On Thursday, UTMB/Ironman introduced that the primary Canadian addition to their UTMB World Collection can be held in Whistler in September 2024, the month when Gary Robbins historically hosted the broadly revered Whistler Alpine Meadows occasion. UTMB Whistler organizers couldn’t have anticipated the widespread response of shock that despatched shockwaves by means of the trail-running neighborhood 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 Operating (CMTR) to proceed to carry Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) a preferred 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 inconceivable for WAM to proceed. In response to UTMB’s announcement on Thursday, Robbins wrote a weblog publish, 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 large names in ultra-trail, together with Courtney Dauwalter, Dakota Jones and Mike Wardian. Recognized for greeting each single runner at his occasions with a hug or high-five on the end line, Robbins and his races symbolize all the very best components of path working to many athletes–widespread neighborhood involvement, help for native companies and a concentrate on sustainability.
Canadian path icon Ellie Greenwood (and former Western States 100 course file 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 in addition 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 a brilliant VK, 25k, 50k, 110k and 100 miler however obtained pushed out final 12 months. Good luck getting locals to volunteer, we’ll be serving to on the different tremendous CMTR occasions as an alternative.”
Greenwood’s response has been echoed all through the neighborhood, from common runners to the very best within the sport. UTMB course file holder and 2023 winner, Jim Walmsley, shared a Strava exercise titled “So what can we race subsequent 12 months then?”
They bided their time as Vail cratered WAM. Made it inconceivable 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 potential for UTMB buying one in every of CMTR’s races. Each side are tied in an NDA, however Robbins says that he shared some non-negotiables throughout the assembly with UTMB: “our neighborhood help packages, our volunteer appreciation packages, and so on.” Robbins was instructed that these points had been a dialog for an additional 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 advantage of the doubt, however in my coronary heart I at all times knew higher,” he wrote. “I’m embarrassed to need to admit that I virtually let a fox within the hen home.”
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 relating to permits meant to make it unfeasible for Whistler Alpine Meadows to proceed. In a press release to Canadian Operating, Vail acknowledges the breakdown in communication on their finish however sticks to their line that the choice to cancel WAM was completely the selection of CMTR. “We weren’t keen to maneuver ahead with the 2023 race with out an ample 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 inconceivable to fulfill. “The brand new permits included issues like a steep new working charge, technical and security necessities fully unrelated to a path working occasion, and a bunch of different gadgets 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 need 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 perhaps they may. 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 house for a couple of occasion inside the neighborhood. “I feel Gary has executed an awesome job. We didn’t get up seeking to damage the Canadian path working neighborhood,” she instructed Canadian Operating.
Paul Huddle, director of worldwide path working operations for UTMB, says the neighborhood response was shocking however not sudden. “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 one in every of his infants was stolen and placed on by any individual else–I get that.”
Revered names within the path neighborhood, like former obstacle-racing champion Amelia Boone, have recommended the state of affairs 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 would like for the game of path working.” She added: “If we don’t desire a UTMB/IM mannequin, then we have to change the inducement construction, which comes at sponsor stage.”
Robbins and CMTR aren’t taking the hit evenly, 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 help 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 properly wanted levity to the state of affairs proper now.
The outpouring of help for me and my staff these previous few days right here has been completely unbelievable!! 🙏 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 would like them to achieve success,” they acknowledged.
Whereas it stays to be seen how September 2024 will unfold, the path neighborhood seems to be overwhelmingly unified of their help of CMTR and grassroots racing occasions. “I couldn’t be extra pleased with our neighborhood proper now,” Greenwood commented on X. “We’ll battle to the tip for what we love, for what we’ve got labored so exhausting for and for what we’ve got supported for thus lengthy.”
“We’re overwhelmed by the response and the wonderful help from our neighborhood, each regionally and at giant,” Robbin’s spouse, Linda Barton-Robbins, shared with Canadian Operating. “Path runners, hey? They’re one thing else. It introduced tears to our eyes so many occasions yesterday. We’re simply so grateful.”