Ironman shortlist for Canada 2013: Pros and cons

The WTC has announced the three finalists for the new home for an Ironman event in Canada as three decades of a magnificent run came to an end for Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C. The Ironman shortlist for Canada 2013: Pros and cons has created lots of speculation in Triathlon circles.

Calgary, Vernon, Victoria and Kamloops are all out of the running and the top choices in the eyes of the WTC are Whistler, British Columbia, Kelowna British Columbia, and Huntsville, Ontario.

WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

There is no question that Whistler is a stunning natural wonderland and there is no denying they deserved the accolades from the great job they did during the Winter Olympic Games.

However the Ironman is not the Olympics.

For many people making the trip to Whistler to take in some of the events during the Olympics was out of the question as it was just too costly when it came to food and lodging.

ironman shortlist for canada

There is no doubting the stunning back-drop that Ironman Whistler would showcase.

It might have been fine for people who were within driving distance, but to fly to Vancouver and make the two-hour trip to Whistler and then pay for accommodations and top dollar for food and restaurants was just too challenging for many people so they just watched the Games on T.V.

The average Ironman will most likely need accommodations for five days and I have talked with many people over the years who are just barely managing to pay for their equipment and entry fees and just want to have one shot at reaching the Ironman finish line without having to go into serious debt.

Penticton lodging costs went through the roof in the weeks leading up to Ironman Canada so one can only imagine what will happen in Whistler. At least with Penticton there were many outlying communities within an hours drive of the Ironman venue with less expensive options as far as motels etc.

However there are RV and camping options very near to Whistler Village and although camping is not the greatest for anyone preparing for a race as difficult as an Ironman, an RV site might be ideal.

The Whistler RV Park and campground is approximately 90 minutes drive from Vancouver, British Columbia and is open year-round. However there are only 102 fully-serviced RV sites and 44 private tent sites.

Best of all it is located under 20 km from Whistler Village, so if Whistler is chosen as the new venue and you are intent on taking part and have an RV you might want to be making your reservation the moment the news breaks.

Another important consideration is that Ironman athletes are really better off to cook their own meals in the week leading up to the race as opposed to eating in restaurants. This way they can stay on a diet that does not stray too far from the one they trained with.

For tourists in town to take in the Olympics or any other event it isn’t a big deal where and what they eat, but it sure is for a triathlete.

That means they will need a kitchenette in Whistler and there are most likely many available at a premium but grocery shopping in Whistler might be pricey as well, so that would mean stocking up in communities nearer to Vancouver where you will find competitive pricing in big box grocery Super-Markets.

There is an IGA in Whistler and a few other smaller grocery outlets but expect to pay top dollar for your groceries. There is also a Walmart in Squamish that is pretty much on your way up to Whistler Village.

For those of you who have been part of Ironman Canada you will know that there was no shortage of big Super-Markets where you would pay no more for groceries than you did back home.

It takes at least 3000 volunteers to put on an Ironman and one has to wonder if Whistler can pull that off. It is also especially helpful if the new venue has experience putting on triathlons and this is a major area where Whistler might fall short.

There is also the question of the water temperature for the swim. One of the problems with Ironman 70.3 Calgary is that Ghost Lake is fed from Mountain run-off and results in colder water temperatures. For many people fairly new to open water swimming this just adds to the degree of difficulty.

It will be interesting to see how this works out if Whistler is chosen as the new venue for an Ironman in Canada.

The main advantage that Whistler may have over Kelowna for a Western choice is that it is first and foremost a ski resort and the WTC seems to have a some sort of love affair with these venue types. For instance, Lake Placid, Tahoe, Mont Tremblant, and now Whistler.

Just the same, it would be a bit of a surprise if Whistler is chosen by the WTC.

HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO

Huntsville is also a stunning venue and more importantly has experience putting on triathlons. As a matter of fact the Ironman 70.3 course in Muskoka will make up much of the Ironman course should they be chosen to host the Ironman.

muskoka on Ironman short-list

Muskoka country is truly stunning.

The bike would consist of a loop of the 70.3 course and with a second different loop added on to make up the 180k distance. The run would also be two loops.

Much like Whistler, accommodations will be at a premium and with no airport it will mean making the trip by car or bus from Toronto International Airport if you are flying in. I know from living out there that the traffic can be Hell in the Summer as everyone in Toronto is using the highways for vacation getaways.

The most common options would be by bus or renting a car for those who are coming from far away and cannot make the drive to Huntsville from their home. The Huntsville area is pretty sprawling and you really should have a car.

