. Because the alpine areas in query fall into Whistler Blackcomb/Vail’s jurisdiction, an introduction was made.”
Tourism Whistler submitted a written assertion as effectively:
“Tourism Whistler’s relationship with the Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) path race included offering advertising assist and aiding organizers with an Financial Affect Evaluation examine following the 2022 occasion. This can be a service Tourism Whistler supplies to many occasions that happen within the resort. We due to this fact acknowledge the optimistic financial impression of the earlier WAM races, and we have been sorry to listen to of their determination to not transfer forward with any Whistler occasions sooner or later.
“Tourism Whistler turned conscious of UTMB/The Ironman Group’s curiosity in bringing a path working occasion to Whistler after it had already been introduced publicly that WAM was not returning to the resort. Additionally it is our understanding that Whistler Blackcomb and UTMB/The Ironman Group didn’t have interaction in any conversations concerning the Extremely Path Whistler occasion till after it had been confirmed that WAM was not returning. Whistler has a long-standing and optimistic working relationship with The Ironman Group after internet hosting the Whistler Ironman triathlon from 2010 to 2019 and we stay up for welcoming them again to the resort with a brand new path working occasion.”
What Does the Path Operating Group Do Now?
Robbins closed that weblog publish with a direct problem to the UT Whistler group, “…Coast Mountain Path Operating are formally saying our intentions of launching a BC [British Columbia] race in direct competitors with this occasion, in September 2024.”
In an interview, Robbins summarized why he’s chosen to be vocal about this story, “I need folks to be educated, and to permit folks to make knowledgeable choices from there. I need our North American ultrarunning scene to have a collective voice.”
In an interview with iRunFar, McGonigal, of the UTMB World Collection, stated, “We’d like to have the chance to fix the fences.”
When requested if he thought the state of affairs might be resolved, Robbins stated, “With Ironman, that’s past restore. With Vail Resorts, we might be open to working with them on an occasion once more in Whistler if The Ironman Group have been now not part of issues.”
It’s possible that we’ll by no means know the total story behind this unlucky battle. And, so many questions stay.
What’s going to — or ought to — occur subsequent on this path working story of David and Goliath?
Will Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort and the UTMB World Collection go forward with the 2024 Extremely Path Whistler by UTMB regardless of the large pushback they’ve acquired since their race announcement? In the event that they do, will they garner sufficient entries to efficiently host the race?
What occasion will Gary Robbins, Geoff Langford, and Coast Mountain Path Operating introduce in September 2024, to satisfy their intent to compete with the UTMB World Collection occasion? Will runners prove within the droves they’ve promised on-line?
And maybe most significantly, what duties do the Goliaths of this story — and of this sport — have in working with and supporting the Davids within the communities by which they want to function?
As the game of path working has grown, the group’s basic sentiment has been that there’s room for each form of individual and each form of race. However this battle has many asking if that is nonetheless true.
“I’m leaning towards, no, it’s not potential to coexist,” stated Robbins. “When you’ve gotten publicly traded corporations with billion-dollar budgets which have the reply to shareholders, the whole lot comes all the way down to the underside line of the right way to monopolize issues essentially the most. That’s simply actuality.”
Robbins concluded, “There are unbelievable folks inside the Vail Resorts group, and I’m certain there are actually good folks at Ironman as effectively. However they’re faceless organizations for essentially the most half, they usually need to make choices that appease their shareholders. When that’s the case, you’ll be able to’t probably make choices in the most effective curiosity of the communities by which you’re working.”
Till this battle, although, the game has largely demonstrated at the very least tolerance of large-scale business operations inside it. The expansion of the UTMB World Collection from zero to 40 occasions since its inception in 2021 reveals en masse participation.
And the UTMB pageant of occasions in Chamonix, France, a separate group additionally owned and operated by the UTMB Group and The Ironman Group, has turn into simply essentially the most aggressive group of path ultramarathons on the planet. It was the origin level of all of the UTMB-based operations 20 years in the past and serves because the central races of the UTMB World Collection. The competitiveness of those races reveals elite runners’ acceptance of the a number of giant organizations behind it.
However the path working group’s swift, sharp, and nearly common protection of Robbins and Langford in addition to its rejection of the UT Whistler announcement learn as a sign shift. To co-opt the outline Greenwood utilized in her social media publish, it appears the path group has arrived at a crossroads and is wanting down a number of potential paths.
Solely time will inform down which path path runners will go.
Name for Feedback
We empathize with the delicate nature of this subject, and want to assist host a productive group dialog about it. Thus, we respectfully request you to observe iRunFar’s remark coverage. Disagreement and debate are all the time welcome, as long as you share your ideas constructively.
- What do you assume the path working group ought to do now?
- Will you as a person take motion because of this battle?
- Do you assume the massive or new corporations shifting into path working and ultrarunning have any accountability to look after the locations and communities into which they enter?