Crankworx Whistler has been cancelled
for the first time since the event's inception in 2004 due to the impacts of Coronavirus. While it was announced earlier that Cranworx Innsbruck has been postponed to September 30, 2020, restrictions laid out in Phase 3 of the BC Restart Plan have led to the cancellation of Crankworx Whistler. The plans, released on May 15, include a continued ban on the gathering of more than 50 people until the virus is more under control due to a vaccine, treatment or widespread immunity. With none of these options looking likely by August, the decision has been made to cancel the event for 2020. We caught up with Crankworx General Manager Darren Kinnaird to understand more about the decision, what goes into planning the Crankworx World Tour, and what he thinks the future of mountain bike racing will look like.
I imagine it was a difficult decision to cancel your flagship event, how many years has Crankworx Whistler been running?
16 years. This would have been number 17.
What were some of the scenarios that you considered prior to cancelling the event?
Postponing, no fans, trying to do things like that… But none of them really seemed feasible or in the spirit of what Crankworx Whistler is. Based on the guidelines and what the province is saying, it wasn’t feasible to host the event.
At Crankworx Rotorua, Torquato Testa had to miss the Slopestyle due to New Zealand’s quarantine policy. What was that event like for your team and did you have any idea how much the pandemic would change this season at that point?
No. At the time, when we left for Rotorua at the end of February, and it feels like a lifetime ago even though it was only about two months ago, the news about coronavirus in BC was that there was a woman who had flown to Vancouver to Toronto with coronavirus and that anyone on the flight should be aware. When we got back from Rotorua there was evidence that this was something that people were concerned about but not a major big deal.
There were a few things we had to work through and deal with in Rotorua and there were some rumours that Sea Otter and other early events would have to shift their dates, but really at the time we had no idea what the scope of this would be. And I don’t know that anyone did to be honest. It’s pretty bizarre. I hope it's the most surreal and challenging thing that most of us live through our lives. It’s definitely been pretty crazy.
Could you take me through the time between getting back from Crankworx Rotorua and making the decision to postpone Crankworx Innsbruck?
When I got home I think I had one day in the office and it became pretty clear that it might be best to work from home. Two or three days later everyone was working from home. There were a few calls with Innsbruck, about them being close to Italy and the challenges they were facing there. Things just changed so quickly, going from it being possible to do the event in June to ‘Okay, what’s the backup plan, to ‘Okay that is the plan’ and figuring out what day would make the most sense for Innsbruck. They had a calendar of events that were pre-booked already for the fall so we finally settled on a weekend that was really one of the few that worked for Innsbruck before you start getting too far into the fall. Lots of conversations, discussions, and trying to figure out what is best for all involved.
Are you hopeful that you’ll be able to run Innsbruck September 30-October 4?
I’m super hopeful to be honest. This fall, if all the mountain biking things that are planned happen, my goodness, it is going to be crazy, unreal, and awesome. Here in BC we’re really seeing positive signs and it generally feels like what we’re hearing from Innsbruck and Austria is that things are going quite well there too. There was a lot of demand for riding when they started opening again and I’ve seen videos of people at the bike park in Innsbruck riding the Dual Slalom course. The trail crew is building a bunch of new trails and working on stuff there, so that’s super exciting. I’m really hopeful that we’re going to be able to pull this off.
How will you and your team be analyzing the situation in Innsbruck as we get closer to the date? Do you already have a Plan A, B, C in place? What do they look like?
There are a number of factors including International travel, but all we can really do is rely on the health professionals and government guidance here and in Austria and then take the recommended safety and health measures that have guided us so far. I think both BC and Austria have done really well so far and the advice and science that they’re following seems to be right. We’re seeing really good flattening of the curve here and over there as well.
We’ll cross our fingers and hope that continues and that people continue to social distance, get outside, ride their bikes safely and hopefully, in time we’ll see an end to this and we can get back to big festivals and big events and mountain bike racing and all that fun stuff.
If we back up a bit, what goes into organizing an event like Crankworx? How far in advance are you planning for Crankworx Whistler? What are some of the steps that happen throughout the year?
Right after the event we go into planning for the following year mode, collecting and gathering all the results and data and sharing that with all of our stakeholders. Then we take some time as a group to sit down and figure out what our key goals are for the following year, for the whole tour. Then from there, we’re always planning for Whistler, always planning for Innsbruck and always planning for Rotorua. There are just different times of the year when the focus gets more intense on one event over the other. At times there’s crossover. Usually we’re already planning for Rotorua even before Crankworx Whistler has even happened in a given year. We're constantly working on and constantly planning and constantly talking to our different stakeholders and looking to the future to improve and make it bigger.
How big is the team?
There are ten of us full time in the office. Or nine right now since one person is on maternity leave. It’s a small team but we have a great group of part-time contractors that we work with as well. It’s a very passionate and dedicated team and I’m very lucky to work with them all.
As an event organizer, what has this period been like for you?
It’s been different. Obviously we’re all working from home and using different technologies to connect. For the most part, it’s been pleasant. We’ve been having Friday apres online and playing different games on Friday afternoons. We meet every morning online for coffee and try to keep things as normal and as real as possible. It’s been shockingly still really, really busy. At times busier than if we were in the office, which has been strange. It’s been a challenge but really enjoyable in a strange way.
What plans had already been made at this point for Whistler, over two and a half months out, that will have to be undone?
There aren’t necessarily things that need to be undone, but this was supposed to be the tenth anniversary of Red Bull Joyride, so that will have to happen next year instead. It's hard to believe it’s been ten years. I think it’s just little things like the special things being planned around that. We had some different ideas of where we wanted to do different events and try new things but fortunately, there were no shovels in the ground on anything yet and so nothing that really needed to be undone and we can keep those surprises for 2021.
How are you dealing with title sponsors for events and brands that have already booked space for Whistler? What’s the financial impact?
We’re super lucky that we have a lot of great partners involved that make Crankworx Whistler happen. They’ve all been super supportive as we’ve tried to navigate through all of this. They’re all looking forward to getting back to normal life, doing Crankworx, being a part of. Everyone has been super supportive and wants to be back involved in 2021 and for the most part a lot of them are looking to be with us in Innsbruck, so we’re looking forward to that.
We’ve seen a lot of creativity come out of this pandemic, has your team come up with any creative ideas or changed the way they do things?
This has given us a lot of time to think and reflect. We’re fortunate that our team rarely ever thinks inside the box and is constantly looking to push the edge, try new things, and really challenge the status quo. I think over the past 6-7 weeks, that’s what we’ve been contemplating and we’ll see where that leads us.
We’ve been doing some different things and we’re still working on some things. Maybe I’ll leave it at that.
What are your thoughts on 2021 events? Do you think we will see a return to our ‘regular’ race season?
I’m super hopeful we will. I think we still have a long way to go. I think different parts of the world are handling it differently right now. Here they’re saying no major large scale events until there’s a vaccine or a solution or some sort of a cure and I think that’s generally going to be consistent around the world. Hopefully, there is a solution that comes up in the next calendar year and we’re able to get back to mountain bike racing as we know it, where people can attend and be a part of it and enjoy the festival atmosphere of Crankworx, because that festal and culture are a big part of what makes Crankworx so special. I don’t want to put a date on it, but we will be doing this one day again soon.