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Westbeach Classic not on

Funding for the annual classic is being diverted to snowboarding championships

Contrary to the rumours, the Westbeach Classic 2001 snowboard contest has NOT been cancelled – if you went to any of the recent World Snowboarding Championship events, you already saw it.

Westbeach Sports and Westbeach retail – partly owned by Whistler-Blackcomb – determined that it made better sense to divert the resources originally intended for the classic, which was scheduled from May 18 to 20, to the World Snowboarding Championship. Westbeach was a headline sponsor for the four-day event, which awarded more than US$260,000 to one of the most impressive fields of pro snowboarders ever assembled. The worlds wrapped up on April 21 with a Big Air contest and a crowd of 15,000.

"For years, the Westbeach Classic was renowned among local riders as the biggest spring snowboard contest at Whistler," says Steve Dewar, president of Westbeach Sports.

However, "We felt this opportunity for the Westbeach brand was too good to pass up and decided to allocate and focus all of our efforts and resources on that event. Our attempt is to continue that tradition but in a much bigger way with inviting the best riders in the world to compete head to head in the four day period."

This is not the first time since it’s inaugural event in 1989 that the Westbeach Classic has been cancelled. After the 1993 event, the classic took a two-year hiatus before returning as part of the first World Ski and Snowboard Festival in 1995. The classic remained part of the festival until 2000, when it was bumped back to the May long weekend and the Snowboard Canada Jam Tour to make room for the big money of the Sims Invitational. At last year’s classic, athletes competed for $155,000 in cash.

The two events, the World Snowboarding Championship and the Westbeach Classic were also two very different events. The former is an invitational event attracting the best athletes from around the world, and the latter was geared more to amateurs and locals.

Pro snowboarder Kevin Sansalone, the winner of the Westbeach Classic big air event two out of the last three years, broke onto the national and international scene with a Cinderella win in the Westbeach.

"It was a great stepping stone for amateurs," says Sansalone. "It kind of sucks. A lot of these guys can’t get invited to the Sims (World Snowboarding Championship), but could have competed in the Westbeach and then gone on to the Sims. Where do those guys go now?"

Sansalone says he also had personal reasons to keep the Westbeach Classic around. "I was going for the hattrick. It was also one of my favourite contests. I was kind of bummed when I heard that it had been cancelled this year – I didn’t think it was real."

The Masters Group, the organizers of the Westbeach Classic as well as event managers of the World Snowboarding Championship, World Cup Snowboarding and the SnowJam (DV8) tour, is supporting the Westbeach decision.

"Our team was excited to run the Westbeach Classic 2001, but we understand the benefit of focusing all resources towards the Worlds," says event manager Mark Taylor. "After the amazing success of the 2001 Worlds, we want to continue our efforts with Sims, Westbeach and Whistler-Blackcomb to take the World Snowboarding Championship to new heights in 2002."

There is some concern over whether the 2002 event will happen at all if the Resort Communications Group (RCG) decides to move the two main WSSF attractions elsewhere. RCG is the owner of the World Ski Invitational and a part owner of the World Snowboarding Championship with Sims Snowboards.

While both events were well attended and praised by the industry, the municipality handed RCG a $12,000 bill at the end of the 10-day festival week – $1,000 a day, plus $2,000 for cleanup and setup days – to cover costs.

Unless the municipality and other stakeholders support these events better next year, RCG says they may have to move them elsewhere.

Westbeach could not comment on whether they would go with RCG and the World Snowboarding Championship if the event moves out of Whistler.