Summer is the time for festivals. They have become a staple of our warmest months and provide opportunities to connect with many like-minded individuals. There are numerous possibilities that exist to suit your own unique interests and tastes. Music, food, art, and film are popular choices and have a built a dedicated following over the years. One niche area that seemed to have been overlooked was the booming sport of mountain biking. That all changed in 2017 when Wanda Bogdane launched the inaugural Plaid Goat Mountain Bike Festival.
The original festival happened in 2017 at Canmore’s Centennial Park, but the brand was officially launched in 2016 in conjunction with a Jump Jam event. Last year the festival changed venues to the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Jump Jam was absorbed by the Plaid Goat Festival to create a larger program for attendees. The organizer’s of Rundle’s Revenge were so impressed with Plaid Goat’s debut that they offered to share space at the Nordic Centre and collaborate on future events, which is exactly what happened. The festival has been so popular that they increased attendance by 150% by the second year. By the beginning of May this year, they had already sold 40% of their tickets based on last year’s numbers. It’s obvious that this is the hottest festival in southern Alberta right now. It’s not just locals that are stoked about this event either, last year they saw guests from eight different provinces and eight different states, as well as the United Kingdom and Amsterdam. This year they’ve already received reservations from some of the southern-most United States and the Czech Republic. Word is spreading quickly!
What follows are the highlights from my lengthy interview with Wanda about the inspiration behind Plaid Goat, how it all got started, and where it’s going next.
Calgary Guardian: “Can you give me a little background information about how the Plaid Goat Mountain Bike Festival got started?”
Wanda Bogdane: “My husband and I were on a mountain biking trip in Colorado and saw a biking festival being setup. I had never seen anything like this before. The entire community was coming together in a fun, meaningful way, where it seemed a little bit deeper than just a race event. So I asked my husband, ‘why don’t we have something like this back home?’ He turned the question back around and said, ‘well you already have the skill-set for this, why don’t you do it?’ I started scratching down my earliest ideas on a napkin at a pub, which ultimately kicked off two years worth of research investigating the feasibility of a festival. What I found was that there was nothing but race, after race, after race in our area and absolutely nothing that was an outdoor, for fun, annual event, especially nothing that was made for the Rockies. In the end the feasibility study showed that it would be tight, but possible to pull this off. That is how this whole thing was started.”
CG: “The festival has a very unique name. Where does “Plaid Goat” come from?”
WB: “This was an experience that was born out of wanting to do something fun that was going to unite the whole region. We definitely did not want to misinterpret what the whole festival was by having it be a place name because it’s so much more than just ‘Canmore’ or ‘Banff’. Essentially we started with a plain language name, ‘The Canadian Rockies Mountain Bike Festival’, but wanted to come up with something more interesting, that gave more of a precise narrative around what we wanted to do. We know that the culture of plaid is a really key driver in personifying the laid-back, earthy legends of our area. If you think of lumberjacks, Bob & Doug McKenzie, and now mountain bikers, all of these classic groups of Canadians seem to fall under that plaid banner in one way or another. It’s become a bit of an identifier for our national fabric and has evolved alongside us through the generations. So that was the one piece, but then when we actually looked closely at plaid itself and it struck us that it’s this interwoven cross-barred pattern that’s comfortable and cozy, which really symbolized us as Canadians and mountain bikers. It was a great representation of what we were trying to do with bringing this community together. The final piece was creating an entity that would bring this whole thing together. We explored a number of different animals and items and the goat kept coming up because they’re fun, ridiculous, and capable, and you can see them all through the Rockies. We also liked the acronym that is commonly associated with GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) because we really do want to be the GOAT of all festivals.”
CG: “What is the most challenging thing with organizing a festival of this magnitude?”
WB: “Managing capacity on a really finite budget. Generally speaking, festivals do not make money. They are large beasts that gobble up revenue in a heartbeat. Meeting the financial demands is the biggest challenge we face.”
CG: “How has the festival grown over the years? What’s changed and what’s stayed the same?”
WB: “Year one we launched the brand at the Jump Jam. In 2017 we hosted the inaugural festival and tested the water to see if there was an appetite for it, which there was. In 2018 we merged the Jump Jam into the festival. This year it’ll be the same format as 2018, but we’re adding more fun with retro group rides, single speed rides, and some additional pieces for the ladies. 35-40% of our attendees are female, which is actually the highest proportion of female attendants in any mountain bike event that we’re aware of in North America. We’ll also be exploring our capabilities for live entertainment, such as some local bands, as opposed to just DJ’s which we’ve had since the beginning.”
CG: “I understand there’s an official Plaid Goat beer. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how it came to be?”
