First June Best in the West Triathlon Runs Swimmingly

The Best in the West Triathlon festival returned for its 14th year at Lewis Creek Park this weekend, drawing in more than 850 registrants from throughout Oregon, 19 other states and Canada.

Photos by Ryan Cummings

The climate played nice during the weekend, providing sunny heat with a break in temperature through cloud covers and a gentle breeze. This was the first year the festival took place at the end of spring as opposed to the usual end of summer date.

Event organizers Blair and Staci Bronson moved the festival date from its original September weekend to early June for three primary reasons: fire season, changes in reservoir management and a busier personal schedule.

Staci noted the fire season is a hard time of year for athletes to participate in a triathlon around these parts.

“Smoke in September has been an issue for several years in a row,” Blair said. “It’s impossible to ensure against it and if we have to cancel due to smoke, no one wins.”

Also, new management regulations placed upon the US Army Corps of Engineers have created variables in the water that make it harder for the event organizers to plan for safe conditions. They were surprised during the 2022 triathlon when water temperatures dropped 12 degrees overnight, and logs and other debris rolled in after USACE released water from the reservoir that weekend.

They are happy this year with water temperatures in the low 60s, though, which should be consistent from year to year, Staci said.

Also noted was the fact that the Bronsons’ lives are getting busier. That, coupled with the fire season and reservoir changes, pretty much sealed the fate for Best in the West’s change of date, but the Bronsons have already noted additional benefits that came out of it.

“We’ve never had green grass,” Staci said. “(Also) something that we hadn’t really considered when moving the date was the change in the hours of light that we get per day. There’s significantly less headlamp time.”

Blair also pointed out that placing the festival in the shoulder season helps fill the parks and motels, ultimately extending the season for the area’s economic benefit. Still, he admitted, the move can be a challenge during a time when the organizers are trying to return their registrations to pre-pandemic numbers.

Participants are accustomed to the event being held in September and they plan their schedules around that expectation, he explained. Still, they didn’t take too much of a hit on registrations this year as numbers fell only by about 60 from last year.

In 2019, Best in the West hosted almost 1,100 participants. By mid-pandemic in 2021 and 2022, the numbers were around 775. In 2023 they reached more than 900 participants.

“For being a big date change, we did see pretty much the same numbers as last year, which was great,” Blair said. “We’ve been on a constant trend of increasing participation since year one until we hit the pandemic. Now we hope to see that trend go back towards 2019 numbers.”

This was the first year former college friends Kristina Malzbender, Leah Worthington and Celina Culver participated in a triathlon. Coming together out of Washington, California and Pennsylvania for the olympic triathlon on Saturday, the trio said the location for the event was beautiful.

“It was like the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was gorgeous,” Worthington said. “It couldn’t have been in a better spot.”

Culver shared that the hardest leg of the triathlon for her was the swimming portion. Though she followed a training plan in preparation for her first triathlon, she was challenged by the open waters and swimming in a wetsuit.

“This was in such a beautiful place,” Culver said. “The lake is beautiful, the bike ride was beautiful and people were really wonderful and kind, so it was a good first triathlon.”