When someone floated the idea of a telethon to replace the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation’s (WBF) annual Telus Winter Classic fundraiser on the mountain, Mei Madden, the foundation’s executive director, jumped at the idea.
“I went, that sounds awesome—not actually realizing the amount of work or the amount of technology that we would need in order to pull this off,” Madden said with a laugh.
“We just quickly realized how intricate, on the tech side [it is] to do a broadcast of a live show. It’s like producing a TV show.”
Hosted by Mercedes Nicoll and Robjn Taylor, and with the help of an eccentric cast of Whistlerites near and far, the Rise Up Live Telethon on Saturday, March 13 was a resounding success, netting the WBF $330,000 to help charities in the corridor.
The grand total was boosted by a $100,000 matching grant courtesy of Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise.
In a non-COVID year, the Telus Winter Classic (for which Vail Resorts donates all lift tickets) would typically net more than $500,000, Madden said.
Given the circumstances this year, she was thinking its virtual counterpart might hit the $100,000 mark.
But bolstered by Vail Resorts’ matching grant, the donations poured in from sponsors, founders and locals during the two-hour telethon.
Madden said $65,000 of the final total came from Whistlerites calling in during the event.
“I’m absolutely thrilled by the $330,000. It’s obviously not even close to what we normally raise, but I think it’s pretty commendable in a pandemic year, and doing a virtual event,” she said, likening the community support to Whistler Community Services Society’s “Together” campaign.
“It just really hits the nail on the head, because that word just sums up the heart and soul of our community … the next day as I was going through all of the donations, I was so overwhelmed by our friends, our family, our community members, everyone being so generous.”
COVID may have prevented the traditional party on the mountain, but Madden and her team put together an event that reflected its spirit, said Sarah McCullough, director of community and government relations with Whistler Blackcomb (WB).
“I think for where we are with COVID fatigue and how long it’s been since we’ve been able to be together, I really felt the spirit of the community [during the event],” said McCullough, who also volunteered as a pledge taker during the telethon.
“You really felt people energized by this ability to give back to a foundation that has given so much to the Sea to Sky corridor.”
McCullough credited the “power of the Vail Resorts portfolio” in allowing the company to give back, even in a difficult year.
“So despite lower visitation and a tough financial year for WB, being part of Vail Resorts means that we can still contribute in a really big way to local communities, and that includes obviously our longstanding commitment to the WBF,” she said.
The Katz Amsterdam Foundation, launched by Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife, best-selling author Elana Amsterdam, has also come to bat for local charities this year, including $390,000 in mental health grants, $360,000 in COVID-19 relief grants, and $80,000 in social justice and inclusion grants.
“So you take a look at what we’ve been able to do, despite a tough year, I think it’s just really meaningful to see those community contributions and contributions to our employees continue,” McCullough said.
While the WBF typically funds all manners of community programs, when the pandemic hit last year the focus shifted to COVID emergency grants—a practice that will continue in the short term, Madden said.
“I’m hoping by the next round of funding in the fall we’ll be able to go back to our regular funding protocols, where people fill out applications and we go through this kind of extensive process about deciding where our funds go,” she said.
“But right now it’s been really great … people will be able to call me, and we’re able to get the funds in their hands as soon as possible, so I think it’s worked really well for the local community for the last year.”
If you missed the telethon, you can watch it in its entirety (and donate to the WBF) at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com.