After years of hosting smaller and more local events, the 2009 the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival (TWSSF) is once again centre stage when it comes to hosting world class ski and snowboard events.
The Orage Masters are back for the second consecutive year, pitting pro factory ski teams against each other in an athlete-judged slopestyle and costume contest.
Snowboard legend Danny Kass, who has two silver Olympic halfpipe medals to his credit as well as every other honour the industry can bestow, is bringing the Grenade Games to town for the first time in its five year history - an event that brings out a mix of active pros, retired superstars, and top amateurs to take part in a fun and off-beat series of contests.
The World Skiing Invitational is also back with skier big air and halfpipe events bringing out the top athletes in the sport.
And, for the first time, the TWSSF is hosting a pro-am skateboard competition, taking the festival's sport component from the slopes to the pavement.
World Skiing Invitational - April 16-21
The World Skiing Invitational is a familiar event for the festival, and promises to once again draw the biggest freeriders in the world to a big air contest and a superpipe. This year there is a $36,000 prize purse up for grabs, with only the top two men and women in each event earning cash and prizes going to the runners up.
The qualifiers gets underway on Thursday, April 16 in the Blackcomb Terrain Park with the men's qualifier from 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. There are three heats over the course of the day.
The women's Big Air qualifier is from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 17 and the men's field will get whittled down even further with the men's semi finals on Blackcomb from noon to 2 p.m.
The finals take place under the lights on Saturday night from 8:30 p.m. onward, with an estimated crowd of 15,000 on hand to watch the contest, including live music and other entertainment.
There is $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and prizing for third in the men's field, while the top two women will be competing for $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.
The superpipe event takes place on Blackcomb with training getting underway on Sunday. The men's and women's qualifiers are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, and the semi-finals and finals take place Tuesday. The men's semi-finals are at 10:30 a.m., and the men's and women's finals run from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. with skiers squeezing in as many judged runs as they can in that time. The Superhit contest, judged by athletes, starts at 2:30 p.m.
Cash prizes for the WSI Superpipe are the same as for the WSI Big Air, with the awards on the mainstage at 3:45 p.m.
The list of top pros confirmed for the WSI last week includes Vernon's Justin Dorey (U.S. Open superpipe winner, third on Dew Tour, fourth in X Games superpipe), Mike Riddle (third World Snowboarding championships, third U.S. Open, sixth overall Dew Tour), Vernon's T.J. Schiller (X Games slopestyle winner), Colby West (fifth X Games pipe, third X Games slopestyle), Matt Margetts, Taylor Seaton, Peter Olenick, Alexis Godbout, and Phil Casabon. Whistler's Sarah Burke injured her back in the X Games, but will be returning to competition for the festival.
Orage Masters - Sunday, April 19
Billed as the "anti-comp,",the Orage Masters is a basically a supersized slopestyle event where factory teams compete against each other in full costume. Last year teams competed as Star Wars characters, Vikings, bikers and Tibetan monks, among others.
The teams themselves score each run, with a panel of Orage judges also chipping in their two cents as teams get bumped off every round until just two teams remain to compete for the glory.
Each team of four must have one female racer.
K2 skis, which won the Orage Masters last year with Whistler skier Sean Pettit in the lineup, is back again, with skiers Frank Raymond, Sean Decker, Sean Pettit and Michelle Parker. Line Skis is bringing John Strenio, Max Hill, Joe Schuster and Steph Myers. Surface Skis is bringing Banks Gilberti, Blake Nyman, Kevin Malone, and Erica Dusrschi. 4FRNT is bringing Finn Anderson, Evan Sigstad, Hugo Pelletier and Shidasha Holmstead. Armada is bringing Phil Casabon, Jacob Webster, Sean Logan and Devin Logan. Other teams confirmed are Dynastar, Volkl, and CoreUpt.
The Orage Masters run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and can be watched from Glacier Creek Lodge on Blackcomb. The awards are on the mainstage at 4 p.m.
Grenade Games - April 21 to 25
Simply put, the Grenade Games represent five days of snowboard mayhem, with a sense of humour that's sometimes lacking at pro events. The competition ranges from big air and superpipe events to a Poker Run and dual slalom on a moguls course.
Organized by U.S. snowboarder Danny Kass, Grenade Games athletes also range from retired legends to active pros, but with open registration for amateurs as well. Only the Monster Grande Finale is invite-only, but Danny Kass could be handing out a golden ticket entry to the top amateur.
The Grenade Games eases athletes into the swing of things with a Poker Run on Tuesday, April 21. Basically athletes will have to visit four poker tables on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains before heading down to The Longhorn at the end of the day to be dealt a fifth card. The top eight poker hands at the end of the day will be invited to a high stakes game of Texas Hold 'em from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., playing for prizes and bragging rights.
In an interesting twist, one of the tables is located at the Pontiac Race Centre on Blackcomb. The top 32 times of the course between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will advance to the Dual Slalom Moguls finals the following day.
The Dual Slalom Moguls are exactly what they sound like, getting underway at 11 a.m. on the Catskinner bumps. The moguls there are big, steep and the course will be designed to challenge and entertain (but mostly the spectators). The top runs will advance to the final, and riders are encouraged to throw slush balls and take air for extra points. Live music will spice up the event, and burgers will be served.
Things get a little more serious on Wednesday with the superpipe qualifier from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's an open jam from start to finish, and the top 30 riders will move on the finals the following day to take on the pros.
Friday's superpipe finals are from noon to 2 p.m., again with an open jam format and a few modifications that weren't there before. Once again there will be music, food, and some pro riders going huge.
That evening, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is the Mini Rail Jam taking place in Village Square. Invited athletes will have a chance to show off their skills in a massive game of S.K.A.T.E. that will be judged by Monster pro skaters Jake Brown and Geoff Rowley.
Saturday's Grand Finale is being touted as "not the same old Big Air." The format is a three hit jam format on a slopestyle course with huge features leading to the bottom of Whistler Mountain. Some 40 invited riders will face off from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. under the lights, with the top-10 moving on to the Super Final.
Confirmed athletes include Danny Kass (silver medals at Salt Lake, Torino Olympics), Torstein Horgmo (first in X Games big air), Scotty Lago (second in X Games slopestyle), Mikkel Bang (third in X Games slopestyle), Spencer O'Brien (second X Games slopestyle), Kjersti Buass (fourth X Games slopestyle, bronze Torino halfpipe), Louie Vito, J.J. Thomas (second Salt Lake Olympics), Jamie Anderson (points leader for Burton Global Series), and Charles Reid (second overall in Burton Global Series), among others.