WB: “The Plaid Goat Red Ale is brewed and created by Banff Ave. Brewing Company. This came to be because they had a manager named Pete who is one of the most incredible humans I have ever met. He heard about what we were doing, fell in love with the idea, and within five minutes said, ‘we’re making you a beer!’ Not only did they make us a beer, but they also gave us a huge donation to get us out of the starting gates. They’ve been an incredible partner since the beginning, are still heavily involved with the festival, and have already confirmed they’ll be bringing the beer back again this year. People love this beer and if you haven’t tried it yet, you need to this summer.”
CG: “In your opinion what’s the best part of the festival?”
WB: “The community building and the energy that surrounds this festival. When you walk in there’s this buzz that you just won’t feel at other events in the province. I am in no way slagging on other events, but it’s just different at Plaid Goat because it’s not a race. It’s everything you could imagine if you wanted to have an inclusive, fun, ridiculous program that draws in every type of rider. We’ve got high pants, low pants, BMX, all-mountain, downhill, cross-country, everyone is welcome. It just doesn’t matter if you’re two days into riding or are 30 years deep, absolutely everyone comes together. There’s just no other format that does this, so that to me has been so significant in generating the type of energy and the community we’ve seen come together with Plaid Goat.”
CG: “Why should people attend this festival?”
WB: “First and foremost there’s truly nothing else like it in North America. The other reason is there’s really important work being done behind the scenes that happens through the festival lens, but won’t be obvious to everyone. It’s kind of like a reverse mullet with a party up front, but we have business going on in the back. The business is to serve and support the volunteer mountain bike associations across the entire region. We are deeply committed to helping these folks continue to do their work and tap into the best practices and standards that they can find to connect the dots between the different communities so there are consistencies for trail standards and helping them apply for grants. We want to help share resources, fast track the grant process, and just make the whole thing more enjoyable to all involved. One of the ways we do this is through the diggers discussion program. For example last year was the first time in the province’s history where our trail builders had come together and met in person. It was supposed to be a two-hour session and it went for over four hours. Afterwards everyone was out riding bikes or drinking beer at the craft beer hub. Ultimately this work serves every single rider in the province.”
CG: “I know Canmore is a popular mountain biking destination. Was this the reason you chose to host it there or was there another reason?”
WB: “The reason we chose Canmore as the host location was because it is the premiere mountain bike destination in the province. With the numbers that we saw there was nowhere else that offered the assets that Canmore has at this point in time. We also surveyed a lot of different groups and asked them where they like to ride. Canmore is seen as the gateway to BC and lots of groups will stop in Canmore even if BC is their final destination. There’s a level of enjoyment here, there’s infrastructure, I also live here and have the connections that are needed to get this up and running. During the research phase we were invited to host this event in BC and the destination marketing organization was trying to lure us with tens of thousands of dollars of funding and support, but the reality is we were doing this for our region, to grow things here and we’re pragmatic. I don’t have the same connections in BC as I do in the Bow Valley and beyond, so practically it was the best spot. Also you need to leverage your sponsorship base when you’re dealing with something that costs this much to host. Plaid Goat, as a concept, has been identified through our business strategy to be a progressively developing concept that can move around the entire province. This could be driven by mountain bike associations and if there’s a way that we can provide our infrastructure so that they are able to host micro-events in their areas then we are excited about exploring that. Basically Plaid Goat as a regional body can start to take shape in different ways across all of these awesome riding areas.”
CG: “Is this festival fun for the whole family or more-so just adult riders?”
WB: “It is absolutely family friendly. There’s no question that it’s adult-centric, but families are a very important part of our community. People travel with their kids to ride in a lot of different locations. During the research process we learned quickly how desirable having an inclusive kid friendly program would be. Almost a quarter of our attendance is children, which is groundbreaking. Because of this we have partnered with B-Line Indoor Bike Park for a Kids Hub. WinSport will also be doing activities for kids and Safer Cycling Calgary will be offering some of the most basic skills for kids just learning to ride”
CG: “What if I am new to the sport or am thinking about getting into it, would you recommend that I attend?”
WB: “We’ve got a ton of things that are beginner oriented. You can meet new people, build your skills, learn where trail-heads are located with our shuttles, and the Bike Rodeo is a great option if you just want to come for fun and aren’t worried about performance.”
CG: “What can guests expect at this year’s festival?”
The 2019 Plaid Goat Mountain Bike Fest is happening from June 21-23 at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Tickets are available now from the their website. You can also stay connected with everything Plaid Goat by following them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I hope to see you on your bike in the Rockies in late June!
About this column:
Wild Jobs is a running series that focuses on people in outdoor-related professions. It provides a brief snapshot of their career and the duties that it entails. Please see my previous post, Wild Jobs Part Fifteen: Storm Chaser to learn more.