Alta States 

Keeping the dream alive

She’s the hardest working person he’s ever met says her former boss. And she never stands down from a challenge. Doesn’t matter what the odds are. Doesn’t matter who’s challenging her. When Sue Eckersley decides to get something done, it gets done — and done well. “She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with,” says former World Ski & Snowboard Festival czar Doug Perry. “In fact she’s the only person to whom I would consider handing the keys to the festival…”

Quite an endorsement for the rookie director of what is, arguably, Whistler’s most important annual event. And quite a step for a woman who was a WSSF volunteer not so long ago. But Sue Eckersley is not just any woman. Smart, disciplined, competitive — and very, very organized — the Toronto-born gal doesn’t seem to be particularly intimidated by her new role. Nor does she seem to take her prestigious new title too seriously.

“The unique beauty of the WSSF is that it is the culmination of countless visions,” she says. “It’s not about me…” And then she laughs. Easily and totally relaxed. “Look — I’m a doer. I’m not the kind of person to seek the spotlight. I see myself more as the festival caretaker. I’m the filter for all these great ideas. My job is to move things forward and ensure that all these visions are respected — and celebrated!”

And she’s still as enthralled by the festival as she ever was. Maybe even more. “For me, it’s a passion, not a job,” she explains. “Some people on the team are personally driven by the arts component of the WSSF. For others it’s the on-mountain events that turn them on. My passion is the whole community. It encompasses everything. I love to see the athletes in action, the artists, the musicians — I just love the three-ring circus aspect of the event. To watch Whistler go off like that for 10 days — that’s just incredibly cool to me.”

By her own account, Eckersley’s “how I ended up in Whistler” story is not unique. “People come her for a weekend, and end up staying for the rest of their lives,” she says with another chuckle. “The magic of Whistler really works wonders on us…”

Her original plan was to become a lawyer. But before that, she wanted to see the world a bit. “I decided to take some time off after graduating from Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 1993,” she recounts. “And I somehow fell into a job as a youth worker.” But it wasn’t just any youth worker job. Called Project Dare, it was an innovative new outdoor education program for young offenders. Their schoolroom: the great boreal forests that surround North Bay, Ontario. “I learned a lot about human behaviour in that context,” she says with a rueful grin. “And I learned a heck of a lot about myself too.”

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