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The rebirth of off-road triathlon in Whistler

On June 9th, the inaugural Whistler X Triathlon was won by Canadian Karsten Madsen and Zoe Dawson. Not only was the event a huge local success, but it also marked the return of off-road triathlon to Whistler, BC – an area renowned globally for its outdoor adventure and mountain biking.

Getting ready for the start of Whistler X Triathlon in Lost Lake. Photo: Scott Robarts

Related: Karsten Madsen: Why I picked cross triathlon

Taking place out of Lost Lake and the surrounding trail network, 185 participants competed in the Championship, Sport and Relay events. Dale Tiessen, the Whistler X Triathlon race director explains that BC has always played a part in off-road triathlon. “In the late 90s, Whistler held an Xterra event for several years before stopping,” says Tiessen. “And then around 2008 it returned before stopping again.” It wasn’t until recently that Squamish and Dodge City (Cumberland) hosted off-road triathlons and saw great success.

Athletes tackling the challenging, but fun bike course at Whistler X Triathlon. Photo: Scott Robarts

“Three years ago, I moved to Whistler and wondered why Whistler – world renowned for outdoor activities and mountain biking – didn’t have an established off-road triathlon event?” says Tiessen. So, following the success of the inaugural Squamish and Dodge City Triathlon, Tiessen – a member of the Whistler Triathlon Club – approached the club and said let’s do this.

On the run at Whistler X Triathlon. Photo: Scott Robarts

And so, Tiessen and the Whistler Triathlon Club created a Championship, Sport and Relay off-road triathlon to get the community involved. “About 70 per cent of the participants were from the local area, with many others coming from the states, and the surrounding provinces – even Ontario,” says Tiessen.

On a technically demanding course, Karsten Madsen and Zoe Dawson took the win in the Championship race – 1500m swim, 24K bike and 10K run.

The exit of the swim at Whistler X Triathlon. Photo: Scott Robarts

Related: Karsten Madsen finishes seventh at the 2018 Xterra World Championship

Thanks to the success of the inaugural Whistler X Triathlon, and the Squamish and Dodge City off-road Triathlon, it won’t be long before there’s a Triathlon BC off-road series. “The day after the race, Triathlon BC’s Allan Prazsky was already contacting myself and the race directors of Squamish and Dodge City about the possibility of moving forward with a provincial off-road series,” says Tiessen. What started as a way to get the community involved in off-road racing, the inaugural race has sparked the interest and possibility of provincial growth.

Lots of fun being had at the inaugural Whistler X Triathlon. Photo: Scott Robarts

Similar to a traditional triathlon, the off-road variation has a few key differences. “For the most part the swim is nearly identical, but the bike and run are pretty different from the traditional setup,” says Tiessen. “Off-road triathlon really attracts itself to people wanting to participate in an exciting event, not necessarily wanting to win (though there are those that do). To be out in nature with stunning views at every turn – it’s something you don’t get in a traditional triathlon. It has a more rogue feeling about it, kind of like mountain biking vs. road cycling”

Tiessen feels that the inaugural race is just the beginning, and hopes with local and provincial support that the race will only continue to grow.