Whistler gets into the holiday spirit 

Fourth annual Whistler Holiday Experience, Dec. 17 to Jan. 2, features free activities and entertainment for kids of all ages

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Whistler is a winter wonderland, the perfect place to spend the holiday season, really. But what happens if the weather doesn't co-operate and our snowy paradise is transformed into a slushy mess? That was the situation the community found itself in back in 2006.

"It was a super rainy Christmas and there had been quite a bit of negativity around weather and what do you do in Whistler. And it was something that we had talked about, saying that there was a piece missing in the holiday scheme for Whistler," recalled Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications Inc., the company the produces popular annual events like the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Cornucopia and First Night.

The "we" Eckersley refers to is herself, Bob Andrea, manager of village animation and events at the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and Sandra Smith, RMOW bylaw supervisor. They wanted to acknowledge that this was a special time of year in the resort while ensuring that guests and residents have a special experience, regardless of the weather outside.

"So Bob took the initiative to make some inquiries and get a little bit of cash, and Watermark actually sponsored the event for the first two years," she explained. "We bought all the equipment and all that stuff."

They launched the Whistler Holiday Experience, an indoor, family-friendly activity centre, in 2007.

"The thing is, we haven't had - thank goodness - a terrible weather holiday since, but even still, we as Whistlerites forget that not everybody is used to living outdoors 24/7."

Holiday Experience activities include bouncy castles, mini golf, video games, foosball, ping-pong, air hockey, crafts and much more to keep kids of all ages (and maybe even a few adults) entertained.

"A big, main part of it is the bouncy land, which is the highlight for everyone. So we have five inflatables for the kids to play in, and that's where they really burn off their energy."

One-third of the conference centre's Sea to Sky ballroom is the mini-putt golf course, which is being expanded this year, while another section is set up as a gym and a crafting area. In the front lobby, there is a video game area and a cafeteria operated by Centreplate, the catering company in the conference centre, where people can purchase kid-friendly meals and snacks.

The big man himself - Santa Claus - will also be making an appearance again this year, from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18 and Sunday, Dec. 19, with Coast Mountain Photography on-site to take photos with the children.

Parents of crafty kids should circle Monday, Dec. 20 on the calendar as the day to visit the Holiday Experience: that's the day that the Whistler Arts Council is hosting their lantern-making workshop. Between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., children and parents can pay $3 to create their own paper lantern to include in WAC's inaugural Festival of Lights art exhibit, which will be on display at Millennium Place for the remainder of the holiday season.

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