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New World Ski and Snowboard Festival aims to showcase Whistler’s elite talent

End-of-season bash reimagined as online film fest and art competition
S-WSSF-27.05 (Photo by Mitch Winton:WSSF)
The World Ski and Snowboard Festival will be held entirely online in 2021.

Having purchased the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) in November 2019, Joey Gibbons and the team at Gibbons Whistler had big plans for their first event as sole owner.

Then COVID-19 transformed Whistler into a ghost town in 2020, and the April festival—which coincidentally would have also been the 25th anniversary of WSSF—was wiped from the calendar. 

“The festival for me, personally, has got lots of memories [associated with it]—I think a lot of us do here in town,” Gibbons said, adding that in normal years, WSSF typically serves as an end-of-season magnet, pulling everyone home to Whistler for unbeatable spring skiing and a party to match.

“And that’s why I think it’s such an important event, and yeah, we can’t do it like we used to be able to do it, so for this year our team is finding ways to continue to celebrate.”

Due to ongoing public heath orders around the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s WSSF will take place entirely online, with livestreams on three successive Fridays: April 16, 23 and 30 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Longtime local favourite events like the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown, the Olympus Pro Photographer Showdown—and even sports events like the Big Air and Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme—will take a temporary backseat this year in favour of an event that combines elements of all of them. 

The WSSF Rough Cuts Photo and Video Competition challenges snow sport crews from the Sea to Sky and around the world to create a two-to-five-minute film featuring any footage of skiing, snowboarding and/or snowsports shot in the last 10 years.

A panel of local filmmakers and athletes will serve as judges to select the top 10 local and top five global finalists, before livestream viewers get a chance to select their favourites each week.

Local crews will be competing for a $5,000 cash prize, while the global winner will receive the “Key to WSSF 2022,” which includes accommodations, gift certificates, and more.

There’s also the Whip Sheet Top Sheet Competition, a partnership with Foon Skis, in which artists can submit original top sheet designs to be voted on by the world. Winners will get a custom board or pair of skis featuring their design, as well as have it available for custom orders on Foon Skis.

The traditional WSSF outdoor concerts have also been reimagined through “Sky Streams,” which will livestream DJ and live music sets from some of Whistler’s most iconic locations (the full lineup will be announced in the coming weeks).

It’s a drastic departure from an event that relies heavily on atmosphere and live crowds—will this new WSSF capture the spirit of the festival?

“It’s hard to say … personally, I feel the spirit has always been [derived from] the people coming together,” Gibbons said. “So can you have that same thing online?”

Maybe not in the communal, celebratory sense, but there are other aspects of Whistler and the WSSF that translate quite well to the digital format.

Gibbons pointed to the level of talent he’s seen on the mountain this year as an example.

“I’ve never seen so many people hucking backflips off of Air Jordan in my life. The kids these days are just taking things to a whole other level,” he said.

“It’s all happening here, and I guess we’re just hopeful we can celebrate that talent digitally, and people will appreciate it.”

Started in 1995, the WSSF has seen many owners and iterations in its 26-year history, but Gibbons is optimistic that crowds will be cleared to return next year, and that the 2022 edition will be closer to its roots.

“I think we want to bring [some of the old events] back … There’s a lot of passionate people behind the scenes who really care about [the festival],” Gibbons said, adding that both Whistler Blackcomb and the Resort Municipality of Whistler continue to be big supporters of the event (not to mention the dozens of other local sponsors and volunteers).

“That’s what’s so cool about it, I find, is that it doesn’t really matter who you ask,” Gibbons said.

“Everyone seems to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m in.’”

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