First Ironman Lake Tahoe goes off without a hitch

Margaret Moran
Hundreds of Ironman Lake Tahoe swimmers took to the lake's chilly waters in Kings Beach early Sunday to kick off the full-distance triathlon, the first to take place in California since 2001.
Courtesy Erskine Creative Photography |

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Despite some worrisome weather — lake-level rain and high-elevation snow Saturday and freezing temperatures Sunday morning — a damper couldn’t be put on the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe.

“There was a little bit of concern (Sunday) morning because of the air temperature, but it warmed up enough and the roads dried up enough that we had an on-time start,” said Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer for the North Lake Tahoe Chamber/CVB/Resort Association.

More than 2,500 athletes entered the fog-layered waters of Lake Tahoe at 6:30 a.m. Sunday to complete their 2-loop, 2.4-mile swim, kicking off the first full-distance Ironman event in California in more than a decade.

“In the end, the weather we had was colder than ideal, but doable, as we were able to have a successful race,” said Keats McGonigal, Ironman Lake Tahoe race director.

Despite the cold, thousands of spectators watched and cheered from the lake’s shores in Kings Beach, waving homemade signs, ringing cowbells and shouting words of encouragement such as “good job.” The crowds continued their support as the athletes exited the water and hopped on their bikes to complete the 112-mile road course.

As the athletes whizzed by in front of the Squaw Valley entrance heading toward Truckee, Highway 89 was flanked by supporters, including coach Nicole Drummer of Colorado Springs, Colo.

“It’s been going very well,” she said, commenting on the race. “Where to drop things off, how to get to different places — there wasn’t any confusion for us. It seems like a very well-organized, first-time event.”

The only improvement spectator Becky Henning, of Kansas City, Mo., suggested was for parking in Kings Beach.

“The parking — it was very congested yesterday (Saturday) with the bike check-in,” she said. “Other than that it’s been great.”

On race day, people noted that they hit traffic, but it wasn’t too bad.

“Certainly there are some road impacts,” Chapman said. “It’s a little slow getting out of Kings Beach and back over to Truckee, but that’s to be expected.”

Highway 28 east and westbound in Kings Beach from Fox Street to Highway 267 was closed early Sunday for athlete safety. Other major closures included Highway 89 north from Fairway Drive in Tahoe City and Squaw Valley Road; and Highway 267 southbound from Northstar Drive to Commonwealth Drive.

“There’s always things you can improve on in an inaugural event,” said McGonigal, adding that Ironman will look closely at traffic impacts when planning next year’s race.

While some roads were closed on race day, businesses were not.

“Business has been phenomenal,” said Will Welch, assistant manager of Fireside Pizza Co. in Squaw Valley. “It’s been awesome. We saw an impact starting Thursday afternoon.”

That momentum carried into Sunday. Some diners ate their pizza outside to watch the athletes run through the Village at Squaw Valley as part of the event’s third-leg, 26.2-mile run.

“It’s fantastic,” said Josh Holm, manager of Parallel Mountain Sports in Squaw, referring to business that came during the typical Tahoe shoulder season. “It’s wonderful for the communities; it’s wonderful for Squaw.”

Early event predictions had Ironman generating an estimated $10 million in revenue for the economy, while attracting about 10,000 people — both athletes and supporters — to the area.

Chapman said the event “absolutely” lived up to those predictions.

“It’s something we anticipated and expected, and it’s nice to see it actually come together,” he said.

McGonigal echoed that message of success.

“For an inaugural event in Lake Tahoe, it was very successful based on feedback from athletes, volunteers and community,” he said. “(We’re) really excited by how it went.”

Sunday marked California’s first full-distance Ironman triathlon since 2001. The premier adventure race company last year inked a five-year contract with Lake Tahoe.

“I’m glad they’re here for the next (four) years,” Welch said. “I think every year, it’ll just keep growing.”

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.