On Thursday, UTMB/Ironman introduced that the primary Canadian addition to their UTMB World Sequence can be held in Whistler in September 2024, a month when Gary Robbins had historically hosted the extensively revered Whistler Alpine Meadows occasion. UTMB Whistler organizers couldn’t have anticipated the widespread response of concern that despatched shockwaves by way of the trail-running group and picked up velocity on social media over the next days.
In February of 2023, Robbins introduced on Instagram that it had change into “crystal clear there was no path ahead” for Coast Mountain Path Working (CMTR) to proceed to carry Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) a well-liked occasion with quite a lot of races, from a vertical kilometre to a 100-miler. The occasion was completely cancelled. Whereas Robbins didn’t give specifics, many athletes speculated that Vail Resorts, the staff that owns Whistler Blackcomb (ski resort), had made it unimaginable for WAM to proceed. In response to UTMB’s announcement on Thursday, Robbins wrote a weblog put up, titled ‘What Actually Went Down in Whistler with the WAM Races’ and the Web erupted.
Robbins is the director (with associate Geoff Langford) of CMTR and their races have attracted lots of the massive names in ultra-trail, together with Courtney Dauwalter, Dakota Jones and Mike Wardian. Identified for greeting each single runner at his occasions with a hug or high-five on the end line, Robbins and his races symbolize all one of the best components of path operating to many athletes–widespread group involvement, assist for native companies and a concentrate on sustainability.
Canadian path icon Ellie Greenwood (and former Western States 100 course report holder) was one of many first to share her dismay towards UTMB, whose identify previously few years has not solely represented the favored 171K extremely in Chamonix, but additionally stands for a mega-buck enterprise partnership (as of 2021) with Ironman.
“NO. We had an alpine playground earlier than you, UTMB,” Greenwood shared on X (previously Twitter). “Our native devoted race administrators (Coast Mountain Path) had an excellent VK, 25k, 50k, 110k and 100 miler however obtained pushed out final yr. Good luck getting locals to volunteer, we’ll be serving to on the different tremendous CMTR occasions as a substitute.”
Greenwood’s response has been echoed all through the group, from common runners to one of the best within the sport. UTMB course report holder and 2023 winner, Jim Walmsley, shared a Strava exercise titled “So what can we race subsequent yr then?”
They bided their time as Vail cratered WAM. Made it unimaginable for WAM to launch. Then Vail mentioned it was @CoastMtnTrail‘s fault simply to be further assholes. Then UTMB/Ironman swoops in, steals the concept. It is even the identical weekend. So clear. Fuck that. Fuck Vail, UTMB & Ironman https://t.co/WSoAhconVv
— Linda Barton-Robbins (@lindabear78) October 26, 2023
UTMB and CMTR aren’t strangers: they met on a video name in September 2022, after the ultimate version of Whistler Alpine Meadows, to debate the opportunity of UTMB buying considered one of CMTR’s races. Each side are tied in an NDA, however Robbins says that he shared some non-negotiables through the assembly with UTMB: “our group assist applications, our volunteer appreciation applications, and many others.” Robbins was instructed that these points had been a dialog for one more time and wrote that he had not heard again from UTMB since June.
Robbins says he’s now grateful the dialog with UTMB didn’t progress. “I used to be giving them the good thing about the doubt, however in my coronary heart I at all times knew higher,” he wrote. “I’m embarrassed to need to admit that I nearly let a fox within the hen home.”
Whistler to get Canada’s first UTMB race in 2024
Robbins cites a extreme lack of communication on the a part of Vail Resorts as a part of the issue, in addition to unreasonable requests concerning permits meant to make it unfeasible for Whistler Alpine Meadows to proceed. In an announcement to Canadian Working, Vail acknowledges the breakdown in communication on their finish however sticks to their line that the choice to cancel WAM was totally the selection of CMTR. “We weren’t prepared to maneuver ahead with the 2023 race with out an enough security and medical plan, and WAM was unwilling to work with us on this,” they mentioned.
Robbins says Vail Resort’s new necessities had been unimaginable to satisfy. “The brand new permits included issues like a steep new working payment, technical and security necessities utterly unrelated to a path operating occasion, and a number of different objects that’d by no means been there earlier than,” he shares in his weblog.
Initially I feared Ironman would use UTMB to do to ultras what they did to triathlon w/ Kona. That is worse. I understand how a lot @gary_robbins put into WAM. I wish to expertise UTMB however I’ll by no means run a UTMB race. No, they will not care about me. But when sufficient do not possibly they are going to. https://t.co/YgOH41u2fw
— John Kelly (@RndmForestRunnr) October 26, 2023
UTMB is adamant that they didn’t got down to compete with Robbins, and UTMB and Vail have each acknowledged that negotiations solely started as soon as Robbins made the general public announcement that he was cancelling WAM. UTMB Whistler race director Christine Cogger believes there’s area for a couple of occasion inside the group. “I believe Gary has achieved a terrific job. We didn’t get up seeking to spoil the Canadian path operating group,” she instructed Canadian Working.
Paul Huddle, director of worldwide path operating operations for UTMB, says the group response was stunning however not surprising. “I do know Gary could be very passionate and places on wonderful races. A race is your child, it’s plenty of work,” Huddle mentioned. “His notion [is] that considered one of his infants was stolen and placed on by any individual else–I get that.”
Revered names within the path group, like former obstacle-racing champion Amelia Boone, have steered the scenario with UTMB ought to encourage a brand new path ahead within the sport. On X, Boone known as the controversy “a broader dialog of what we wish for the game of path operating.” She added: “If we don’t desire a UTMB/IM mannequin, then we have to change the inducement construction, which comes at sponsor degree.”
Robbins and CMTR aren’t taking the hit calmly, and have introduced a brand new race to be hosted on the identical weekend as UTMB Whistler, in September 2024. “I want to take the time now to say that we are formally saying our intentions of launching a BC race in direct competitors with this occasion, in September 2024,” Robbins mentioned. His announcement has garnered the assist of athletes on social media, and Dominic Gross and Andy Pearson, hosts of the ultrarunning comedy podcast Between Two Pines, have created a Go Fund Me, comically titled ‘Assist Gary Robbins Purchase UTMB.’
That is wonderful and hilarious.
Because of Dominic and Andy for bringing some effectively wanted levity to the scenario proper now.
The outpouring of assist for me and my staff these previous couple of days right here has been completely unimaginable!! 🙏 https://t.co/r9jqny6lbv
— Gary Robbins (@gary_robbins) October 28, 2023
UTMB responded to CMTR’s race announcement. “We would like all path races to succeed. For that race and all of Gary’s races, we wish them to achieve success,” they acknowledged.
Whereas it stays to be seen how September 2024 will unfold, the path group seems to be overwhelmingly unified of their assist of CMTR and grassroots racing occasions. “I couldn’t be extra pleased with our group proper now,” Greenwood commented on X. “We’ll struggle to the top for what we love, for what we’ve labored so arduous for and for what we’ve supported for therefore lengthy.”
“We’re overwhelmed by the response and the wonderful assist from our group, each domestically and at giant,” Robbin’s spouse, Linda Barton-Robbins, shared with Canadian Working. “Path runners, hey? They’re one thing else. It introduced tears to our eyes so many occasions yesterday. We’re simply so grateful.”