America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

Back last fall when UTMB first announced their new and highly controversial event in Whistler, BC the 100M distance race was missing. This omission didn’t seem that unusual given that not every one of their World Series events offers a 100M distance option to begin with. This being a first year event it seemed to make sense to not offer it. Further even Coast Mountain had trouble finding an obvious route for their 100M WAM race and had to change routes several times. Ski resorts just aren’t that big and don’t offer enough trail miles to easily chart out a ‘nice and not contrived’ race course, and beyond the ski resort you run into wilderness permitting issues very quickly.

So UTMB launched with the 100k distance as their flagship event. It had almost 5,000 meters of vert and, just like WAM, would’ve been a very stout race climbing both Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain. Now, just over the last couple of months the race organization changed the name of the race to a 70K with 3,800 meters of vert and the actual distance being 64km or 39.52 mi with 12,657 ft of vert.

The 70k course offers the challenges of a true 100k distance, and falls under the UTMB 100K Race Category due to its kilometer based effort, while showcasing the full variety of what is offered on Whistler trails.

The changes:

The original 100k route started in sort of far out behind Green Lake and meandered along the Sea-to-Sky trail to Whistler village. From there it climbed up to Blackcomb Mountain descended back down to Whistler village and climbed Whistler mountain and descended via a few contrived loops toward the finish in Creekside.

The new route now starts and finishes in the same location in Whistler Creekside makes its way over to Whistler village before climbing the two mountains an descending back to Creekside via a cleaner line. The two big changes which brought on the distance shortening are the new start in Creekside vs. the far out place beyond Green Lake and the less contrived route back to the finished in Creekside.

Having covered every UTMB race on the calendar to date it’s not actually that surprising that UMTB is very casual with their labels for the race distances. There are several other of their races around the world that are similarly labeled. UTMB applies their ‘Kilometer-Effort’ algorithm to determine what race distance falls into what stone and index category. While this might be confusing and maybe UTMB should come up with a better naming scheme than 100M, 100K, etc… it’s also understandable given the way vert plays into how difficult a race actually is.

Here’s what the team wrote on Instagram in response to someone asking about the reason for the change:

We wanted to ensure that we could provide the best course possible so that all of our runners were well-supported and have an exceptional time on the trails. The new 70K distance still offers 3 Running Stones and is qualified in the 100K UTMB Index category. If you’re registered for the 70K and would like to run a true 100K linear distance, we have offered to allow you to transfer your registration to any of our other NA UTMB 100K races at no cost. You should have received an email with information on how to switch. If you would like to stay in the 70K distance, we are also offering the opportunity to register for Sunday’s 25K at no additional cost. We want to ensure all of our runners have a great and memorable experience at Ultra Trail Whistler!

So why the changes?

I have no insight information, but I am willing to hedge some bets:

  • Registrations are low and volunteers are hard to find. If I judge by the event’s Instagram engagement (they still don’t have a 1,000 followers and almost all comments are still calling for boycott) one could come to the conclusion that this event is STILL a very hard sell. The shortened distance will require fewer volunteers and is logistically easier/cheaper to pull off.
  • The original race was hard – it’s still hard, but a bit easier now. The fall in the PNW is full of events and many of them are hard. Given the reputation around the event, Whistler will have no chance to compete against already established races in the region. For the foreseeable future this event will have to be a clear play for stones and qualification for the Finals in Chamonix. But! The date of the event is less than 4 weeks after the Finals. It’s too close for people to got run both events. So folks from North America who have been in Chamonix won’t go to Whistler as well. By offering 3 stones for a shorter distance race it is now possible to race in Chamonix and then head to Whistler. So this is catering to the folks who love UTMB already, might have been in Chamonix but need another qualifying race for the coming year. I have no proof of it, but I could see UTMB applying this marketing technique to a variety of events that might not be reaching the level of interest they are expecting.

I could be completely off base here, but I think for folks looking for stones and a qualifying index this race has now become a lot more exciting. For folks who don’t care, or outright hate UTMB this race was never in the cards anyway. At least not for a few years until new stories are being written in Whistler.