Americans welcomed to Whistler with fireworks 

Almost $800,000 spread through community by American Friends

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American-born Rod Rohda and his wife Lori fell in love with Whistler the first time they came to visit 12 years ago.

The loved it so much they bought a home here on their second visit.

They come now for about six months every year - throughout the winter and the summer months - and are part of a small group of Americans who call Whistler their home away from home.

They, like other Americans, care about this community so much that they play a critical role in making it a better place through the American Friends of Whistler (AFOW). The charitable organization has raised $772,000 in the past eight years, the money filtering out to Whistler organizations, making a difference on the ground in the community.

"They (the American Friends) have come to have a real affection for Whistler and this gives them an opportunity to give back to, I would say, their second home, and make a difference for the general well being of the community," said Rohda, president of the AFOW, from his Boston home.

The low-key organization has become the symbol representing the deep roots between Whistler and its American guests, and those countrymen who see themselves as more than guests.

Tourism Whistler confirmed this week that American Thanksgiving weekend is looking strong this year - trending in the week leading up to the long weekend to be busier in terms of overnight visits than last winter and the U.S. continues to be a key market for the resort.

That importance is evident too in the first ever special fireworks display set up for the American Thanksgiving weekend on Thursday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. at the base of the mountain at Skiers Plaza. It is part of the municipality's Whistler Presents program. The funding for the whole weekend, to kick off the winter season, is coming from the RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) funding - grant money from the province to grow tourism in the resort. The budget for the weekend's programming, which also includes a special concert for 1,000 people at Olympic Plaza featuring Loverboy and Trooper, is budgeted to cost $125,000.

"Certainly it's a time of year that we want to continue to build incremental visits," said Michele Comeau, communications manager with the Resort Municipality of Whistler. "And not only that, we want to make the experience for the visitors who already have plans to come here, to make their experience that much better."

When Rohda first came to Whistler more than a decade ago, Americans, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest, were coming in droves, enticed by the low Canadian dollar.

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