Huntsville has many advantages that make it a more likely choice for an Ironman. They have a course virtually in place, they have a volunteer base, and they have tons of experience in putting on triathlons and have drawn some of the top pros in the world to their races including World Champion Craig Alexander.

If there is one major draw-back to Huntsville it is it’s location on the East side of the country. You can bet that many triathletes in the West would be pretty choked if Huntsville is chosen when there is already an Ironman event in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.

It really doesn’t make sense geographically, but there may be other reasons why the WTC would prefer another Ironman race in the East. For instance, they could have plans for a third Ironman race in Canada in the near future for the West.

Why not? Look how many WTC Ironman races there are in the U.S. and they all pretty much sell out.

If that’s the case, it would also be a surprise if Huntsville is chosen to host the next Ironman in Canada in this go-around.

It would make more sense going with a Western location this time and then eventually making Huntsville the third WTC Ironman Triathlon in Canada. At least that way there is a West/East balance geographically.

To learn more about Huntsville, their Ironman bid, and Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, visit the trimuskoka website.

KELOWNA, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Taking everything into consideration Kelowna seems to have the most going for it when it comes to hosting an Ironman event.

kelowna vineyards

The amazing vineyards of kelowna. Perhaps part of the bike course?


It has a big volunteer base to draw from and they have plenty of experience putting on top level triathlons as the Apple Triathlon is a premier event in Canada and has been host to some of the top triathletes in the world.

Much like Penticton there are many smaller communities surrounding the city for accommodation choices. You won’t pay any more for groceries than you do at home.

The water temperature is sure to be ideal as it would be an August race by all indications.

There is also the CHALLENGE factor. Will the WTC want to go head-to-head with the new race in Penticton? If so, what better way to do it than to have another Ironman distance race just an hour away from Penticton?

The word on the street is that the mayor of Kelowna has already confirmed that Ironman Kelowna would be on the same day as the CHALLENGE race.

It would be great to see it be a June race as it would be far better for those hoping to use the race as a spring-board to Ironman Hawaii. Ironman Canada always has been a bit too close to Ironman Hawaii.

But I guess if you want to crush Starbuck’s, you build a Tim Horton’s across the street, and this may be the logic behind having Ironman Kelowna on the same weekend as the Challenge race in Penticton. No doubt this would bring into play volunteer loyalty as they would have to choose between the two events and volunteer resources in the Okanagan Valley would be stretched to the limit.

I think a really major consideration is the fact that they have an International Airport and it is only about a 10-minute drive into town. Neither Huntsville or Whistler venues are as accessible for triathletes from the closest airport.

For Whistler you have to make your way from the Vancouver International Airport and from Huntsville you would have to come in from Toronto International.

Everything sort of points toward Kelowna being the top choice, but who knows what is going on behind closed doors, and what other factors are coming into play.

This is one issue reported in a local publication that does not bode well for Kelowna and may eventually put Kelowna out of the running..

Unlike some other cities eager to attract visitors, Kelowna generally does not offer any financial subsidies to the organizers of events that may bring thousands of tourists to town.

In fact, the reverse is usually true, with festival promoters paying significant sums to rent facilities such as Waterfront Park or City Park, as well as additional costs for extra policing

Everyone has an opinion and personally, I have a choice that does not include any of the seven venues mentioned in this post.

And it has nothing to do with not liking these three spectacular venues.

It’s just the old-school triathlete in me that would have liked to have seen a one-loop swim, a one-loop bike and an out-and-back marathon, but you will not see that in any of these locations. Almost all the new WTC courses now are comprised of multiple loops and Ironman Canada in Penticton was configured in the shadow of Ironman Hawaii in Kona and was built as a single-loop course.

It was one of the many features that made it such a special race, but I suppose those of us who had the opportunity to experience Ironman Canada should consider ourselves fortunate as there will never be another opportunity under the Ironman banner.

Best of luck to Whistler, Huntsville, and Kelowna. Putting on an Ironman Triathlon is a huge undertaking and full credit to the communities who are willing to make this commitment.

Whatever choice the WTC makes, I sincerely hope they do not choose to call it Ironman Canada, because in the minds of the many amazing people who have made the journey from Okanagan Lake, to Richters Pass and Yellow Lake, around Skaha Lake, and down Main Street with the sound of Steve King’s voice resonating at the finish line there will only ever be one Ironman Canada.

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About Ray

Ray hasn’t stopped since his first Ironman in Kona, 1984. He has since run 14 more Ironman races, authored 5 Triathlon books, and is now bringing together a passionate community of triathletes. Contact Ray at ray@ironstruck.com

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